New Marian Chapel in Dedicated in Annawan

By Amy Riedell,  
The Catholic Post

A special thank you to The Catholic Post, The Catholic Diocese of Peoria, and Amy Riedell for their generous permission to reprint this article.

Fr. Sauppe in the new Madonna Chapel in AnnawanANNAWAN -- 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 his paper.

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 condition faster.

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 yet-to-be-completed altar.

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 salvation history."

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 breastfeeding again.'"

"That's what I want to elicit out of women -- the maternal desire," he added.

Will display relics of new 'pro-life saint'

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.