Has been active in archdiocese for almost 50 yrs.
By Dan Russo
CEDAR RAPIDS —Mary Jo Evers has always had a special connection to the mother of Jesus. She was not only named after the Virgin Mary, but also shares a birthday with her. On Sept. 8, the Catholic Church celebrates the Nativity of Mary. It just so happens that Evers will be hosting the Pilgrim Virgin that day, so there will be a celebration that’s doubly significant.
“I have the statue coming to my house that week, and I will be having a cake,” she said with a laugh.
Evers has been having the Pilgrim Virgin visit her residence periodically for over two decades and now serves as the scheduler for the program in the Cedar Rapids area. This private devotion to the Blessed Mother has been in the archdiocese for almost 50 years, with the program currently active in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Marion, Atkins and several other smaller communities.
“Through this, we’ve met a lot of Catholic families in other parishes and neighbors who are Catholic,” explains Evers. “People you don’t even know show up. People will stay and talk for a while. Having the statue in their home, (participants) almost feel like they’re on retreat for a week.”
The program has led to blessings and fellowship for thousands of households over the years. An honor guard picks up a statue depicting Our Lady of Fatima on Saturdays from one home and transports it to another. Upon arrival, the statue is placed in a prominent spot in the home, and the participants pray the rosary, the Litany of Mary and a list of intentions. Then, on Sunday evening and each night after that for one week, the hosting family invites others to their home to say the rosary. At the end of the period, volunteers pick up the statue and escort it to the next home.
‘Ad Jesum per Mariam’ (To Jesus through Mary)
In the Dubuque area this past Saturday, an honor guard carefully placed the Pilgrim Virgin on a table in the living room of Brian and Angie Link. Afterward, a candle was lit, a rosary placed around the neck of the statue, and flowers decorated its sides. Each member of the group led a decade of the rosary during the prayer service. Afterwards, people stayed to chat for a bit. The Links have been hosting the program for many years. It has added to their spiritual lives as a family.
“If you want to be a good Catholic, it helps to pray with and be around other Catholics,” reflected Brian Link. “It’s beautiful,” said Angie of the devotion.
The concept of the Pilgrim Virgin began in the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 1970 thanks to the passion of Gerald Trimble. He approached then Archbishop James Byrne about starting the program as a way to encourage devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. He later worked with the archbishop to start a perpetual eucharistic adoration chapel in Dubuque called the “Power of Prayer,” which continues today.
“Jerry devoted his whole life to the Fatima message and eucharistic adoration,” said Bill McDonough, director of the chapel and a member of the Pilgrim Virgin honor guard in the Dubuque area.
Beginning on May 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary appeared to three peasant children with messages from her for the world. The apparitions continued on the 13th of each month until Oct. 13, 1917, at which time a major event known as the “Miracle of the Sun” took place. After investigation, the church approved the apparitions as authentic, but belief in them is not required of Catholics. The messages included, among other topics, a request by Mary that people pray the rosary for the conversion of sinners, repent of their sins and consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart. With 2017 marking the 100th anniversary of Fatima, McDonough and others involved in the Pilgrim Virgin program are aiming to encourage more people to join the honor guards or host the statue. McDonough, who has been involved with the Pilgrim Virgin every Saturday since 1974, said the practice has had a positive impact on him and others who participate.
“Devotion to Mary will lead you closer to Jesus,” said McDonough.
Organizers are quick to dispel any incorrect notions that Catholics are “worshiping” or “adoring” the Blessed Mother.
“I’ve gotten attacked so many times about ‘adoring’ Mary,” said McDonough. “We want to throw that aside. We do not adore (or worship) Mary. We certainly honor Mary.”
Leon Hartogh, who coordinates the program for the Marion and Cedar Rapids areas, used an analogy to explain the relationship he has with Mary.
“Do you have a picture of your mother in your home?” he said. “It’s the same thing.”
The interaction with people and the spiritual impact is what has kept the program going for so long, according to Hartogh. “We’ve met a lot of beautiful people through this statue,” he said. “It’s just been very rewarding.”
There when you need her Geralyn Ward and her husband, Gary, have been hosting the Pilgrim Virgin for decades, including the period in their lives when they were raising their children. During these years, the couple would try to say the rosary together as much as possible as a family, but the demands of modern life made that difficult. However, each week they hosted the statue, they were certain to pray together.
“It focuses you, no matter what’s going on, on the prayer,” said Geralyn Ward.
One of the fruits of this family prayer, believes Ward, is that her children have stayed close to God, even as adults.
“All our kids are practicing their faith,” she said.
For Mary Jo Evers, continuing to host the statue over the years has enhanced her faith, and she has not hesitated to ask for the Blessed Mother’s assistance.
“There’s just so many miracles with the Blessed Mother in our family,” said Evers. “Every time she comes, she always comes at the right time.”
In one case, Evers and her husband were working on the adoption of her two twin boys from Russia. In 2003, the boys came home on a week she was hosting the statue, which she sees as divine providence. In another instance of grace, she became ill during the week the statue was in her home. She credited Mary’s help for getting her through the illness and offered her suffering and prayers to help a relative who was struggling to overcome a much more serious health issue.
“That’s one of the messages of Fatima; to offer up your sacrifices,” Evers said. Both Ward and Evers hope the Pilgrim Virgin program will be there to provide fellowship and grace to others in the future.
“I hope we can keep it going and it continues,”said Ward.
For information on joining the Pilgrim Virgin honor guard or hosting the statue in your home, contact Mark Hoeger (Dubuque) at 563-213-0477 or Mary Jo Evers (Cedar Rapids/Marion) at 319-377-4197.
PHOTO: Angie and Brian Link host the Pilgrim Virgin statue (far left), which depicts the Marian apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, at their home Aug. 26. (Photo by Dan Russo/The Witness)