Linda Meeuwsen, Kathy Perry, Carol Vandecoevering and Melissa Jansen pose for a photo before crowning Mary at Visitation in May 1980. (Courtesy Visitation Parish)
Linda Meeuwsen, Kathy Perry, Carol Vandecoevering and Melissa Jansen pose for a photo before crowning Mary at Visitation in May 1980. (Courtesy Visitation Parish)

VERBOORT — It’s been more than 40 years since Donna Heesacker, then Donna Duyck, processed down the aisle of Visitation Church, assisting in the crowning of Mary. A lifetime has passed since that day in May in 1978. Heesacker remembers it was warm outside. She knows she wore the nicest dress she owned, as all the girls did for such an important event.

“I remember just being happy,” said Heesacker, noting how special an honor it was to assist in the May crowning of Mary. “I’d been watching the older girls crown Mary for many years.”

Visitation has had a May crowning ritual for as long as anyone at the Verboort parish can remember, quite possibly for as long as the parish has existed. The students start the ceremony with a living rosary in which different grades represent the different decades and the older students recite the mysteries. Then came the procession. Each student brought a flower from home and the teachers from the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon provided a crown.

“They wanted it really nice,” recalled Heesacker.

The students processed down the aisle of the church up to the Marian statue. One older student placed the crown on Mary’s head, while the others made sure she didn’t fall off the tiny step ladder needed to complete the task.

Heesacker recalled being “a little nervous because I didn’t want to be embarrassed or fall or anything.”

Forty- two years later, Heesacker is still a parishioner at Visitation, as well as a school parent and a secretary at the parish. Of her four children, three have been involved with the parish’s crowning of Mary. The ritual of the day is mostly the same. Now, however, boys are allowed to place the crown.

“Amid Marian hymns and local flora, a first-grader will carry the ring of flowers in procession and an eighth-grader will place the crown on the statue’s head,” reads a Catholic Sentinel report about the Visitation ceremony from 1995.

The ritual of crowning Mary became traditional in the 14th century, according to Marist Father Johann Roten at the University of Dayton. Mary does appear with a crown in iconography earlier, however.

“The custom of crowning Marian images with wreaths is much older than the well-known May crownings,” writes Father Roten. The priest adds that the practice has its roots in medieval courtly love rituals. Red and white flowers, representing maternity and virginity, were placed on Mary’s head amounting to a declaration of love.

“The wreath of flowers with which Mary is crowned in May highlights a special connection with spring, new life and Mary’s resplendent beauty,” concludes Father Roten.

The ritual of placing a wreath on Mary’s head also has a connection to the rosary.

In the early 15th century, a pious young man had become accustomed to placing a wreath of flowers on the head of a statue of Mary each day. When he joined the Franciscan friars, however, he either lacked the time or permission to carry on the practice. The young man became so distraught that he nearly abandoned his vocation. Legend has it that Mary then appeared to him, asking him instead to weave a crown of prayers. This was the beginnings of the Franciscan crown rosary.

May crownings have a long history in the Archdiocese of Portland.

“The procession led by the torch bearers, the petite Winter brothers, Harry Joe and John, entered the chapel and proceeded slowly to the Blessed Virgin's altar, where Mrs. Alice Ward, assisted by Mrs. Leonie Kuckelberg and Miss Annie Farrell, residents of the home, placed the crown on the Blessed Mother statue,” reads a Sentinel report of a 1947 crowning at St. Joseph Home in ????????. “Little Marcia Ward, granddaughter of Mrs. Ward, carried the crown of rose buds on a pale blue pillow.”

And still the tradition continues today in many parishes.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org

SIDEBAR

Crowning Mary at home

For those wishing to celebrate a May crowning at home, the Catholic Icing blog has a plan.

First, you will need a statue of Mary and a crown. The crown, which is traditionally made out of flowers, should fit the statue’s head. For those at home, the blog recommends making a May altar. Your altar needs a statue of Mary and can include rosaries, holy cards, candles, crosses and flowers to name a few.

Next, collect flowers to place at the feet of the statue and plan a Marian hymn to sing. Processions are generally a part of Marian coronations. Participants sing a hymn while carrying their flowers and the crown to the statue. The blog recommends saying some Marian prayers after the crowning.

Learn more

Visit Catholic Icing at go.sentinel.org/2yVbLmr to learn how to make a clover chain for your crown and to get ideas for Marian crafts and recipes.