By Kenneth J. Souza
WELLFLEET, Mass. — Frank T. Szedlak Jr.’s deep affection for the Blessed Mother can be traced back to his days in grade school.
“My father would take me to Our Lady of Perpetual Help Novenas on Tuesday nights,” Szedlak recently told The Anchor. “I left the Church for a few years, when I came back I came here to (Cape Cod) and went back to that Novena, I was crying because she held onto me all that time. She never left me. Yes, the Blessed Mother is very special to me.”
So the upcoming visit of the missionary image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to his home parish of Our Lady of Lourdes in Wellfleet next month is cause for celebration.
Before the image is publicly displayed at the church for veneration on the weekend of June 11-12, it will first arrive and spend the Friday evening in Szedlak’s home.
“I’m so excited, because I’ve had the (Our Lady of Fatima) pilgrim virgin statue in my home before, and now I’m going to have the missionary image of Our Lady of Guadalupe — I’m very fortunate,” he said.
As a member of the Our Lady of Lourdes Pro-Life group, which is sponsoring the weekend event, Szedlak was only too eager to help coordinate a visit from “the patroness of America,” who has also become an iconic symbol for the Pro-Life effort.
And it didn’t hurt that he’s also a good friend of Dan Lynch, the official guardian of one of the four images that began touring the world in 1991.
“I’ve known Dan for quite a while,” Szedlak said. “He had a cottage in Eastham and we rented it for him. I went with him down to Mexico when St. John Paul II was there, and we attended the Masses and that was wonderful.”
The missionary image is an exact, digital replica of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that appeared on St. Juan Diego’s tilma. It is identical in color and size, measuring four-by-six feet, and was blessed at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico by its rector, Msgr. Diego Monroy, to bring conversions, reverence for life, sanctity of the family, and solidarity of the Church in America.
“At the urging of St. John Paul II, the Mexican bishops made an exact replica of the tilma and he blessed it and in 1991 they sent it out to the Americas to re-evangelize and help end the culture of death,” Szedlak said. “When she first appeared in Mexico, there were nine million Indians who converted through her image. It was interesting because there were six million Catholics who had left through the Protestant reformation in Europe. At any rate, the Mexican bishops defined Our Lady’s mission as ‘to end abortion and to bring conversions.’”
After concelebrating Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe with hundreds of bishops and priests in June 1991, St. John Paul II expanded the designation of the Mexican icon to become “the patroness of America.”
He concluded his homily with a prayer, “Oh, Sweet Lady of Tepeyac, Mother of Guadalupe! We present to you this countless multitude of faithful who pray to God in America. You who have come into their hearts visit and comfort all homes, parishes and dioceses of all the continent.”
In anticipation of the pope’s plea for visitations of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the four missionary images were blessed and began their visitations in June of 1991 from the International Rosary Congress at the National Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
“At that time Dan Lynch was a Pro-Life lawyer living with his wife and nine children in Vermont — and he heard the image was coming and he wanted to help,” Szedlak explained. “So he went down to Washington and they selected him because he had the resources to be a national guardian of the (missionary) image.”
Since that time, the images have been displayed before millions at thousands of sites. They have journeyed throughout America and the world and visited every state of the United States. The images visit churches, abortion centers, convents, prisons, hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
“In those 25 years it’s gone to more than 1,000 parishes and the biggest number of people who saw her was in the Philippines — that was an audience of about two million at one time,” Szedlak said. “From tiny little groups to large audiences, this is an image that touches people. She wants people to touch her and she wants interaction with people.”
To that end, Szedlak said the public veneration sessions are set up so the image is “easily accessible” to everyone and they encourage people to come up and venerate the Blessed Mother.
“A number of miraculous things have happened, and my hope and prayer is that this visit will help our parish get stronger and it will help the people in the area to connect with Mary, our mother. She wants to help us, so that’s the idea — let’s make her available.”
Although the image will arrive on June 10, Szedlak said public veneration begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 11 inside Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Wellfleet.
“Basically, we’re going to open the church up at 9 a.m. on Saturday until the Mass at 4 p.m.,” he said. “So it will really be from 9 to 5 if people stay for the Mass.”
On Sunday, June 12, the church will open at 10 a.m. for the 10:30 Mass and former judge and custodian Dan Lynch, who also authored the book “Our Lady of Guadalupe, Hope for the World,” will be speaking at 11:30 a.m. After an anticipated question-and-answer session with Lynch, veneration will continue until 3 p.m.
“On Monday we have a 9 a.m. Mass and after Mass we’ll prepare Our Lady to go to the next place,” Szedlak said.
During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Szedlak said there’s no better time to reconnect with the “Mother of Mercy.”
“We have so many major divisive issues today, I’m hoping the Blessed Mother can soften some hearts and do what she does best when she comes to places,” he said. “This is open to anyone and everyone and we’re giving them an opportunity to be with their Heavenly Mother.”
And with the 100th anniversary of her apparitions in Fatima, Portugal fast-approaching in 2017, Szedlak hopes this visit with extend Marian celebrations throughout the year.
“You see all these special events happening now because of the upcoming 100th anniversary of (Fatima) it’s all over the world, really,” he said. “We really are in an important time now for the Blessed Mother.”
The missionary image of Our Lady of Guadalupe will be at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, 2282 Route 6 in Wellfleet, on June 11 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on June 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, contact Frank Szedlak Jr. at 508-364-4758 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.