Friday August 26, 2005

Hail Mary!

Interest in Mary, the mother of Jesus, is on the upswing. Since its debut in cyberspace a decade ago, The Mary Page has quietly advertised to the world the University of Dayton's vast collection of material on Mary.

The Rev. Johann Roten, S.M., once quipped that it would take an apparition of the mother of Jesus on the library's façade at the University of Dayton for the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute to gain an international following outside theological circles.

Not anymore.

The center has been featured in The New York Times, USA Today and other national media. It draws scholars from around the world to its stacks and hundreds of visitors a day to "The Mary Page" on the World Wide Web.

Since its debut in cyberspace nearly a decade ago on Sept. 8 -- the feast day that honors Mary's birth, The Mary Page has quietly advertised the library's vast collection to the world. Librarians have answered thousands of inquiries about Mary. At least 1 million visitors have trolled the site, according to Webmaster Michael Duricy.

One popular query: "Why does Mary always wear light blue?" The answer may surprise some. "Well, she doesn't," writes Roten, director of the International Marian Research Institute, which offers advanced degrees in Mariology in affiliation with the Pontifical Theological Faculty Marianum in Rome. "Blue has stayed in vogue, but red has also become a prominent color for Mary as represented by artists since the 10th century. Blue calls to mind the color of the skies (which is not only limited to light blue), and red is the color of kings."

A Frequently Asked Questions page and an online Dictionary of Mary tackle everything ever dreamed about Mary, including such offbeat questions as "What do the Simpsons say about Mary?" (Answer: Mary is not referred to very often in the sitcom, but in Bart's Friend Falls in Love, the penalty for kissing a boy is "50 rosaries.")

"People from Finland to Brazil to Korea e-mail questions," says Roten, who answers many of several hundred he receives each month himself. "People write, 'What are you doing, talking about Mary? Are you crazy? There's only one mediator, and that's Jesus Christ.' Another will write, 'I'm a level-headed person, but the other night I had this impression of smelling roses. What does this mean as a mystical experience?'

Roten and a staff of eight scholars routinely answer questions about apparitions and popular images of Mary. Noting that Marian sightings are "wholeheartedly hailed and embraced by some" while "outrightly rejected by others," The Mary Page offers a lengthy section on the history of apparitions and provides commentary on their deeper meaning.

Interest in Mary is on the upswing, and that's heartening news for the Society of Mary (Marianists), a Roman Catholic religious order that has quietly and steadily built a living monument to the Blessed Virgin since acquiring the first book -- the Rev. John Elbert's Devotion to Mary in the Twentieth Century -- in 1943. Tucked away on the seventh floor of the Roesch Library on the University of Dayton's campus, the Marian Library is facing a pleasant predicament.

"It's a wonderful problem when you're bursting at the seams. It shows there is a following. This is the beginning of a new age, a reawakening of religiosity," Roten says. "Interest in Mary today is increasing, compared to the late 1960s and early 1970s when not much was heard or said about Mary."

In March, Time magazine splashed Mary on its cover and devoted 5,000 words to a growing acceptance among Protestants of her place in the Bible. A June headline in the Los Angles Times proclaimed, "After Decades in the Background, Mary's Making a Comeback." When Pope Benedict XVI made his first public appearance, he acknowledged Mary's presence: "The Lord will help us, and Mary, his most holy mother, will be on our side."

The Mary Page pulls from the world's largest collection of information on Mary found in the Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute. It handles a large volume of prayer requests from people imploring Mary to help them heal, find jobs and save marriages. It features contemporary topics - such as Pope Benedict XVI's views of Mary - and Marian teachings, virtual art exhibits, book reviews, hymns, shrines, stamps and a host of other material.

In short, "it's everything Mary," Roten says.

Contact Father Johann Roten, S.M., at (937) 229-4214 or Michael Duricy at (937) 229-1474.