Cardinal Vincent Nichols recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of the return of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help to public veneration. He took part in a procession and Mass at the Church of Saint Alphonsus Liguori in Rome where the icon is housed and which is also his “titular church” as a cardinal.
Our Lady of Perpetual Succour is also our diocesan patron. In this article, MARGARET TURNHAM looks again at the devotion that our first bishop, Richard Lacy, had to Our Lady under this title, leading him to be the first English bishop to put a diocese under her patronage in 1879.
The term Succour is used throughout because that is the translation preferred by Bishop Lacy. He felt the term “Help” which was the American translation of the Latin “Succurus” did not convey the whole meaning….
I have been fortunate enough to discover Bishop Lacy’s own account of the growth of his personal devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, which gives a slightly different picture to that which had been put together previously, which tells of his own personal cure from a mysterious illness whilst a student in Rome.
This is one of the joys of historical research; new information can come to light which helps our understanding of events, or completes a story. In this case, it was the chance discovery of one of the earliest published English translations of the manual of devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in 1884. It belonged to Bishop Thomas Shine, and it must be a coincidence that he too shared a love of Our Lady in this way long before he came to the Diocese of Middlesbrough.
Bishop Lacy felt privileged to be asked by the “sons of St Alphonsus, the special heralds of Mary’s greatness” to write the preface for the first English translation of their manual of devotions. Dated March 14 1884 and written whilst he was staying at the English College in Rome, Bishop Lacy first gives a brief explanation of the “true position of the Mother of God”.
He goes on to tell of how his own personal devotion grew: “On April 26 1866 while yet a student in Rome, I was fortunate enough to witness the glorious procession in which the picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour was, for the first time borne from the Church of St Alphonsus through the streets of Rome: it was a sight never to be forgotten, and made a deep impression on my mind which time has not obliterated. What was my joy a few years later, to find myself placed at a Mission [in Bradford] where, through the zeal of the incumbent for his people’s welfare, a copy of the famous Picture was procured and an altar erected under the influence of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour… I will conclude with one striking instance of our Lady’s powerful help in a moment of supreme need, for the accuracy of which I can vouch.”
He then tells how a Bradford cabman fatally injured in an accident, miraculously recovered consciousness, while Mass was being offered for him at the altar of Our Lady. The priest “had the happiness to administer to him the last consolations of religion. Immediately he relapsed into a state of unconsciousness and soon after expired”.
I was puzzled that Bishop Lacy had made no mention of his own cure: the answer came a few pages later and it seems right that I use Bishop Lacy’s own words to conclude this article. It is headed:
Collegio Inglese Roma
March 21 1884
My Dear Father Livius,
After having sent off to the printer my little preface, as I informed you in my last letter, my next step was to go on the 18th to the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour on the Esquiline and offer up the Holy Sacrifice for a very special intention. Our Lady heard my prayer and vouchsafed me a miraculous cure of an internal ailment which has for the last nine years caused me much trouble and suffering, and has been a sad drawback to me in my work. The cure was instantaneous and complete. At first I could hardly believe it. I felt confused at the thought of a miracle being wrought on me. It has, however, proved not to be imagination but reality. I need not say how overwhelmed I felt with a sense of gratitude for such a favour. For the honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour I think this ought to be made known although if I were guided by my own natural instincts, I should prefer my name not to appear. I wish you would get as many prayers of thanksgiving as possible for this extraordinary proof of Our Lady’s loving heart. The good Fathers at St Alphonsus are all delighted and especially Father Douglas. Believe me my dear Father.
Yours faithfully in Christ, Richard, Bishop of Middlesbrough