by Jessica Langdon
ATCHISON — In the weeks leading up to a unique and historic day for Benedictine College here, senior Kat Kennedy envisioned feeling “absolute joy” when the moment arrived.
The day she and many others anticipated was Sept. 8 — when the entire college was consecrated to Jesus through Mary.
“If we look at [the] Scriptures, Christ — from the cross — gave Mary as our mother,” said Abbot James Albers, OSB.
“Jesus said this is a way to get to me — through my mother,” he continued. “So to dedicate oneself or to dedicate an institution to Mary’s care is an attitude of desiring to come ever closer to Christ in that way of relationship through Mary.”
The consecration ceremony on Sept. 8 — the feast day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — drew more than 1,100 from near and far.
Many students helped lead the event, which included a Mass at St. Benedict’s Abbey and a procession to Marian sites on campus, including the grotto.
Marian hymns and recitations of the “Memorare” and the rosary laced the ceremony.
The actual consecration of the college by Abbot James and a blessing of a new 21-foot-tall Our Lady of Grace fountain in front of Ferrell Academic Center were highlights of the day.
Benedictine College has always cherished strong ties to Mary.
Stephen D. Minnis, Benedictine’s president, loves to share the story of Father Henry Lemke, OSB, founder of the college.
Lost in a Kansas winter storm in 1856, Father Henry turned to Mary, asking for help.
A lantern appeared in a distant window and guided him to the warmth and safety of a frontier home.
He learned later that the young girl who lived there had woken to the sight of a woman dressed in white, and her mother had then placed the lantern in the window.
Two years later, in 1858, Benedictine College was founded.
Minnis has a special devotion to the rosary and to Mary, and bringing this consecration to fruition was a “labor of love” for him.
“Benedictine College has called upon Mary from the very beginning to help us,” he said. “I’ve always believed the college is a chosen place with a special mission.”
Discussion of the new evangelization — and the role of Our Lady of Guadalupe in it — at a conference in Rome in 2012 inspired Minnis, and he saw now as a perfect time to move forward with consecration plans.
Sue Durkin, special assistant to the president for events, helped plan the day, which involved reaching out to Benedictine families, local parishes and churches in surrounding states, and even bishops and organizations from across the country.
Durkin was touched by notes bishops sent back expressing their support. Many who couldn’t attend sent items to be blessed.
Attendees also brought religious items for blessing.
In the consecration prayer, Abbot James asked Mary to help everyone live the consecration by closely following Jesus.
“May we be quick to follow God’s will, recognize Christ in others and bring him into the lives of those we meet,” he said.
Water began to flow from the new Marian fountain at the conclusion of the ceremony, accompanied by fireworks overhead and cannons that showered gold confetti into the air.
“The consecration was a statement about the values of the college and where it is headed,” said Andy Green, a Benedictine senior and a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus. “It was an important event for me to see the place I care so much about formally place importance on a love for God and a love for Mary.”
Kennedy, who grew up a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Paola, was personally consecrated to Jesus through Mary in 2012.
As a lead student ambassador, she works with freshmen and other new students and was excited to start off the school year sharing news of the consecration with incoming groups.
“I’m really happy it’s happening my senior year — I get to experience it before I leave,” she said. “But these people get to see the start of this consecration and get to live it out four years. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful.”
Steve Johnson of Benedictine College contributed to this article.