The feast of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was May 25. When our sisters moved to Springfield from Jacksonville in 1893, the new convent was named the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and we became known as the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. So you could say May 25 is our patronal feast day.
This obscure title of Mary has long intrigued me, so I offer this short reflection. As a follow up, I’ll pen something on the Sacred Heart as Heart of the Universe. Every title of Mary points to some aspect of Divine Truth. In this case, Our Lady points to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a vivid manifestation the Incarnation. Father Jules Chevalier of Issoudun, France, originated the title in 1857, after a period of study and meditation on the then-recent proclamation of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. He soon founded the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. Their motto is, “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be loved everywhere.” Chevalier also developed an image of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart very similar to the one shown above.
Using the internet, I’ve located about a dozen of these images. Typically, Mary is holding the child Jesus. He appears to be a toddler and she points to his exposed Sacred Heart. Sometimes, she is even holding his heart in her hand. Jesus’ right hand is raised in benediction. Mary’s heart is not exposed. In some images she is looking down toward her son. In others, she looks out to the viewer. Jesus always looks directly ahead.
Some of you may be wondering about the statue of Mary in the Rosary Courtyard, shown here. It doesn’t resemble at all the image of Mary originating in France. We’ve been told since the 1890s that this statue is Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. The discrepancy is a mystery I cannot resolve, at least not for now. Someday, in “retirement” I will comb the archives and historical newspapers to see if I can unravel the story. In the meantime, however, don’t overlook the significance of the congregational patron.
Notice the emphasis on the heart, the seat of emotion, the core of being. The Sacred Heart is a multivalent symbol: the human heart represents the incarnation of the Divine into human concreteness. The cross and crown of thorns remind us of the suffering and death of the Lord. Flames of fire hint at the eternal energy of resurrection. The Sacred Heart is, for me, a powerful symbol of the interconnection we profess in A Prayer for the Life of the World which we approved at the General Chapter in April. The burning heart of Christ is the place of connection to the cosmos; the crown of thorns, to the suffering of the rostros concretos.
Sister Susan Karina Dickey, OP, vice-president for mission integration at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson, Miss., completed her doctoral studies in history before joining the Springfield Dominicans in 1994. Watch for her further musings on all things Sacred Heart. This essay is released in anticipation of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which annually falls on the Friday after the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. June 28 this year.