Hopeful Couples and Parents-to-Be Find Comfort in This
CINCINNATI—The Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche may look like an unassuming chapel in St. Augustine,
Florida, but the miracles attributed to it are countless for expectant mothers hoping for healthy babies
and for childless couples seeking to start families. Aside from being a place of great peace, the Shrine
of Our Lady of La Leche is also historically significant for Catholics. The first parish Mass in what
is now the United States was celebrated here on September 8, 1565—the feast of the Nativity of
This revered and holy shrine is featured in the May issue of St. Anthony Messenger in the article “Baby Wanted: The
Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.” Author Marion Amberg takes readers on a journey of St. Augustine and writes of
the chapel’s significant chapter in Catholic history and the miracles attributed to it. After
April 24, the article can be found at: AmericanCatholic.org.
Conceiving a child is a miracle.
But for many couples, that miracle needs a little push. Just ask Anthony and Lisa Smrek from Jeffersonville,
Pennsylvania. After a turbulent but successful first pregnancy, the couple visited the shrine in St. Augustine in
2000, hoping to be blessed with another child. Several weeks later Lisa discovered she was pregnant
with David, baby number two. His conception was traced to the time of their stay in St. Augustine.
Eric P. Johnson, director of the shrine, knows the power of this place and its history. The historic
Mass there in 1565 marked St. Augustine as the birthplace of Christianity in America, not only for
Catholics but for Christians of all denominations. “This is where the Gospel was preached to
the native people for the first time,” Johnson explains. Prior to that, Spanish explorers and
their chaplains came ashore to celebrate Mass and then sailed elsewhere.
The shrine has been a spiritual mecca for thousands of faithful pilgrims over the centuries, but it
has an even richer history as the place where many childless couples pray to become parents and where
pregnant women pray for healthy deliveries. Many hopeful parents have experienced a miracle of the
heart. One day while walking the grounds, Johnson met a couple from Louisiana who was retracing the
steps of a pilgrimage they had made 35 years earlier. Back then, they had come to pray for a family.
“Here we found the peace and the courage to accept God’s will,” they told him. “If
we couldn’t have a child of our own, we would adopt.” And they did—they became parents
to nine and grandparents to 20.
But the shrine isn’t simply a place for hope-filled couples. It’s also a place where the
sorrowful come for peace: Victims of spousal abuse, people dealing with their own or another’s
alcoholism, women grieving their abortions and parents who’ve lost children in accidents or to
suicide pray at the shrine for the Virgin Mary’s intercession.
“They come seeking solace and forgiveness,” says Johnson. “This place offers an
incredible sense of peace and an atmosphere of prayer. It allows the small but significant miracles
to take place in the heart and the spirit.”
granted to reprint this release.