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anne_mikolay_2012_120Yesterday, I did something that harkens back to the Catholic school days of my youth. I crowned the Blessed Mother.

For the non-Catholics among us, crowning a statue of the Blessed Mary during the month of May is a Catholic school tradition. First-time communicants line up in their pretty, white dresses and their crisp, blue suits and white ties while an older girl places a wreath of flowers upon the head of a statue of Mary. Those gathered sing the hymns “Oh, Mary! We Crown Thee With Blossoms Today” and “Immaculate Mary.” It's a lovely ceremony done in remembrance of Christ's mother (not in worship of her). However, as a child, the May crowning meant nothing more to me than a half day of school. It wasn't until I was much older that crowning Mary became personally significant.

My mother, the daughter of devout Scottish immigrants, grew up in the old Bronx in the days when nuns wore stiff habits and children walked home from school for lunch. When Mom was a little girl, her teacher told her to return to school after lunch one May afternoon with a bouquet of flowers; Mom had been chosen to present a gift to the Blessed Mother later that day, an honor my mother was not initially happy with. All the way home, she fretted and worried she would return to class shamed and empty-handed; her parents had no money for fancy flowers. My Nana tied a ribbon around some hand-picked roses from the garden and promptly sent my mother back to school, where my mother's offering was well received. Though not store-bought, Mom's bouquet was a perfect and heart-felt gift from an innocent child and her mom.

I have never forgotten this story, which my mother shared with me shortly before she died; afterward, in her honor, I placed a statue of Mary in my backyard. Every May, I plant flowers around it and place a hand-made, floral wreath upon its head. Non-Catholic friends (and maybe some Catholics, too) don't understand why I uphold the May crowning tradition. I do it out of respect for the Blessed Mother, in thanksgiving for all she gave the world. But mostly, the little girl in me likes to think my mother is beside me, invisible in spirit, planting flowers with me, remembering the May crowning story she told me twenty years ago.

I guess you can take the girl out of the Catholic school, but you can't take the Catholic out of the girl.