St. Augustine, Florida, has a serious claim to fame. It is the oldest city—that is, the oldest permanent settlement—in the United States.
It was founded when a group of Spaniards led by General Pedro Menéndez de Aviles landed on the coast of La Florida and proclaimed the land for Spain and for God. As they came ashore, Fr. López—who had disembarked the evening prior—came to meet them with a cross, singing the Church’s great hymn of thanksgiving: the Te Deum. Menéndez and his party, along with natives who witnessed the event, knelt and kissed the cross.
Fr. López then celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving on a rough altar under the open sky. It was the first Mass offered in a parish setting in the United States. The mission would be called Nombre de Dios, “the Name of God.”
In the early 1600s, the settlers placed in the mission’s chapel a statue of Our Lady of La Leche, or Nuestra Señora de La Leche y Buen Parto. The title means “Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery,” and the statue depicts Our Lady nursing the Infant Jesus.
Over 400 years later, devotion to Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios continues. The shrine is a particular center of devotion for those praying for fertility, healthy pregnancies, and safe deliveries. Every year on “Founder’s Day,” the mission re-enacts that first landing on the shores of Florida and offers a Mass of thanksgiving as Fr. López did all those years ago.
In 2019, the USCCB elevated the shrine to the status of a National Shrine. This year, on October 10, the statue of Our Lady of La Leche will receive a canonical coronation, which is a special papal honor granted to an image or statue of Our Lord, Our Lady, or St. Joseph that is widely venerated in a particular location. Our Lady of La Leche will be only the fourth Marian image in the United States to receive such an honor.
Read more about the role Our Lady has played throughout world history in Mike Aquilina’s book History’s Queen: Exploring Mary’s Pivotal Role from Age to Age. Active through 2,000 years of Christian and world events, Our Lady truly is the Queen of the ages. Pick up your copy of this fascinating book here!