Ah, the month of May. One of those months that holds so much promise. And I’m not just talking about the flora and fauna abounding and the warm sun caressing your face. I bet you’re not too old to recall the glorious feeling when you can start counting down the days to summer vacation. “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.”
By the time May rolled around, it was tough to stay focused, especially back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when air conditioning in schools was as far fetched as 3-D printing and wearable technology are in schools today. It’s hard to concentrate on learning the three segments of an ant when your shirt is soaked with perspiration and stubbornly sticking to your back. Who cares about improper fractions and the circumference of a circle when you are trying to make a fan out of last week’s geography test without getting caught? Will sister give us a water fountain break before we keel over during the states and capitals drills?
Yes, in May, we were ready to draw the red line on homework, book reports, spelling tests, and all the other entrails of school life. We just wanted to bolt outside and play—ride our bikes, play wiffle ball, run under the sprinkler, or whatever suited our fancy at the moment.
Other than outdoor recess, there was only one Catholic school activity in May that I didn’t mind at all and actually looked forward to. Emphasis on one. That was the May crowning—every school day of the month.
Unlike some Catholic schools, the entire student body did not attend Mass every day at my school. I can’t recall how often we attended, but the consensus among former fellow students is that we generally just went on Holy Days. During the month of May, we always included a “May crowning” at Mass to honor the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, as “the Queen of May.” One or two lucky ducky students, usually girls, got to crown the Virgin Mary statue with a ring of stunning fresh flowers while the rest of us sang songs just as exquisite to honor Mary.
But what I remember much better than that event was the crowning of the Virgin Mary in our classroom. Our statue was not as large as the one in the church, but it was big enough to suit us. The sisters would schedule a different couple—one boy and one girl—to perform a short ceremony each morning. The class would recite some prayers and sing special songs just for Mary, climaxing in the crowning of the Queen of the May.
The girls were responsible for decorating Mary’s crown with fresh flowers. I was incredibly excited when it was my turn. My mother and I would go into the garden to pick just the right flowers. We had a medium-sized front yard and a large back yard that, in the summer, boasted a multitude of flowers, vegetables, and laden fruit trees. Some varieties of flowers, like forsythias, daffodils, and tulips, came and went in April, so we couldn’t take advantage of them. But in May, there were roses, peonies, phlox, daisies, lilacs, clematis, and more, and if those didn’t work out, there were wildflowers along the neighborhood roadsides and woods. My mother would help me to attach them lovingly and painstakingly to the crown. I was so proud of our creations.
I handled the crown gingerly as I carried it up the street to the bus stop and vigilantly guarded it on the school bus. The May crowning started our school day. I remember one year that I was partnered with Bill C., who was my favorite of all the boys. How proud I was to process down the classroom aisle with my homemade crown and to place it on the head of the Blessed Virgin Mary statue at the front of the room, all while the class sang one or two songs that befitted the occasion.
My friend Ann brought this video to my attention. The first time I viewed it, memories rushed in and filled my senses with the sights, sounds, and scents of those special May ceremonies. Even though most of the photos in the video are obviously recent ones, they took me back 50 years. If you attended a Catholic grade school then, sit back in your time machine and reminisce. The song used here, “Bring Flowers of the Rarest,” is my favorite of the May crowning songs.
“Hail Holy Queen Enthroned Above” also brings vivid recollections.
“Immaculate Mary” is a third song that we sang on those splendid spring mornings.
There is not a single month of the year without several feasts in Mary’s honor. For example, in August and September, there are seven feasts on the ecclesiastical calendar dedicated to her. But May is the month that celebrates Queen Mary every single day!
Did you know that honor and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is unique to Catholicism? Some Protestants groups reject that practice, claiming that although Mary should be honored as the mother of Jesus Christ, the attention paid to her is extreme and detracts from the worship of God. Although Catholics believe that Mary mediates between Christ and humanity, some Protestants claim that only Jesus, not Mary, can intercede with the Father. They simply see her as a woman of faith and obedience who serves the Lord.
In our Catholic school, our parish, our diocese, our religion, we honored Mary when I was a kid. Reverence to the Blessed Virgin Mary permeated our school. Here is evidence in a 1958 photo.
When I was in sixth grade, I believe, Sister gave us an assignment to create a booklet on the many names and roles of Mary. As usual, I dove into that task with alacrity, scouring books, Christmas cards, and holy cards for photos.
I wrote of Our Lady of Lourdes, who appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 in Lourdes, France, and taught her how to pray the rosary.
I related how, in 1917, Our Lady of Fatima appeared multiple times to shepherd children Lucia Santos and her two cousins in Fatima, Portugal. There she revealed her famous “three secrets.”
On July 12, 1830, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal appeared to Catherine Labouré in the Burgundy region of France. Mary displayed an image of a medal with the short prayer, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” She instructed Catherine to take the images to her father confessor, who should place them on medallions. Mary added, “All who wear them will receive great graces.” “The Miraculous Medal of Our Lady of Graces” has been worn by millions of Catholics since.
Not only did we Catholics honor Mary in the 1950’s and 1960’s, we still do today. For more reasons than I can enunciate, see “Reasons to Honor the Blessed Virgin Mary” at MyCatholicSource.com.
Pope Francis, in particular, has had a lifelong devotion for the Blessed Mother. Whenever he passes a statue or icon of Mary, he stops to kiss it or place his hand lovingly upon it.
He has even written a book entitled Mother Mary: Inspiring Words From Pope Francis. According to his book blurb, “For Pope Francis, Mary is an icon of wisdom, strength, courage and joyful hope. Her unconditional “yes” to God encourages modern believers to say “yes” to God’s call today. We must turn to Mary often, he says, for she is a mighty intercessor and a faithful companion on our spiritual journey.”
Ah, the month of May. One of those months that holds so much promise, thanks to our Blessed Mother Mary.
KAREN GENNARI is the author of The Crab Hollow Chronicles, a fictitious memoir based on her experiences growing up in a neighborhood full of boys in 1961/62. It also explores the merits and challenges of life in a Catholic family of seven.
Join nine-year-old Karen Schmidt in her attempts to navigate Crab Hollow Road amidst the overwhelming male majority who beleaguer her at every opportunity. Does Karen have the fortitude to weather toadnappings, midnight escapades, false impersonation, and more? Along the way, relive the people, products, music, sports, and headlines of the early 1960’s. Virtually every page references the 1960’s. Lots of your favorite toys are mentioned in these pages.