Sister Carolyn Marie Brockland, director of the National Votive Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor (OLPS) in New Orleans, discusses the shrine’s role in the city’s past and present and her role as its latest keeper.
How long have you been director of OLPS?
I began as shrine director in the summer of 2015, following Sister Carla Dolce, under whose leadership a successful capital campaign was undertaken to renovate the shrine in time for the bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans in January of that year.
What was the significance of the shrine in the Battle of New Orleans?
In 1815, the Sisters and other women of New Orleans gathered in prayer before the statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor on the eve of that battle, praying all night. When victory was won after a relatively short skirmish and little loss of life on the American side, a vow was made to have a Mass of Thanksgiving every year on January 8, the anniversary of this “miracle.” A recently released book by Brian Kilmeade, “Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans,” tells this story in an interesting and informative way.
What drew you to this ministry?
Our Lady’s shrine has long been a sacred space for me. I had the privilege of making my final vows here and of celebrating both my silver and golden jubilees of religious profession as well—a rather unusual occurrence, since we sisters are asked to serve in many parts of our province over the years. So when I was asked to serve as shrine director, it was a joy to accept this call.
What activities take place at the shrine?
We have Mass every day, and on Saturdays what we call a “perpetual novena” because we always say the novena prayer and sing the hymn to OLPS at this Mass. About once a month we have a special celebration for one of Mary’s feasts, for example, her Assumption on August 15.
One of my favorite duties is to serve as sacristan for our school Masses, usually celebrated every month. These sometimes include other ceremonies in which we re-tell parts of our “story,” just as we do on January 8. I also enjoy helping with weddings and baptisms when I can.
Other sisters assist in welcoming pilgrims who come from various parts of our city, state and country and telling them the story of OLPS and her shrine.
What does your ministry entail?
Besides my work at church services, I am responsible for coordinating the work of our shrine board of trustees and of the various committees which they chair, such as overseeing the finances of the Shrine, its maintenance, and development and outreach activities.
What areas of ministry have you been involved in primarily in the past?
I began as a teacher then became a high school principal. Later, I did training as a spiritual director and ministered at our retreat center in Frontenac, Minnesota. I also have also served in leadership for local communities of sisters and on our province leadership team.
Did past ministries prepare you for this role?
Each of my ministries has taught me more about how to minister to people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Experience in community and school administration has helped me develop skills needed for administration of the Shrine. Because I was the local prioress in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina, I have additional background and a shared experience with many people who turn to Our Lady for “quick help” in their time of need.
What do you most enjoy about your ministry?
I love the one-on-one contacts with people, whether it is in greeting them after Sunday Mass, working with them at wedding rehearsals, or watching our students “grow up” before our very eyes as they come in as toddlers and graduate as beautiful and accomplished young women.
What challenges do you face?
As is the case will all non-profits, we constantly need to raise funds to maintain our beautiful and sacred shrine and to offer meaningful ceremonies and programs for those who come here.
Are people who have a devotion to the shrine usually local or from elsewhere?
Our Lady of Prompt Succor is the patroness of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and of the other dioceses in Louisiana. There are many parishes in Louisiana that carry her name. But there are people from many parts of our country and other parts of the world who contact us to ask for prayers and who come on pilgrimage when they can. We use the internet to connect with them, sending out monthly bulletins and responding to prayer requests. We pray daily for all those who send their petitions to the shrine and who ask for our prayers in other ways.
What do you see as the future of the shrine?
My predecessor, Sister Carla Dolce, and her capital campaign committee worked very hard to build an endowment to ensure the future needs of the shrine. We continue the work she began with special emphasis on outreach: finding new ways to respond to the needs and desires of God’s people, especially those who look to Mary for her motherly care.