October 17, 2022
Duilia de Mello and the mass's concelebrants pose next to an image of Our Lady of Aparecida where the statue will stand in the basilica

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will soon install a statue of Our Lady of Aparecida, widely regarded as the patroness of Brazil, thanks in part to the persistence of University Vice Provost of Global Strategies and Physics Professor Duilia de Mello. 

Native Brazilian de Mello has wanted an image of Our Lady of Aparecida in the National Shrine for years and began personally campaigning for the image installation in November 2021. The enthronement is planned for next summer. 

The devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida began in Brazil in 1717 when three fishermen pulled a statue of the Blessed Mother from the water, followed by a miraculous catch of fish. Veneration of the image spread among Brazilians and she was declared the patroness of Brazil in 1930. 

“She goes even beyond religion, she’s a cultural icon,” said de Mello. “The Basilica has a lot of meaning for the Brazilian community, not only the Catholic community but also the entire immigrant community.”

Cardinal Seán O’ Malley, OFM Cap., archbishop of Boston, offered to be the ecclesiastical sponsor of the installation and will donate his statue of Our Lady of Aparecida to the Basilica. Cardinal O’ Malley earned his doctorate in Spanish and Portuguese literature from the University. He taught at the University from 1969 to 1973 and is now a member of the Board of Trustees. 

On Oct. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Aparecida, Cardinal O’ Malley celebrated a Mass in Portuguese in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the Basilica in support of the cause. Brazilians from the region and out of state, representatives from the Brazilian and Portuguese embassies and University faculty attended. The Mass was con-celebrated by Most Reverend Adilson Busin, auxiliary bishop of Porto Alegre in Brazil, Rev. Diogo Escudero, OFM Cap., a local Brazilian Capuchin friar, Rev. Charles Hergenroeder, C.Ss.R., a Redemptorist Father from Boston, and Reverend Monsignor Walter Rossi, rector of the Basilica.

“(The Mass) marked the beginning of a project that has been the dream of the community for a long time,” said de Mello. 

The National Shrine, which is adjacent to the University but is unaffiliated, has over 80 different Marian chapels and images representing the unique devotions of Catholics from all over the world. When de Mello first approached Monsignor Rossi about installing the Aparecida image, he said that there was no available space since the Basilica is no longer building chapels. After walking through the entire Basilica, they found a space in the Our Lady of Fatima Oratory at the entrance to the Upper Church.

Most of the chapels and oratories in the Basilica are owned by religious orders, but the small chapel dedicated to the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Fátima, Portugal, is one of the few that belongs to the Basilica outright, which allows for more flexibility for a new installation. 

The statues will face each other from opposite sides of the oratory, which de Mello said is especially fitting because of the centuries-long bond between Portugal and Brazil. “They’ll be speaking Portuguese all day long,” she said.

The next step is raising $85,000 to construct a pedestal for the statue that meets the architectural standards of the Basilica. De Mello wrote the proposal and donations can be made through the National Shrine website.

“We still have a long way to go but we are a very resilient community,” said de Mello.