I had the privilege of spending 10 weeks in the Holy Land during my time in seminary. Three of those weeks were spent in Bethlehem as our home base. We traveled throughout the area on day trips, returning each night to the monastery where we stayed. On days when there was no travel, we had class, and free time to read, study, and pray in the city of Bethlehem.
I quickly fell in love with the Milk Grotto. This Catholic church in Bethlehem had a special devotional area with a unique image of Mary: she was breastfeeding the child Jesus, a devotional image referred to as Maria Lactans. Some people find the image disturbing and believe that Our Lady should never be depicted with her breast exposed. For me, I realized that the image held up the maternity of Mary by focusing on an aspect of motherhood.
According to legend, the Milk Grotto commemorates the place where Joseph and Mary brought the child Jesus after leaving the cave. While Mary nursed the child, a drop of her milk fell to the ground, turning the limestone white. Since then, people honor this location as a special place of prayer.
Today, the Milk Grotto has taken on a special reputation as a place of prayer for couples praying to conceive. If you speak with the Franciscan custodian in his office, you will see thousands of pictures of couples who prayed at the Milk Grotto, took home a little of packet of Milk Powder, and have since conceived and given birth to their child. As I developed a strong affinity and devotion for the Milk Grotto, my own personal intercessory prayer turned to praying for those struggling to conceive. A handful of my friends and later parishioners, found themselves in this situation. I fostered a personal charism in my spiritual life of praying for them.
In my prayer and study, I’ve come to learn and identify a litany of other intercessors for this cause.
The Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s preservation from original sin in the womb of St. Anne. God acted in the life of Mary at the moment of conception, doing something that never before was done, sparing someone from original sin. Mary, as the recipient of God’s grace at conception, now intercedes for couples wishing to conceive, sometimes requiring the miraculous.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Marian apparition of Our Lady to Juan Diego depicts a woman dressed in traditional Aztec dress, with the sun behind her, and the moon under her feet. The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe reads like an icon. The miraculous image imprinted on Juan Diego’s tilma after he carried the roses to the bishop as evidence of the requested sign; the tilma image became the confirmation.
In the image, Our Lady is depicted as a pregnant woman, evident by the maternity belt she wears. When Our Lady appeared, she did so when the Aztecs were offering infants to the pagan gods and goddesses. Children were dying. Her message seeks to convert the nation and direct people to the True and Living God, and bring an end to pagan children sacrifices.
Mary’s words and apparitions demonstrates her love for infants and children. As the pregnant Madonna, Mary herself knows the joy of being an expectant mother. Mary, the Virgin with Child, intercedes for couples who wish to know that same joy of pregnancy.
Our Lady of La Leche
Maria Lactans, or the Nursing Madonna is a worthy intercessor for couples wishing to conceive. First and foremost because many couples have received the grace of fertility or adoption after praying at shrines dedicated to this title of Mary. Not only is Our Lady honored under this title in the Holy Land but also at a few shrines here in the United States, such as in St. Augustine, Florida, and High Springs, Florida.
The nursing Madonna who holds the Christ child near her bosom, who knows the joys of motherhood, intercedes for couples that they too might embrace their baby and nurse the child.
The Gospel of Luke recounts the Angel Gabriel’s announcement of St. John the Baptist’s birth to Zechariah and the Blessed Virgin Mary. After hearing of the barren woman’s conception, Mary sets out in haste to serve her elderly cousin, Elizabeth. As the two meet and exchange greetings, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy in the presence of Jesus. Elizabeth, who spent many long years without the blessing of a child, receives the gift of a child who will prepare the way for the ministry of Jesus.
Elizabeth and Zechariah know the longing which fills the hearts of parents as they wait to conceive and give birth, making them great intercessors for couples who find themselves in the same situation.
Sts. Joachim and Anne
According to the Protoevangelium of St. James, Anne, the mother of Mary, found herself in the same predicament as Elizabeth, without a child. Anne prayed fervently for the gift of a child, and it was a prayer heard by God, as they gave birth to the Immaculate Conception, Mary of Nazareth.
Sts. Joachim and Anne persevered in their prayer for a child. Couples who identify with Anne and Joachim can join their prayers to the parents of Mary, the grandparents of Jesus, as they themselves persevere in petitioning Almighty God.
St. Gerard Majella
A first-time expectant mother recently asked me to bless a medal she planned to wear throughout the duration of her pregnancy. The saint: St. Gerard Majella, a Redemptorist brother, tasked as the patron of expectant mothers. The reasons for his patronage of this cause are relatively unknown, but a few answers are put forward. Some say it was because of his own health that he exhibited compassion toward the sufferings of mothers. Other sources claim that he was known as an intercessor during his ministry for troubled pregnancies. His prayers to the Triune God bring about the safe delivery of children.
Given St. Gerard’s patronage of expectant mothers, it would seem natural to seek his intercession for couples wishing to conceive. On the website catholicinfertility.org, a prayer to St. Gerard for this intention has been penned:
O good St. Gerard, powerful intercessor before God and Wonder-worker of our day, I call on you and seek your help. You who on earth did always fulfill God’s design, help me to do the Holy Will of God. Beseech the Master of Life from whom all paternity proceeded, to make me fruitful in offspring, that I may raise up children to God in this life and heirs to the Kingdom of His glory in the world to come. Amen.
St. Teresa of Calcutta
In a recent tweet, I asked followers to assist me in compiling this Litany for Couples Praying to Conceive. One respondent suggested St. Teresa of Calcutta. I turned to a Catholic author and friend of mine, Donna Cooper O’Boyle, the author of Small Things with Great Love: A 9-Day Novena to Mother Teresa, Saint of the Gutters, and asked her why someone might suggest Mother Teresa. She shared that she has seen her intercession as efficacious for couples praying to conceive. She suggested the reason might lie in the fact that Mother Teresa loved babies and children. St. Teresa was extremely pro-life and her Missionaries of Charity have helped put forward thousands of children for adoption. Mother Teresa said, “The child is the beauty of God present in the world, that greatest gift to a family.”
It seems that Mother Teresa is a perfect intercessor for couples praying to conceive or adopt because she wants families to see God’s beauty in the child, and as a saint in heaven, she can pray for that intention.
St. John Paul II
In my same message exchange with Donna Cooper O’Boyle, she also suggested that St. John Paul II was also an efficacious intercessor. Her reasoning for him pertained to his love of family life. St. John Paul II began the World Meeting of Families Congress in 1994, which now meets every three years. It is a gathering of families and helps us to understand the role and theology of family in the modern world.
The Pope also authored the post-synodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio and added the title “Queen of Families” to the Litany of Loreto. He shared in the family life of his friends in Poland during his episcopacy and during his papacy he wanted families to grow in holiness. As a lover of family life, St. John Paul II intercedes for husbands and wives who wish to form a family of their own, so they might be called daddy and mommy by the littlest ones they bring into the world.
St. Gianna Beretta Molla
St. Gianna Beretta Molla is one of the great pro-life saints of the Catholic tradition. She was a wife, mother, and physician. During her fourth pregnancy, she began to experience complications which threatened her livelihood and that of the child. She refused the suggestion of an abortion. Gianna gave birth to her daughter and, a week later, she entered eternal life.
As a doctor, St. Gianna understands the complexities of human biology and the issues related to fertility. For these reasons, she is among the best intercessors for couples struggling with such issues.
Raymond Cardinal Burke — a prelate devoted to Gianna while her cause was being advanced — often entrusted individuals to her intercession. In a touching 2004 article, he writes,
“In several cases, a couple who previously seemed unable to conceive a child were blessed with the conception and birth of a healthy child. Some couples have had a second baby and hope to have more. They very much credit the prayers of Blessed, now St. Gianna for the great gift of the conception and birth of their child. Some have given their children the name of Gianna in recognition of the help of the saint.”
An interview by Elise Harris on The Catholic Channel’s show, The Crux of the Matter, sparked the genesis of this article and the birth of this litany. In the interview, Dale Ahlquist was asked about the process of canonization for G.K. Chesterton, as well as what common petitions people asked of the Catholic apologist. Ahlquist remarked that fertility is a common petition for those who seek Chesterton’s intercession.
This comment resonated with me, and I began to mull over the question of other saints for whose intercession I should seek for my parishioners and friends in this same situation.
G.K. Chesterton and his wife, Frances, were unable to have children. Given their sufferings, people have sought his intercession for the grace of fertility. This is a modern day man who lived in the 1900s; who knew the desire to be a father. It seems only natural that someone in this life who experienced the same difficulties as many couples do today would become their friend and intercessor.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, pray for us
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us
Our Lady of La Leche, pray for us
St. Elizabeth, pray for us
St. Joachim and St. Anne, pray for us
St. Gerard Majella, pray for us
St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us
St. John Paul II, pray for us
St. Gianna Beretta Molla, pray for us
G.K. Chesterton, pray for us
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