Slovenian Catholic Mission - Slovensko Versko Središče

Serving Slovenians in the Chicagoland area since 1923

Marja Pomagaj

In the Alpine countryside of northern Slovenia there stands a small village named Brezje. The village church, St. Vitus, has existed in one form or another for centuries. In late 18th century years a pastor named Father Ažbe built a chapel onto the church in which he set up a shrine to Mary Help of Christians, and placed therein a copy of painting he had brought with him when he studied in Innsbruck. The people of the neighboring hamlets and villages began coming to the shrine.

Then the lands thereabout were occupied by the French under Napoleon, a Slovenian artist named Leopold Layer (1752-1828) used his talents to make counterfeit money. He and his brother were caught and jailed. After a peace treaty was signed with Austria, the French left, Layer was released. While in prison, he had made a vow to paint the chapel in Brezje if he were freed. In 1814 he fulfilled his vow, not only painting and decorating chapel walls, but also painting a new version of Mary, Help of Christians, a painting which became the center of more than local devotion, especially when reports of miraculous healings began to circulate in Slovenia. Today this shrine in Brezje is one of the national pilgrimage centers of the country.

Fr. Hugo wrote in the Ave Maria magazine that he had spent two years in Brezje, recuperating from illness and regaining his strength. It was a peaceful time living near Marija Pomagaj. Now he wanted Marija Pomagaj to come to Lemont. He petitioned his confrere, Fr. Blaž Farčnik, to paint a copy and send it to the United States.

THE PAINTING

Fr. Blaž Farčnik, O.F.M. (1879-1945), was academically trained in artistry and painting, and had made his studies in Florence, Italy. He had already designed some covers for the Ave Maria magazine, a publication founded by Fr. Casimir in 1909 for the American Slovenians. His work may also be found in various churches in Slovenia and Croatia.

And so he made a copy, which was touched formally to the original in Brezje, before it was shipped to the United State. Fr. John Capistran arrived in Lemont from Sveta Gora, Slovenia, on October 1st, 1924, bringing with him Farčnik's painting and also two Carniolian queen bees.

On December 1st, 1924, the painting of Maria Pomagaj was officially placed on the altar of the temporary chapel and blessed by Fr. John.

Crowning of Marija Pomagaj

The 28th International Eucharistic Congress, hosted by Cardinal Mundelein, was celebrated at various locations in Chicago and vicinity from June 20-24, 1926. Delegations of clergy and lay people came from many parts of the Catholic world, including from Slovenia. Most Rev. Anton Bonaventura Jegliè, Bishop from Ljubljana came, accompanied by the Franciscan Provincial, Fr. Regalat Čebulj and other clergy. The Lemont Franciscans invited the Bishop to come and crown Lemont's Marija Pomagaj after the congress ended. After his acceptance, the great event was scheduled for Sunday, June 27, 1926.

On the hill where there was a pond fed by spring waters (the present lake Bled by the Marian grotto in Baraga park) the friars and men built a wooden structure 24 feet by 40 feet, with an opening in the middle of one long side, the width of an altar, so the Mass could be celebrated under a roof and the people could stand or sit outside and be able to see the proceedings. The crowning of Mary and Jesus would take place in this building.

On Saturday evening, June 26, the following clergy arrived: Bishop Jeglič, Fr. Regalat, Rev V. Kragl from Fram near Maribor in Slovenia, and Rev Cyril Zupan, O.S.B., from Pueblo, Colorado. The following morning more clergy showed up: Very Rev. Michael Opeka, Cathedral Canon from Ljubljana, Rev. Ivan Štrajhar, pastor in Borovnica, Slovenia, Rev. Simon Lampe, O.S.B., Indian missionary in red Lake, Minnesota, Rev. John Smoley, pastor in Calis, North Dakota, and Rev Casimir Zakrajšek, pastor of St. Stephen's and once again the Commissary Provincial. After Mass had started, Rev. John Plevnik of St. Joseph's in Joliet and many of his parishioners also arrived.

Reports emphasized that the weather was very beautiful. The ceremonies began with a procession from the church to the building on the hill, led by men carrying various society and altar banners. The med and boys came next, followed by the St. Stephen’s church choir, named Adria and directed by Mr. Ivan Raèiè. Next came the clergy, followed by four vested deacons carrying the paintings of Marija Pomagaj. The bishop and his escort came next, with the women and girls as the tail of the procession. All prayed and recited the Rosary as the choir also sang, probably between the decades of the rosary.

Bishop Jeglič began the celebration of Pontifical Solemn High Mass. After the reading of the Gospel, he gave the sermon. Of course, the main topic centered on Mary Help of Christians, on Marija Pomagaj. In 1907 he had crowned the original painting in Brezje, Slovenia; now he would crown the Mother and Child in the copy in Ameriške Brezje. On both occasions, the same artisan, Mr. Kregar of Ljubljana, made the crowns.

The high point of the day was at hand. The Bishop ended his sermon. He blessed the crowns, and then placed them on the heads of Mary and the Baby Jesus on the painting.

Mass continued to its conclusion. After Mass, Fr. Casimir spoke in Slovenian, Slovak and English. The procession formed again and returned to the church, where the vested deacons placed the painting of Marija Pomagaj in its place on the side altar.

After lunch and the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Bishop also blessed a painting picturing the death of St. Joseph, painted by John Gosar of Betlehem, Pa, and donated by him. Various priests and some lay leaders gave speeches on the hill in the afternoon.

When the new brick seminary building was completed in 1939, the painting of Marija Pomagaj was placed above the main altar of the seminary chapel, where it remains to this day. Former church sacristan, Jaka Praprotnik, took the painting down and Lilijan Brulc, an artist from Joliet, restored the painting to its original brilliance. Former parish sacristan, Jaka Prapotnik reported that the date 1924 was found on the back of the picture. Marija Pomagaj, prosi za nas, Mary, Our Lady of Brezje, pray for us.

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