F

ive ships sail into a small cove on the coastline of what was known to the Spanish as La Florida. Under the command of General Pedro Menendez de Aviles, they come to the New World from Spain. Sent by King Philip II, they arrive in hopes of establishing a colony securing the land for Spain, and most importantly, to convert the native American Indians to Christianity.

On September 8, the feast day of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Spanish on the ships, sailors, soldiers, tradesmen and priests, come ashore. Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, recorded the day’s events in his diary:

On Saturday the eighth the General landed with many banners spread, to the sounds of trumpets and the salutes of artillery. As I had gone ashore the evening before, I took a cross and went to meet him, singing the hymn “Te Deum Laudamus.” The General, followed by all who accompanied him, marched up to the cross, knelt and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all that they saw done.

Following Menéndez’ veneration of the Cross, thus proclaiming this land in the name of God (Nombre de Dios) Father Lopez celebrated Mass at a rustic altar made of wood. The sky served as the roof for what was the first parish Mass in what is now the United States. In was on this sacred ground that the Spanish settlers would begin devotion to Our Lady of La Leche, Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto, Mary nursing the infant Jesus. In the early 1600s, the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine established the first Shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States.

Today, more than 450 years later, an image of Our Lady of La Leche – Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery – graces a small mission chapel in the heart of what is lovingly referred to as the “sacred acre.” Pilgrims come from all parts of the world to pray for her powerful intercession. They pray for fertility, for the health of their children, for safe delivery of those expecting.

Their prayers continue to be answered, and many return in thanksgiving to share with us their stories. We invite you to come join us – to stand on holy and sacred ground where our story of the conversion of hearts and the graces of Mary continues.

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