America’s First Marian Shrine

We’re excited to introduce a new series about families on pilgrimage and sharing about shrines and holy sites they love. Our first family pilgrimage feature is no coincidence for America’s first Marian shrine – The National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida! Our feature family are the Hopkins, who are lucky to call the region home and are able to frequently visit the Shrine of La Leche with their young children. Let’s dive in and have Sarah tell you more about it!

The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche is a beautiful pilgrimage place for families. This is the site of the first parish Mass celebrated in what is now the United States. The Spanish settlers brought their devotion to Our Lady of La Leche here and built America’s oldest Marian Shrine. The land was founded on September 8, 1565. I believe that this is no mistake – September 8th is celebrated as the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is Mary’s land. The land that the Shrine is located on is called “The sacred acre”, and it truly is. There is an unmistakable peace that overwhelms you once you arrive.

At the top of the hill you will find the historic chapel. In the historic chapel you will find the statue of Our Lady of La Leche. Our Blessed Mother nursing her tiny babe, the King of the Universe who came to us as a small and defenseless baby – it is truly beautiful!

There is also a space in the back of the chapel filled with lighted candles. The candles that many mothers and fathers and families have lit in prayer asking for Our Lady of La Leche’s intercession on their journey. Many women come to pray for help conceiving a child or for a healthy delivery of their child already conceived.

We first visited the Shrine in 2015 before the birth of my first child to pray for her protection. We have since been back in thanksgiving for two more children and for help conceiving and consolation after a miscarriage. Each time we go and ask Our Lady for her help, she always shelters us in Her mantle. She is truly present there. Our Lady of La Leche has healed our family of many things other than fertility related. She has helped me overcome many obstacles related to my motherhood and allowed me to open to receive the graces She wishes to give. 

There is a path surrounding the chapel that presents the Seven Sorrows of Mary.  This is a great opportunity to walk with Mary. Along the path you will also find many statues depicting the life of Jesus and Mary. Our favorite is the Let Them Come to Me statue. Our little guy clearly knows he is welcome there!

There is plenty of lawn space for you to have your picnic lunch and for the kids to run around.   A pilgrimage center that has restrooms and covered picnic tables for you to enjoy has recently been added. The mission grounds really allow you to spend the day there soaking it all in. 

Inside the main church you can attend Mass and confessions offered Monday – Saturday.

Next to the church is the Shrine museum and gift shop. The museum holds some really cool American and Catholic history.

The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche is a perfect pilgrimage for families. There is something for everyone! I pray that you all love this pilgrimage site as much as our family does and that you grow closer to Our Blessed Mother by visiting this place!

Sarah Hopkins is a Catholic homeschooling mama who is married to her college sweetheart. Together they have three children and a cuddly yellow lab. They live in Southeast Georgia where they enjoy perpetual summer and southern sunrises. Sarah loves a good cup of coffee, baking sourdough bread, and family hikes in woods. 

All photos courtesy of Sarah Hopkins

If you would like to share your family’s pilgrimages with The Little Pilgrim community, please reach out and send us an email! We’d love your help to inspire other families to learn about and explore more holy sites in the United States.

For more information about the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida, visit missionandshrine.org and don’t forget to visit the bookstore to find “The Little Pilgrim Kid’s Companion to the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche” to help engage your kids with activities, prayers, and more while they visit the shrine! Available in Spanish too!

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