A different Marian apparition

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After months of hard work, Anson Brassell completed his Eagle Scout project. At the suggestion of his pastor, Father John P. Mosimann, Brassell, a St. John the Apostle parishioner and high school senior, decided to build a grotto outside the historic St. John Chapel in downtown Leesburg.

Following the example of a parishioner who constructed a grotto at his own home, Brassell created a design and started purchasing cinder block and stone. After convincing the town of Leesburg that the structure was within regulations, he received approval to build. Members from his troop helped lay the foundation and stack the flat stones. Now all he needed was a statue to put in it.

A few weeks after the grotto's completion, on the feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Nov. 27, several parishioners were in the church setting up Advent decorations. From the flower room, Mary Thomas spied a pick-up truck with Pennsylvania license plates pulling up to the church. A man and woman got out of the truck, lifted a blanket-covered statue out and set it on the sidewalk. By the time Thomas had walked outside, the truck was speeding away.

Thomas went back into the church to grab the other volunteers, Joan Mentzer and Joe and Jean Ange, to inspect the mysterious gift. It was Our Lady of Grace, painted in a blue and white robe with her hands outstretched. When they told Father Mosimann, he had the heavy statue moved to the grotto. Her height was a perfect fit for the space.

Father Mosimann promised Brassell he would find a statue to put into the grotto, but instead Our Lady provided one, said Father Mosimann. "I guess she decided I was taking too long."

Mary's intercession in the life of the parish named for the apostle who was entrusted to her care is abundantly clear to Father Mosimann. While the parish was still a mission, it was known as Our Lady of Lourdes, or Immaculate Conception, he said. When building the new church, dedicated in August 2012, approval from the town came much earlier than expected on the feast of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8.

During the church building campaign, Father Mosimann asked the community for both money and the intercession of Our Lady. "We had people submit their names on envelopes where you could check off how many Hail Marys you prayed," said Father Mosimann. In the end, the parish prayed more than 6 million Hail Marys for the construction of the church.

"If we can increase our love of Mary, she will always lead us to love of the Eucharist," said Father Mosimann.

As for the Mary statue, Father Mosimann is grateful for its presence and the people who donated it to the church. Though its backstory is unknown, he welcomes any clues to the statue's previous home.

"For now, I am taking this as a sign that Our Lady wanted this very statue in that very grotto," said Father Mosimann in a bulletin announcement. "And it makes me whisper a prayer for whoever first owned and loved the statue, and for the folks who dropped her off on our sidewalk."

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015