A College Built on Miracles


I work at a college that is built on miracles.

Soon Benedictine College graduates will be taking their last march up the Raven Walk in cap and gown to put candles in front of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.

They will thus be paying homage to the single most important human being in the 160-year history of this Kansas college: The Blessed Virgin Mary.

It all started with a storm.

Pioneer priest Father Henry Lemke wrote in his memoirs about an 1856 incident where he was lost in a storm near the Missouri River, where the campus is located today. A Lutheran convert, he had always been tepid about Mary. He wasn’t this day.

“I asked her to show me by a sign that she truly was the ‘Helper of Christians,’” he said. “And show me a sign she did.”

As soon as he said the prayer, a light appeared on the horizon. He stumbled toward it and found that it was a lantern hanging in the window of a cottage where he found shelter from the storm.

The mother and daughter who lived there told him a “lady dressed in white” had appeared to the child in the night. She awakened the mother, who hung the lantern.

“The Mother of God worked a miracle,” recounted the priest. “For this reason, I promised to love and honor her until I draw my very last breath.”

Two years later, Benedictine College was founded — the same year the “lady dressed in white” appeared to another little girl in a small town, St. Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, France. The college built Mary’s Grotto in the center of campus to commemorate the connection, mixing Lourdes water into the foundation and attaching Lourdes stones into the wall.

The Memorare Army

The “Founder’s Storm Promise” proved prophetic. The college honors the Blessed Mother to this day.

As a child, the college’s current president, Stephen D. Minnis, learned the Memorare prayer from a Benedictine sister of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison. He never forgot it. He later heard that Mother Teresa was a fan of the prayer, too.

“Mother needed $85,000 to purchase a building,” he said. “So she had her sisters pray 85,000 Memorares. When they were done, a man walked in off the street and handed over a check for $85,000.”

In 2006, Minnis did the same thing with his first “Memorare Army” prayer campaign. He recruited 26 people to pray 1,200 Memorares apiece for new students. In the fall, 1,229 students enrolled. A dangerous shortfall was averted.

Subsequent Memorare Armies at the college had similar results as the college prayed for funds, buildings, students — and safety from the storm.

The Archbishop, the Memorare, and two stalled storms.

In a 2010 column, Kansas City, Kansas, Archbishop Joseph Naumann wrote about the day Benedictine College’s grotto was dedicated. A storm was predicted to hit during the ceremony.

“I called President Minnis shortly after 3 p.m. on September 8, encouraging him to get the ‘Memorare Army’ praying for good weather for the grotto dedication,” he said.

It didn’t look promising. The Archbishop drove through rain — until he hit the city limits of Atchison, where it stopped. “Much to my amazement,” he said, “the weather was perfect for the blessing of the grotto.”

He said an airport traffic controller later reported what he saw: “The controller expressed his amazement about the storm system that rolled across Kansas at a steady clip, only to stall inexplicably at 4 p.m. outside of Atchison for approximately 5 hours.”

The Archbishop was so impressed that, when faced with the federal contraception mandate, he asked the college to create a “Memorare Army for Religious Liberty.”

It did, gathering more than 3 million Memorares for religious liberty, and the results have been stunning once again: On several occasions, the prayers seem to have stalled that oncoming storm, too.

“Our Lady takes our prayers seriously,” said Minnis. “Her intercession defended the faith when the pope called for Rosaries in the Battle of Lepanto, and we can be sure she is responding to the 3 million prayers from the Memorare Army for Religious Liberty today.”

Miraculous Medals

The Memorare Army is only part of the story of Mary’s miracles at Benedictine College. President Minnis lists many instances of Marian intercession at the college, large and small — including one story about this year’s commencement speaker at the college, Kansas City Royals legend Mike Sweeney.

“Mary always leads to her Son, and we want nothing more for our students than to thrive in their faith in Jesus Christ,” said President Minnis.

This fall, the college renewed its consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

To commemorate the occasion, 1,000 faculty, staff, students, and friends formed a giant living rosary around the campus. After praying the Rosary together, students dropped hundreds of blessed Miraculous Medals into pre-drilled holes in the sidewalk.

Afterward, the holes were plugged up with concrete and stamped with symbols to mark a giant walking rosary — Roman numerals to begin each decade and an M for each Hail Mary.

That means that when graduates walk up the Raven Walk to visit the Lady Dressed in White one last time this weekend, they will literally be walking on hallowed ground.

They will also be honoring a loyal friend and helper.

This appeared at Aleteia.
Photo: The academic quad at Benedictine College features the Our Lady of Grace fountain.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.