Mary's intercession credited for saving Missouri farmland from floods

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review

By Jennifer Brinker and Dave Luecking

PERRYVILLE, Mo. (CNS) — Perhaps
it was merely coincidence.

Or perhaps not.

“I’d call it Providence,”
said Vincentian Father Robert Brockland, who along with Amy Naeger, her brother
Neal Gremaud, St. Louisan Bob Klump and Vincentian Father Walter Reisinger were
at the center of this story in the last week of December and the first weekend
of January.

None needs to be convinced of heavenly intervention, though the Army Corps of Engineers might need convincing after an
unknown force or flawed human prediction kept the Mississippi River on its side
of the levee and Bois Brule Bottom farmers dry in the flood straddling 2015 and

After heavy rains on Christmas
weekend, the National Weather Service forecast the Mississippi River to crest
at about 50 feet — the height of levee on the Missouri side of the river after
being fortified with two feet of rock. A breach in the levee would have spelled
disaster for acres of farmland and the few remaining to live in the bottomland
since the record flood of 1993, with a crest of 49.74 feet.

The actual crest Jan. 2, was 4
feet lower than predicted. An engineer told Gremaud that the Corps “didn’t
understand it; the Mississippi did not act like it should have” with a
crest of “only” 45.99 feet.

For the Vincentian priests, the
siblings Gremaud and Klump, the reason was simple: the intercession of Our Lady
of Perpetual Help.

“I don’t think it’s any
coincidence,” Naeger said Jan. 1 while sitting in her mother-in-law’s
restaurant — Al’s Place in McBride.

Neal Gremaud got the prayer ball
rolling Dec. 27, driving the northern portion of the 26-mile levee with Father
Reisinger from nearby Perryville. They prayed and invoked the intercession of Mary,
who was represented by a smartphone picture of a plaque that had been in
Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Belgique and now resides in a
shrine at the old church’s cemetery a third of mile away on a Missouri highway.
They had wanted to bring the actual plaque, but to their dismay, it had been
removed for safekeeping.

Independently, Naeger decided
the levee needed to be blessed as well but that a statue of Our Lady of
Perpetual Help needed to come along. Why a statue?

“It just came to me,”
she told the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

She enlisted the help of Father
Brockland, who served as administrator of St. Joseph Mission in Highland for 16
years and now lives in St. Louis. The priest stopped at Catholic Gifts and
Books in Chesterfield Dec. 29 to purchase the statue, which owner Mary
Bachinski had ordered a few year ago merely because an Our Lady of Perpetual
Help statue is rare.

“It’s always a plaque or a
picture,” she said. “I put it in a corner and forgot about it.”

Until Father Brockland called.
With statue in hand, he and Klump drove to Perry County, and Naeger met them at
the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal, where the statue was blessed.

Then, with Naeger driving,
Father Brockland riding shotgun and Klump in the backseat, they spent the next
two-and-a-half hours driving along the southern portion of the levee, praying
the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the “Memorare.” They stopped every 10th
of a mile for Father Brockland to bless the levee with holy water.

“We didn’t talk very much,”
Father Brockland said. “We were all praying.”

The drive, at just 6 or 7 mph,
was harrowing. Water was lapping up on the side of the levee, where a man was
swept away in his truck when the levee broke while he patrolled in the flood of
’93. He survived two hours in flood water, but now Naeger, Father Brockland and
Klump drove over the same spot.

“Around the bends, the
water was really deep,” said Naeger, who juggled the steering wheel, the
12-inch statue and a rosary — three items in two hands. “I was worried.”

And overcome with emotion.

“When we started
processing, it was … really overwhelming, ” she said, choking up three
days after the drive.

She chuckled about her next

“This is the Blessed Mother
of our Lord in a (Chevrolet) Tahoe,” she said, with a laugh. “She
should be traveling in something more elaborate.”

But Naeger then felt a sense of

“After that, I wasn’t afraid
anymore, because I knew she had taken care of everything,” she said.

Afterward, they stopped at Al’s
Place, where Father Brockland enthroned the statue of Our Lady and recited the “Blessing
of a Community Against Floods,” from the Roman Ritual, an official book of
prayers and ceremonies used in administering the sacraments. His favorite part
of the blessing is the final line: “And may the blessing of Almighty God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come upon these waters and keep them always under

“The Blessed Mother is the
intercessor for her Incarnate Son, Jesus,” Father Brockland said. “She
is mother most powerful, and she comes to intercede for us. Jesus cannot refuse
His mother.”

The devotion to Our Lady of
Perpetual Help dates back at least a century among the Catholic farming
community in the Perryville area. After a flood in 1943, the Belgique church
got the plaque and processed with it along the levee, praying for the Blessed
Mother’s intercession.

With the one notable exception,
the bottomland has remained dry since. The plaque was absent when the Flood of ’93
covered farmland and destroyed homes and the old Blessed Nativity Church, which
had been closed just the year prior. Gremaud now owns the parish property; he
parks farm equipment in a shed where a rectory, a convent and a school stood
beside and behind the church.

After closing, the church and
its contents were auctioned, but in advance of the ’93 flood, Gremaud learned
the history of plaque, and he and others sought its return. They barely had
repurchased the plaque — the auctioneer found it for them — before the levee
broke. After the flood, the shrine was built, and though the plaque was high
and dry this time around, the Gremaud siblings and Vincentian priests were
proactive in making sure Our Lady of Perpetual Help was on board to help them.

“The farmers look to Our
Lady of Perpetual Help for safety from accidents, for their farm equipment and
financial interests,” Father Brockland said. “They are dedicated to

For good reason.

“We drove the levee all the
way north and all the way south, and no one lost anything,” he said.

– – –

Brinker and Luecking are staff
reporters at the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

– – –

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