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January 30, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – For Adrian Dominican Sisters who hailed from the Dominican Republic, who ministered there, or who cherish the culture, the liturgy at St. Catherine Chapel on January 19, 2023, was a source of great joy. It was a celebration – a few days early – of the Feast of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace), Patroness of the Dominican Republic.
Much of the devotion of the people of the Dominican Republic to Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia stems from a legendary painting of the Virgin of Altagracia, said to have been brought to what would become the Dominican Republic in 1502, shortly after the arrival of the Spanish. The image was housed in a shrine built in 1572. The present basilica was consecrated in 1971.
Sister Carol Ann Gross, OP, in a homily during the special liturgy, described the picture as a “Christmas icon” that depicts Mary watching over Jesus, who had just been born, with Joseph standing in the background.
“The picture of Altagracia can bee seen as often as the Dominican Republic flag,” said Sister Carol Ann, who ministered in the Dominican Republic for about 30 years. “Mary is a loving and powerful intercessor. From the very beginning she is focused on service to others.”
Sister Carol Ann compared the “sense of oneness, unity, and blessedness” that the people of the Dominican Republic feel toward Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia to the feelings that North Americans often experience when they see themselves as members of the universe. “Those of us who look to the stars and sense our oneness with the stars and all of creation can understand the faithful of the Dominican Republic, who celebrate the Virgin who unites all in holiness, love, and strength,” she said.
She noted the busloads of pilgrims who come to the basilica on the feast day. “They give thanks and they celebrate the oneness of being in her presence,” she said.
Sisters Margarita Ruiz, OP, and Teresita Ruiz, OP – blood sisters from the Dominican Republic – recalled their own experience as children growing up with a devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia. “The feast means uniting first of all with Mary, who is a revolutionary woman who keeps on inviting us to love all people and to love the Earth and to love everything created by God,” Sister Margarita said. “In that very same way, I am united with the people of our country, the Dominican Republic, who love her dearly.”
Sisters Margarita and Teresita said that, as children, they never visited the basilica on the feast day but went on different days, when it was less crowded. “Our Lady knew we loved her and we could go to her at any time,” Sister Teresita said. “She’s the protector of our nation, of our country.”
Sister Teresita added that the flag of the Dominican Republic is the only one in the world that features the Bible in its shield. “It’s very meaningful,” she said. “The faith of our people is expressed through the flag as well.”
Sister Margarita added, “We unite with Mary and with the people and certainly with all who love Our Lady. We rejoice today just for Altagracia, our dear Lady.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters have ministered in the Dominican Republic since 1945, when the Congregation established Colegio Santo Domingo, a school for girls, in the capital, then called Ciudad Trujillo. Currently, four Sisters native to the Dominican Republic serve there, in formation and spirituality and at Fe y Alegría Espíritu Santo School in Sección San José. In addition, more than 20 Associates live and minister in the Dominican Republic.
Feature photo: At the special altar in honor of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace), are, from left, Sisters Carol Coston, OP, Joyce LaVoy, OP, Annette Sinagra, OP, and Margarita Ruiz, OP (seated in front); Jill Maria Murdy, Director of Liturgical Ministries; Sisters Kelin Lee “Kitty” Bethea, OP, Patricia Harvat, OP (seated in front), Rosario Martin, OP, Teresita Ruiz, OP, Carol Ann Gross, OP, Helene Kloss, OP, Prioress Elise D. García, OP, Joyce Caulfield, OP, and Suzanne Schreiber, OP; and Father James Hug, SJ.
December 27, 2021, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic – During the time of year that focuses on the birth of Jesus, Sister Carol Gross, OP, gave a live stream presentation on a central figure of the nativity: Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother.
Sister Carol’s talk, “Devotion to Mary in Latin America,” was presented on December 9, 2021, the day after the patronal feast of the United States, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and three days before the December 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is especially revered in Mexico and by many Hispanic people in the United States.
The talk was part of a series of presentations organized by the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Spirituality Committee. Sister Carol spoke from her home in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Sister Carol described in general the Marian piety of many of the people of Latin America and the Caribbean – a popular piety involving the heart. In times of need, she said, this devotion to Mary “soothes pain and strengthens hope – the loving, healing, consoling power of God or God’s mother, who is the stand-in for God at the center of Latin American culture.”
Throughout the centuries, Sister Carol said, Mary has appeared to suffering people in a variety of images – suited to the people of a particular culture to help them to understand God’s love for them. “Myths and legends attributed to an icon of Mary speak to the needs of the people,” she explained.
Sister Carol highlighted a number of images of Mary that are popular in various parts of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Our Lady of Altagracia (“high grace”) is the cultural image of Mary in the Dominican Republic. She is known as the Protectress of the Dominican Republic, Sister Carol added. The image was originally brought home by a merchant to his daughter in the Dominican Republic. A basilica now houses the image, and about 8,000 people visit the basilica every year. On January 21, the Feast of Our Lady of Altagracia, people who cannot visit the basilica take part in Masses, novenas, and processions at their home parishes.
Our Lady of Guadalupe: Mary appeared as a pregnant Aztec woman in 1531 to St. Juan Diego, an Aztec who had converted to the Catholic faith, at Tepeyac Hill near Mexico City. Because of her appearance, Sister Carol said, “The native people of Mexico began to recognize the Catholic faith. They say, ‘This virgin looks like us. She is ours and we are hers.’” The Patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe “is our mother,” Sister Carol said. “As a mother she understands, relates, protects, listens, comforts.”
The Immaculate Conception: Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is the Patroness of the United States and of other countries, such as Nicaragua, who revere her as La Purisima, the most pure one, Sister Carol said. At sundown on December 7, the eve of the feast, people in Nicaragua “flood into the streets in groups, singing hymns to La Purisima,” Sister Carol said. The feast refers to Mary’s conception without original sin, not to the conception of Jesus.
Learn more about various Marian devotions in Latin America in the recording of Sister Carol’s presentation, found below.