Posts Tagged ‘Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception’


Saint Mother Théodore Guérin

Saint Mother Théodore Guérin is a statue by American artist Teresa Clark, and it is located on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Catholic University neighborhood. The statue serves as a memorial to Théodore Guérin and was a gift from the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, an apostolic congregation of Catholic women which she founded in Indiana in 1840. It was this public artwork that was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

Born Anne-Thérèse Guérin in France in 1798, she knew from an early age that she wanted to devote her life to the church. When she was ten years old, she was allowed to take her First Communion, which was two years earlier than the custom of the time. And it was on that day that confided to the priest that she wished to enter a religious community. But at the age of 15, tragedy struck her family when her father was killed. Having already lost two children, the grief of losing her husband was too much for her mother to bear, and she fell into a deep and incapacitating depression. So Anne-Thérèse took on the responsibility of caring for her mother and sister and the family’s home. It wasn’t until years later, when Anne-Thérèse was 25 years old, that her mother recognized the depth of her daughter’s devotion, that she permitted her to leave to join a religious order.

Anne-Thérèse entered the young congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé-sur-Loir, where she was given the religious name Sister St. Théodore. She was first sent to teach at Preuilly-sur-Claise in central France. During her career in France, Sister St. Théodore also taught at St. Aubin parish school in Rennes and taught and visited the sick and poor in Soulaines in the Diocese of Angers. In 1939 Sister St. Théodore would be asked to travel to the United States to assist the Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana, by providing assistance and religious instruction to the great influx of Catholic immigrants of French, Irish and German descent. Although she was at first unsure of her abilities to complete such a mission, after considerable discernment Sister Théodore agreed.

Despite the humble resources available to them, in July 1841 Sister Théodore and the along with some other sisters opened St. Mary’s Academy for Young Ladies, which later became Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.  Over the next decade she also helped establish parish schools at Jasper, St. Peter’s, Vincennes, Madison, Fort Wayne and Terre Haute, all in Indiana, and at St. Francisville in Illinois. In 1853, she opened establishments in Evansville, Indiana and North Madison, Indiana; in 1854, at Lanesville, Indiana; and in 1855 at Columbus, Indiana, south of Indianapolis.  She also assisted in establishing two orphanages in Vincennes, and free pharmacies at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and in Vincennes.

Sister Théodore also proved to be a skilled businesswoman and leader as well as a beloved general superior.  By the time of Mother Théodore’s death in 1856, the Sisters of Providence congregation had grown from six sisters and four postulants to 67 professed members, nine novices and seven postulants.  Since that time more than 5,200 women have entered the Sisters of Providence.  Currently there are nearly 350 sisters in the institute, roughly 300 of whom live and minister from the motherhouse grounds in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.  Other sisters minister in 17 U.S. states and here in D.C., as well as in Asia.

Sister St. Théodore was canonized a saint on October 15, 2006, and continues to be a woman who inspires people more than a century and a half after her death.  She is a mentor for people today because she was an educator, a businesswoman, a pharmacist, a leader and, most of all, a strong, faith-filled woman.  She even inspired Teresa Clark, the artist who was commissioned to create the statue for the shrine.  Clark was a non-religious person, but was so was moved by the story of the Saint Mother that at the age of 50 she was baptized Catholic.

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Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

On this bike ride I rode to The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, located on land donated by The Catholic University of America, which is adjacent to the Basilica at 400 Michigan Avenue (MAP) in northeast D.C.  The prominent Latin Rite Catholic basilica is the largest Catholic church in the United States, and the eighth largest religious structure in the world.  It is also the tallest habitable building in D.C.

Visited by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Mother Teresa, among others, the Basilica, though distinctly American, rivals the great sanctuaries of Europe and the world.  Its architecture is Romanesque-Byzantine in style, and in comparison to Gothic structures such as the Washington National Cathedral, a Romanesque church is quite simple in appearance.   Open 365 days a year, the Basilica features daily guided tours and operates a Catholic gift shop and book store, and a cafeteria.  The Basilica also houses the world’s largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art.  It is host to nearly one million visitors annually, attracting pilgrims and tourists alike from across the country and around the world.

Designated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as a National Sanctuary of Prayer and Pilgrimage, the Basilica is the nation’s preeminent Marian shrine, dedicated to the patroness of the United States – the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception.  It is not the cathedral of Washington D.C. The designated cathedral church of the Archdiocese of Washington is the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, not the Basilica.  It is oftentimes affectionately referred to as “America’s Catholic Church.”  The Basilica is home to over 70 chapels and oratories that relate to the peoples, cultures and traditions that are the fabric of the Catholic faith and the mosaic of the nation.

The Basilica has a seating capacity of 3,500 worshippers at one time, and offers six Masses and five hours of confessions daily.  Special Masses, devotions, pilgrimages, and concerts are also offered on Holy days and holidays.  It does not have its own parish community, but serves the adjacent Catholic University of America, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and hosts numerous Holy Masses for various organizations of the Church from across the United States.

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The Old Post Office Pavilion

Located approximately halfway between The White House and the U.S. Capitol Building, at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), is the Old Post Office Pavilion, an historic building of the Federal government.  Also known as the Old Post Office and Clock Tower, the Romanesque Revival style building is an iconic structure and one of the most recognized buildings in D.C.  Built between 1892 to 1899, upon its completion it was used as the U.S. Post Office Department Headquarters and the city’s main post office until 1914.  It has been used primarily as an office building since then.

At 315 feet tall, the Old Post Office’s clock tower ranks third in height among the buildings in the national capital city, behind the nearby Washington Monument and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. From an observation deck at the 270-foot level, the tower offers incredible panoramic views of D.C. and the surrounding area. Beneath the observation deck is the tower clock, which is now more than a century old. Below that, on the tenth floor, are the Bells of Congress. These bells are replicas of those at London’s Westminster Abbey, and were a gift from England during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976, commemorating friendship between the nations.  They are rung at the opening and closing of Congress and for national holidays.

At times the building has had a precarious existence, and came close to being torn down on more than one occasion.  It has also undergone a number of changes and renovations over the years.  In the 1920’s the building was nearly demolished during the construction of the Federal Triangle complex.  In 1964, the President’s Council on Pennsylvania Avenue recommended the demolition of all but the clock tower.  The recommendation was subsequently approved by Congress. But as a result, local citizens banded together, and with the help of advocates in Congress, were able to convince Congress to reverse its decision.  Helping to ensure its future, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.  It is also a contributing property to the Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site.  Despite this, it again faced demise when it was nearly torn down in the 1970s to make way for completion of massive Federal Triangle development project.  However, it was once again spared.

Major renovations to the building occurred in 1976 and 1983, with the last renovation resulting in the addition of a food court and retail space on the ground level, and private and government office space in the upper levels. At that time, this mixed-use approach garnered national attention as a innovative approach to historic preservation.  Most recently, in 1991, an addition was added to the structure which contained more retail space.  However, the biggest change to the Old Post Office Pavilion is yet to come.  At the beginning of this year the food court and stores were closed down.  And earlier this month the remaining offices in the building and the clock tower closed.  This was done to begin the next chapter in the building’s life.

In 2013, the U. S. General Services Administration leased the property for the next 60 years to Donald Trump.  The Trump Organization said it would develop the property into a 250-plus room luxury hotel, to be named Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.  Along with the hotel, the development is slated to include an upscale spa, art gallery, café, bar, three high-end restaurants, a fitness center, library, lounge with fountain, several luxury retail shops, and a large-scale meeting and banquet facility.  The company also pledged to create a small museum dedicated to the history of the building, and to maintain the Bells of Congress and the building’s historic exterior.  The National Park Service will retain control over the clock tower and observation deck and it will keep them open to the public for tours.

It is hoped that the building’s next incarnation will help spark an economic renaissance in D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.  But much like the history of the Old Post Office Pavilion itself, only time will tell.

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