I made a trip to St. Augustine, Florida last year and was privileged to visit a very Holy Site to Americans–The site of the First Mass and First Shrine to Mother Mary. A Great Cross rising 208 feet in the air marks the very spot where the First Mass was said in America. On September 8, 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed and proclaimed this site for Spain and the Church. It was here that Menendez knelt to kiss a wooden cross presented to him by Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, chaplain of his expedition. It was at this Great Cross that Fr. Lopez would celebrate the first parish Mass and begin the work at America’s first Mission.
The Mission of Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine is a popular pilgrimage site for many Catholics and offers a walking tour which has historical and spiritual way points of great significance. First, there is the Shrine to Our Lady of Le Leche, which is the first Shrine in America to Our Blessed Mother. The history of the devotion to the Mother of Jesus as Our Lady of La Leche may have roots in a 4th Century grotto in Bethlehem. To this day the Franciscan community maintains a shrine there called the Milk Grotto. Its centerpiece is the Blessed Virgin nursing the infant Jesus. Many believe that the crusaders brought the devotion to Mary as a nursing mother to Spain in the Middle Ages. Thousands visit the Shrine every year. Many ask for the blessings of motherhood, praying for intercession of Our Lady of La Leche that God will grant them a safe and happy delivery, and healthy, holy children. Many write requesting remembrances in Masses and prayers not only for motherhood but for petitions of all kinds. All who visit the Shrine find it to be a place of spiritual comfort and renewal. Those who make the pilgrimage may be granted a plenary indulgence (when received with The Eucharist and Confession).
Prayer To Our Lady of Le Leche: Prayer for Motherhood:
Lovely Lady of La Leche, most loving mother of the Child Jesus, and my mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only, His spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Savior. Intercede with him now, my loving Mother, that, in accordance with His will, I may become the mother of other children of our heavenly Father. This I ask, O Lady of La Leche, in the Name of your Divine Son, My Lord and Redeemer. Amen.
There are also wonderful features on the walk around these beautiful and inspiring grounds including the Prince of Peace Church, Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Shrine, the Stations of the Cross, and places for solitude and prayer with Saint Joseph and Saint Francis. There is also a well-stocked gift shop with prayer cards, books, Holy Water, and Catholic gifts. The Mission is just a few blocks away from the historic district of St. Augustine, and worth your time to make this trip. You may also want to visit America’s first parish, The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Augustine. There are some very good videos on their website on the link below.