Sanctity of Life shrine leads faithful to Jesus

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org

Parishioners at St. Clement of Rome in Des Peres have taken the Blessed Mother and put her front and center.

But not to worry -- she's not taking a place of prominence over Christ her Son, but rather is leading people straight to Him.

The parish dedicated its new Sanctity of Life Shrine Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The outdoor shrine features a carerra marble statue of the Madonna Della Strada, which was commissioned almost 30 years ago by then-pastor Father John Freiberger.

The statue largely remained hidden near the parish's tennis courts and was somewhat disconnected from the rest of the parish grounds, according to Robert Barringer, a St. Clement parishioner who served as the architect for the project. A new space was created, including a small shelter over the statue, bench seating and a bubbling boulder fountain, which will operate in the warm months.

St. Clement parishioners teamed together for the project, which started back in 2012. Besides individual donors, seventh-grade students held a reception after the groundbreaking, with proceeds to go toward the parish fund-raising campaign for the shrine. Other parishioners have lent their talents, including Tom Dunn of Dunn Lawn and Land, which oversaw construction efforts.

One of the highlights is a pathway that leads visitors from the shrine to the parish's standalone adoration chapel, which offers perpetual adoration.

"We wanted the walkway so Our Lady would take us to Jesus," said parishioner Jeanne Fluri. "There were three things for our vision: we wanted it to be visible, we wanted it to be uplifting and we wanted it to be prayerful. (The shrine) is more grand than what we ever could have imagined."

About 120 Parish School of Religion students gathered after class Dec. 9 to pray the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary and walk by candlelight to the shrine for more prayers and a blessing by Deacon Rich Vehige. "Those are all titles we give to our Blessed Mother," said Deacon Vehige after praying the litany, which includes 50 titles for Mary. "Can you believe it?"

The completion of the shrine fell on the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion in the United States. The shrine dedication earlier this month fell on the National Night of Prayer for Life, a nationwide effort to pray for the end to abortion.

"We believe firmly in the importance and the value and the benefit of prayer," pastor Msgr. James Pieper previously told the Review. "We believe through the eyes of faith (prayer) is something that is truly effective. We can't quantify it as we can with material things but we recognize what it is that Jesus taught us about it and we recognize through the eyes of faith that our Lord is the one who gives power to prayer. We also see in the example of the early followers of Christ their devotion to prayer and their recognition that we look to the saints -- our Blessed Mother in a special way -- to intercede on our behalf through prayer."

Seventh-grade PSR student Maria Haro said she recognizes the importance of praying to the Blessed Mother and said the new shrine will help her to think about praying to her, especially in times of need.

"She was already beautiful, and they put her in a more beautiful place," she said.

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