This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at
This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at
One of my daily struggles in trying to live a more prayerful life has been distraction. Often, when praying or at Mass, my mind will wander away from focusing on Christ as I drift into thoughts about a paper I have to write, what I need to buy at the store or how many slabs of bacon I will eat later that morning at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary's Sunday brunch.

It is a battle I fight, and self-discipline is the most effective weapon. Sometimes, however, we need to call in reinforcements outside ourselves to draw us closer to Jesus.

Driving back to seminary on the night of Jan. 10, my car was on cruise control and my mind on autopilot. I remember worrying if I left anything back in New York, debating where I should stop for food and being agitated that I had to return from Christmas break sooner than some of my brothers at other seminaries.

This was no proper mental attitude for a man returning to a house of prayer!

Light snow began to fall. As the cars ahead slowed down, I happened to glance to my right. There stood, off the road just over the guard rail on the passenger side of the eastbound lane on the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90 East, between mile marker 68.2 and 68.4), a small statue of the Blessed Mother, stationed on a stone pedestal and illuminated by a lantern.

The snow glistened in the air and sparkled like diamonds on Mary. It was a breathtakingly beautiful scene.

Upon my arrival at Pope St. John XXIII, I went to Google for information on this wonderful tribute to the Virgin. Known variously as the "Turnpike Madonna" and "Our Lady of the Highway," the monument has stood there for 54 years. It was erected in 1964 by farmer Alfred Brodeur as a thank-you to God for curing his wife, Eldora, of breast cancer.

Though husband and wife are now deceased, the family maintains the site's upkeep. Diane Fontaine, Alfred's daughter and current caretaker of the Marian shrine, explained that her father put the two-foot-tall cement statue of Mary in this well-travelled area "to inspire faith and prayer."

Mission accomplished, in the eyes of this seminarian!

As I contemplated those fleeting moments of serene beauty experienced when I saw the Mary statue in the snow, I thought about the scene at the Lord's cross in John's Gospel. As He was dying of crucifixion, Jesus took notice of Mary and His beloved disciple. He exclaimed to his mother, "Woman, behold your son!" and then to John, "Behold, your mother!" (Jn 19:26-27).

It was at this moment that the Lord, in some of His final human breaths, universalized Mary's motherhood. Christ spoke with the foreknowledge that we, too, would hear His command to John to "behold our mother."

Following Jesus's glorious Ascension, Mary's central role in the upper room with the Apostles, praying for the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), demonstrates her efficacy as a petitioner to God on our behalf.

One of the most-loved traditions here at Pope St. John XXIII is dedicating Saturdays to our Blessed Mother. During morning prayer, prayed communally, we read psalms, canticles and antiphons from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A special Hail Mary is recited following the petitions at Mass, as well.

In his Lenten message to the faithful, Pope Francis said we should use this season "to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life." For me, this involves removing constant distractions from my prayer life. This Lent, I am beginning every day with a prayer to Mary, to ask her to help keep me focused on her son.

Alfred Brodeur's prayers to the Blessed Virgin were answered five decades ago, and his poignant tribute of thanksgiving is still bringing people to our Lord to this day. During these 40 days in the desert when we await our risen savior, we should not hesitate to ask His mother to intercede for us in our daily struggles. Ad Jesum per Mariam! To Jesus, through Mary!

(Mr. McHale, a native of Holy Trinity parish in Hudson, is studying for the priesthood for the Albany Diocese at Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass.)