By Amy Riedell,
The Catholic Post
special thank you to
The Catholic Post, The Catholic Diocese of Peoria,
and Amy Riedell for their generous permission to reprint this article.
-- Amid a culture that often devalues breastfeeding and promotes
contraception, a newly dedicated Marian chapel at Sacred Heart Parish here
proclaims the "beauty of motherhood, nursing, and the mother-child bond."
The Madonna Chapel, located in former office space off the rectory
garage, features seven paintings or artistic depictions of the Blessed
Mother breastfeeding the infant Jesus -- an ancient image of Mary that has
been portrayed by many religious artists over the centuries but is less
familiar to today's Catholics.
"The chapel is meant to be counter-cultural -- against the culture of
death, promoting the Gospel of Life," said Father Timothy Sauppe, pastor of
Sacred Heart, who came up with the idea for the chapel while researching
Marian art and breastfeeding for a paper. "That's my hope."
For today's post-modern culture, the sacred art depicted in the chapel
reveals the "beauty of motherhood, the beauty of nursing, the beauty of the
mother-child bond of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus," he noted.
Father Sauppe hopes the pictures and educational materials found in the
chapel will encourage women to breastfeed and be open to having more
children. At the same time, the chapel's images are intended to lead
visitors to a deeper contemplation of Mary's role in giving birth to Jesus,
nursing Him and raising Him.
Displayed on the back wall of the chapel is a photograph of one of the
Catholic Church's newest saints, Gianna Molla, whose relics will visit
Annawan in October.
While work on the Madonna Chapel began last February, the idea for the
project stemmed from Father Sauppe's studies at the Marian Library at the
University of Dayton, where he is currently working toward a doctorate in
sacred theology, specializing in Mariology.
While writing a paper on "Art and the Parish Madonna Chapel," Father
Sauppe concluded that the most effective way for a parish to counteract the
"contraceptive mentality" so prevalent in modern society is through a
Madonna Chapel promoting motherhood and breastfeeding.
"Our culture doesn't like breastfeeding," said Father Sauppe. "Many
people don't know the science behind breastfeeding," including the many
health benefits for both mothers and babies that he researched while writing
For instance, breastmilk is more easily digestible for babies, provides
natural antibodies to protect against illnesses, promotes dental health, and
decreases the likelihood that the child will become overweight.
For the mother, breastfeeding decreases the risk of breast cancer, and
recent studies also point to a reduced risk of uterine, ovarian and
endometrial cancer. Women who breastfeed also return to their pre-pregnancy
Nursing also encourages bonding by releasing the hormone prolactin, which
triggers a strong protective response in the mother.
Through research on the Internet, Father Sauppe discovered many images of
Mary nursing Jesus, including one of the earliest known depictions of the
Blessed Mother, discovered in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla in Rome.
A copy of that fresco is displayed on the back wall of the chapel, next
to an image of Our Lady of La Leche, a devotion brought to the New World by
Spanish settlers. The first shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the
United States was the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Fla.,
established about 1620.
The chapel also features five larger images of Mary nursing the baby
Jesus by 16th and 15th century artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci,
Michelangelo, Andrea de Solario and Ferrari, De Fendente.
In addition to encouraging women to breastfeed their babies, the
spiritual art in the Madonna Chapel is meant to lead to contemplation of the
motherhood of Mary. Holy cards promote a new "Theotokos (Mother of God)
Chaplet" which Father Sauppe developed while writing his paper.
The chaplet prayer contains the first part of the traditional Hail Mary,
but ends with the words, "Blessed is the womb that carried Jesus and the
breasts that nursed Him. Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep
it," based on Luke 11: 27-28.
The chaplet focuses on five mysteries of the maternity of Mary: the
quickening (when Mary first felt Jesus move in her womb), Jesus' first
nursing, His first steps, His first words, and His weaning.
"Here are some things all mothers go through," Father Sauppe said. "It's
not esoteric. These are just experiences that women have -- that Mary had.
There's a common bond between all mothers and Mary."
The Madonna Chapel, which was designed by several parishioners based on
Father Sauppe's paper, is "90 percent done," he said. Pews and chairs are
still needed, as well as a painting of a crucifixion scene to hang over the
A traveling display in the corner, put together by parishioner Mary
Frank, offers smaller pictures of Mary breastfeeding, as well as holy cards
and information on the chapel. The display can be taken from to parish to
parish, Father Sauppe said, adding that he is willing to give talks related
to breastfeeding and the Madonna Chapel to interested groups.
The chapel also features a nativity set and a passion set showing Mary in
prayer before Jesus on the cross.
"Kids can play with them," Father Sauppe said. "It's a visible reminder
that Jesus was born for the purpose of dying on the cross. So the chapel
isn't just a glorification of motherhood, it's a serious reflection on the
mission of Jesus to suffer for us and die for us, and Mary's role in
The Madonna Chapel also contains informational brochures on vasectomy and
tubal ligation reversals, the moral and physical dangers of contraception,
information on natural family planning, and other pro-life themes.
The Blessed Sacrament has been reserved in the chapel since the May 31
dedication, and eucharistic adoration will be offered there every Thursday
beginning June 17 from 5 to 8 p.m.
The chapel, which is accessible through a touchpad entry with a code
available to parishioners, will also be used for Masses during the winter
and possibly for prayer groups or Bible studies.
"Everybody who has seen it has loved it," Father Sauppe said. "The
greatest compliment I had was from a young mother whose youngest child is
about 4. When she came in and saw it, she said, 'It makes me wish I was
"That's what I want to elicit out of women -- the maternal desire," he
Surrounded by Marian images from the early church to the 16th century,
one modern-day photograph stands out in the new Madonna Chapel at Sacred
Heart Parish in Annawan.
The subject of the photograph is the church's new "pro-life saint," St.
Gianna Molla, holding one of her children.
Representatives from the Society of Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, based
in the Philadelphia area, will visit Sacred Heart Parish on Oct. 30-31 to
speak about the saint's life. The public will also have the opportunity to
venerate some of her relics.
St. Gianna, an Italian mother of four and pediatrician, was canonized May
16 by Pope John Paul II. She died in 1962 seven days after giving birth to
her fourth child, which she refused to abort after doctors discovered a
large ovarian tumor that required surgery.
Instead of having her entire uterus removed, which would have killed her
two-month old fetus, she insisted that surgeons remove only what was
necessary and allow the baby to live to term, despite the risk to herself.
Many miracles have already been attributed to St. Gianna's relics,
according to Father Timothy Sauppe, pastor of Sacred Heart. He especially
encouraged women with problem pregnancies or who have difficulty conceiving
to view the relics in October.
The Society of Blessed Gianna will also visit St. Mark's Parish in Peoria
in conjunction with the Annawan stop. More details will appear in a future
issue of The Catholic Post.