The Grail in the USA

Archive of Spiritual Search

A Letter to My Gen Y Friends, on What I Have Learned About The Grail: written by, Lauren Magrisso

Explorer Lauren Magrisso brought down the house at The Grail National Gathering closing brunch when she read this essay aloud.

Lauren Magrisso

This weekend, I went on a retreat. It was actually The Grail National Gathering.

What is The Grail you ask?

In short, it is an international women’s movement committed to the integrated advocacy of social justice, environmental sustainability, creative energy and women’s empowerment. You see, the total is greater than the sum of its parts.

Over the course of 70 years, they have built a web, a network, to support and inspire each other. Their mission provides a road map for them to make a true difference in the world, one that challenges you and enables you to become your best self.

When we got together, we played, we danced, we sang, we created! These women know how to have FUN! Not the fun that comes from cheap thrills or harming your body, but the inoculating fun that warms the soul.

What ties these women together is that they are all spiritual seekers. From many walks of life, when they found each other, they became a force to be reckoned with!

At their worst, they are a group of strong, opinionated voices, and at their best, they are a group of strong, opinionated voices.

You see, that is the point. Doing life’s work, working for your passion means you are willing to suffer because it is truly important.

They are first to support each other in their times of suffering, and they are first to celebrate their successes. The Grail is like a second home; it is a true community.

You see, friend, our kind of community, the kind that relies on pixels on a screen and an internet connection can leave us feeling lonely sometimes – especially when we are working to create social change.

These women offer us a web to jump into, to continue building ourselves and the cause.

At first, we will be supported by their web fully, standing on the shoulders of the work they have committed their lives to. But slowly, and surely, the web will become our own. It must, as we are the ones to carry the torch into the future.
Today, the world is in need of this work more than ever. And what progressive groups like The Grail have realized is that you can’t chunk off disparate issues and see them in silos like the industrial revolution has trained our culture to do.
No, we must look at the synergistic opportunity that comes from this integration. The beauty of this is that we don’t have to lose or suppress a piece of ourselves for the sake of “specialization.” No, we will fully live our journey in the loving arms of the collective journey.
So come, join the collective. Gatherings usually include singing, centering, sharing of food and intellect. You can even travel the world with the promise of this community.
The bonds with The Grail are limitless, and through all of it, you will realize that the bonds of your potential, too, are limitless.
(Thank you for letting me observe your gathering and absorb the energy, intellect and love).

American Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary, By Deirdre Cornell; a review by Marian Ronan

American Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary, by Deirdre Cornell
MaryKnoll, NY: Orbis Press, 2010.

 In her first book, A Priceless View, Grail member Deirdre Cornell returns to her childhood home, Newburgh, NY, to share the life of the burgeoning migrant community there. But by the last few pages, she knows that she will leave. And her prediction is fulfilled: in 2004, Deirdre and her husband Kenney and three children move to rural Oaxaca, Mexico, as Maryknoll lay missioners, to deepen their understanding of the migrant cultures surrounding them in upstate New York. In American Madonna, Deirdre welcomes us into that experience.

At the heart of Deirdre’s reflections is Mary, the Mother of God. Here in the U.S., what with women’s liberation and the assimilation of white ethnic Catholics into the American middle class, devotion to the ostensibly sweet, passive Virgin Mary would seem a thing of the past. Yet as Deirdre observes, pilgrimages to sites of Marian apparitions around the world have mushroomed in the modern period, while the Madonna, bearing the marks of her various local inculturations, helps huge numbers of Latin American migrants in their journeys across the border to a new life in the North. Indeed, as Deirdre makes clear, the Virgin Mary is an ideal patroness for our globalized age, crossing borders during her lifetime between Israel and Egypt, and in her Assumption, between earth and heaven, even as she has accompanied travelers, missionaries and migrants across borders over the centuries.

Deirdre organizes American Madonna around three different manifestations of Mary: the Virgin of Solitude, the mourning Mother at the foot of the cross who watches over the capital of the southeastern Mexican province of Oaxaca; Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose apparition to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in 1532 marks the beginning of the inculturation of Christianity among the indigenous
peoples of Mexico; and my own particular favorite, Our Lady of Juquila, whose diminutive triangular figure has protected hundreds of thousands of pilgrims at her shrine on the Pacific coast of Oaxaca since 1719. In all cases, the Madonna crosses borders with her devotés, whether they are the Spanish missionaries who brought her with them to the Americas, the pilgrims journeying over hazardous
terrain to reach her, or the migrants who bear her north and sometimes return home to her motherly embrace.

It would be a pity for you to conclude from this that American Madonna is a theological study of the Virgin Mary, however.  It is that, in part, but it is also much more. Indeed, what makes this book a wonderful read is the deftness with which Deirdre weaves together the multiple strands comprising the reality of the Madonna. The lives of Mexicans encountered on both sides of the border
comprise one such strand; the history of the various Marian apparitions and the communities they inhabit is another. A third is the complex figure of the Virgin herself, her ancient history, her sexist appropriations, the protection and liberation she bestows on her followers. Yet another is the anthropology of pilgrimage and community, rendered accessible by clear writing.

And pulling it all together is the lyric voice of the author herself, from the wonderful portrayal, in the first chapter, of her own journey away from and back to Mary, to the traditional benedición with which her Oaxacan neighbors send her and her family back to the US at the conclusion. Indeed, it becomes clear as one drinks in this book that the “American Madonna” of the title is as much the
mother who brings her high-risk twins to term in the middle of her time in Mexico as it is the Madonna with whom she crosses and re-crosses borders throughout.  Those of us still inclined to wonder how the Virgin Mary can inspire communities and individuals to resist their oppression have only to read Deirdre’s mesmerizing connection of the bonding process between mother and child–in this case, her own–with the solidarity engendered by devotion to the Virgin Mary in Oaxaca. As she asks, “Can we from the dominant culture catch new glimpses of our mother–even when she does not look like us–in images that originated beyond our borders?”

You can link to Marian Ronan’s blog, “An American Catholic on the Margins of World
Christianity,” at