By Deborah Gyapong

Most people want to start off the new year just right. The Church does it with the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God.

Jan. 1 is the first of many Marian feast days in the calendar year, and in the words of the Church it’s “an eminently Marian feast.”

For Dennis Girard, founder of the Marian Devotional Movement in Canada, 2017 was a significant Marian year for Canada, and he believes more is yet to come.

“This is great anticipation going forward, with the foundation Our Lady has laid over the past year,” said Dennis Girard, who with his wife Angelina launched the Marian Devotional Movement last Aug. 22, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary at Canada’s national shrine at Cap-de-la-Madeleine in Trois-Rivieres, Que.

Canadian events honouring Our Lady reached a crescendo Sept. 26 in Ottawa, when Canada’s Catholic bishops, led by three cardinals, re-consecrated Canada to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa.

“We were overjoyed, and expectant on what Our Lady will have in store for our country,” said Girard. “It showed in real time how heaven is operating in our country in significant ways for all to see.”

“May the Cross of your Son, planted on Canadian soil and in Canadian hearts, be known as the Tree of Life, whose fruit is visible and available to all in the garden of this world,” said the consecration prayer led by Cardinals Marc Ouellet, Gerald Cyprien Lacroix and Thomas Collins.

“Mary our Mother, we place our country Canada in the sanctuary of your Holy Heart for we know that there we will find Jesus, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.”

The consecration marked Canada’s 150th birthday as well as the 70th anniversary of the 1947 Marian Congress in Ottawa where Canada was first consecrated to the Immaculate Heart. These anniversaries also took place in the context of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.

More than 80 bishops and eparchs from across Canada were present in Ottawa for the re-consecration; and many had already consecrated their diocese to the Immaculate Heart on July 1, Canada’s birthday, or on another date significant to their location.

Placing the Archdiocese of Vancouver under Mary’s protection for Canada’s 150th birthday was “the greatest thing that could happen, said Zahira Rengifo as she attended a Mass at Holy Rosary Cathedral last July 2.

It was Canada Day weekend and Rengifo, a Venezuelan immigrant and Marian devotee, was thrilled to learn the consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary would be taking place to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

“This year is a very special year because it is also 100 years after the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima," said Rengifo. “I understand how important it is, what Our Lady requested at that time: to consecrate the whole world to her Immaculate Heart. For me, this is so moving."

At the consecration Mass, Archbishop J. Michael Miller prayed that Canada might grow as a “holy nation,” assuming “our responsibility of sharing in the building up of the Kingdom.”

In his homily, Archbishop Miller said “it is fitting that we should turn to Mary to intercede with the Lord for us: that our people may be increasingly disposed to the good news of salvation, and that they will strive to forge a just society according to God’s design.”

By consecrating ourselves and our nation to Mary, he said, “we pray that a fresh enthusiasm and a deeper faith will be born in the hearts of believers which will bear fruit and abundant graces for all Canadians.”

Bishop Lionel Gendron, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the consecration to Mary “was meaningful for all of us.” He noted some people asked him about consecration to the Blessed Virgin, remarking they were “not used to that practically any more.”

Dennis and Angelina Girard launched the Marian Devotional Movement with the aim of “making Mary known and loved as requested by Jesus through Our Lady of Fatima to Lucia in 1917,” Dennis said.

While the Girards had already developed a devotion to Our Lady of the Cape at the National Marian Shrine, Dennis’s discovery of a film by Father Maurice Proulx, a pioneer in the Canadian film industry, of the 1947 Marian Congress showing the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who descended on Ottawa, deepened their curiosity concerning Canada’s Marian history.

In the film, they saw a pilgrim statue of Our Lady of the Cape, a replica of the miraculous statue at the shrine. The statue had processed from Cap-de-la-Madeleine to about 350 parishes and institutions before coming to Ottawa to be venerated at the congress.

The National Shrine entrusted that very same pilgrim statue to the Girards to be installed permanently at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Ottawa, the church closest to the grounds where the Congress took place. That installation took place on, appropriately, Mother’s Day 2017.

One historical discovery has led to another, and now Girard believes Our Lady has revealed a recipe for renewal, the very recipe that preceded the miraculous events that led to the establishment of the National Marian Shrine that has been visited by millions of pilgrims. Girard believes this recipe can be followed by individuals and parishes across Canada.

It began, said Girard, with the disconcerting discovery of a pig chewing on a rosary.

Although a parish had existed at Cap-de-la-Madeleine since the 17th century, by 1850 the practice of the Catholic faith had receded to the point the parish no longer had a full-time priest.

In 1854, a parishioner gave the parish a statue fashioned after the Immaculate Conception, the year the dogma was proclaimed. The statue was later renamed Our Lady of the Cape.

In 1867, Father Luc Desilets discovered a pig in the chapel, a rosary in its mouth. He was so disturbed by this, he made a vow to consecrate his life to the Blessed Virgin. He noticed a plaque on the wall commemorating those who had enrolled in the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary established in the parish in 1694. He vowed to enroll people in the 500-year-old Confraternity founded by Dominicans “wherever his voice could be heard,” Girard said.

“Back then the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary was understood far differently,” Girard said. “It was a big, big deal all over the place.”

“It seems to have gone off the radar over the last few decades,” he said. “There needs to be a resurgence, a rediscovery and reestablishment of it.”

With Father Desilets’ efforts, 3,000 people enrolled within five years and the church became too small. They needed to build a new one, but the St. Lawrence River had not frozen over that year. The prayers of the parishioners, joined with those of the confraternity around the world, led to the miraculous appearance of a Rosary bridge, an ice bridge, that allowed the transportation of the church’s building materials.

“Father Desilets also brought back an ancient practice of the confraternity, the practice of blessing roses,” Girard said. With the blessed rose petals, people would ask for favours through the intercession of Our Lady of the Cape.

“That’s when the healings began to take place up at the Cape,” Girard said, noting there were many testimonies of healings well before the miracle of the ice bridge or the miracle of the eyes, when three witnesses observed the face of the statue of Our Lady of the Cape taking on human appearance, opening her eyes for about 15 minutes.

In coordination with the National Marian Shrine at Cap-de-la-Madeleine, the Girards have renewed the ability to enroll in the confraternity through their Catholic in Canada website. A record of the enrollment is kept at the shrine.

The Girards re-launched the confraternity at the shrine on Nov. 27, the Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, which was originally called the medal of the Immaculate Conception, Girard said.
At Blessed Sacrament Parish, priests have begun blessing roses, and in the pilgrim statue kiosk in the church’s basement, where the Girards evangelize and promote Marian devotion, they keep a Book of Favours where people can leave prayer requests and write about favours granted.

“We already have miracles,” said Girard.

With files from Agnieszka Krawczynski.