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Our Lady and the Big Top

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Our Lady and the Big Top

The Mandos sisters, stars of the whirling anchor set, were never without their Miraculous Medal.

Did you know that Fr. Joseph Skelly, CM, was quite resourceful in finding ways to bring Mary to her devotees? We’re not clowning around.

Today, traveling circuses are remnants of the past, but during the 19th and early 20th centuries, they were the largest and most popular form of public entertainment (more than baseball). Crowds enjoyed exotic animals, acrobats, jugglers, and clowns. An army of workers staffed these extravaganzas, and a large number of them was Catholic.

The year was 1948, and Fr. Skelly, founder of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal, heard that the Ringling Brothers & Barnum Bailey Circus was in Philadelphia for an extended performance.

When he arrived at the circus, he noticed a young girl wearing a Miraculous Medal and quickly learned that she was just one of many who were devoted to Mary and her Medal. As he talked to them, he discovered that they wore the Medals to protect themselves during their precarious feats, yet few were actually invested in the Medal. So, in between the afternoon and evening performances, Fr. Skelly personally invested them “while polar bears barked in their cages nearby.”

“Our Lady has a place of honor in the big top,” noted Fr. Skelly. “Mary must have smiled upon these good folk, her children, who spend their lives strenuously to beget amazement and laughter in other people.”

Standing in the center ring of the Big Top, Fr. Skelly invested the performers.
Standing in the center ring of the Big Top, Fr. Skelly invested the performers.
Claude Valois, a famous French horsewoman, examines an edition of the Miraculous Medal Magazine with Unis, a performer who balanced above the crowd on one finger, and Alberty, an acrobat. Fr. Munday is shown sharing the magazine.

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