Helbling Family (Click for Family Tree)
“Oh Mary, we crown thee
with blossoms today!
Queen of the angels,
Queen of the May.”
Anyone who grew up Catholic, especially the girls, will remember those words. Oh, how we all wanted to be the one who crowned the Queen of the May! The beautiful white dress, white gloves, white tights with white Mary Jane shoes, flowers woven into your hair and a bow or veil, a bouquet in your hands… walking down the church aisle with that slow bridal step, the organ playing, chorus singing, and being able to give homage to our beloved Mother Mary in the yearly ritual- it was the ultimate dream of a religious Catholic girl.
One lucky girl from the parochial school would be chosen to carry the crown of flowers, and a number of others carried flowers as they walked in the procession. There was a special side altar during the month of May with a most beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, looking down upon all with her loving, accepting gaze- one could feel the love all around her. A crown of flowers would be placed on her head once the procession of girls arrived at the altar, crowning Mary as “Queen of the May.”
After the Queen was crowned, the other girls in the procession would lay flowers at the feet of the statue. The flowers would be replaced throughout the month so they were always beautiful.
After school, some who were not so lucky to be chosen for the procession would sneak into the church, and lay our little picked clover flower crowns and dandelions at Mary’s feet. The weed flowers never seemed to be there the next day, although the other flowers were. It didn’t matter though- all the little girls not chosen for the procession knew that Mary loved them just as much.
Mary Theresa Helbling was lucky to be chosen as one of the girls in the procession at St. Mark’s Church in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1932, when she was seven. The caption in the family picture album states it was April, so maybe the procession happened on the last day of the month, or the month noted was in error. Either month, it was one of the high points of Mary’s long and faithful life. Even fifty or more years later, she was so very proud to have been chosen to be in the procession.
Having her beloved Virgin Mary to pray to was important throughout Mary’s life. She was proud of being named after the Mother Mary, but did not know that she was named for her great-grandmother as well, Mary Theresa Knipschield Helbling. There were many girls named ‘Maria’ or ‘Mary’ in the Helbling family. That name continued to be passed on through the generations, showing the importance of Our Lady and homage to her throughout the years among Catholic families, including the May Day ritual.
Notes, Sources, and References:
1) ‘Queen of the Angels” by John McDermott- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7SbG8JCO68
2) May Baskets were another tradition Mary spoke about. Small cones of rolled paper had a handle attached, and they were filled with flowers or sweets. The basket would be left on a door handle of a friend or neighbor, and young men also left them for girls they would like to court. See http://www.npr.org/blogs/npr-history-dept/2015/04/30/402817821/a-forgotten-tradition-may-basket-day
3) Helbling family photo album.
4) Of course, the May Day procession foreshadowed the sacrament of marriage, too, with many of the same trappings. Pun intended with the word ‘trappings’? Not originally, but maybe in a Freudian way. Nevertheless, all good little Catholic girls wanted to get married and have babies, and be a good mother like Our Lady.
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