Back in 2019, Fr. Dan Belanger, CSV, led his parishioners at St. George Church in Bourbonnais in dedicating themselves to Mary over the course of the next year. Their “Year of Mary” centered parish members on carrying out works of mercy, praying the rosary

and reflecting on Mary’s role in their lives.

Fr. Dan created the year as a way to focus on the positive and devote themselves to Mary, in a world filled with growing conflict and tensions. Little could he or his parishioners have predicted how uncertain and frightening the year would turn out, amid the global pandemic.

Now, as Fr. Dan prepares to leave St. George — after 15 years as pastor — one of the last rituals he oversaw was the parish’s traditional May crowning. It took place Sunday and as in years past, first communicants, dressed in their gowns and suits, formed the court. One little girl presented Mary with her crown of flowers in a moving ceremony that filled the church with hope and joy.

“They did a wonderful job in this beautiful tradition,” parish leaders said on their Facebook page. “Once again, we would like to wish congratulations and God’s blessings on these precious children of God.”

Fr. Dan’s last Sunday at St. George will be July 14, before he leaves for Las Vegas, to start his new assignment as Parochial Vicar at St. Viator Catholic Community.

Fr. Dan Belanger blesses the new rosary garden at St. George Church, in 2019.

However, his devotion to Mary — and that of the Viatorians’ — will remain on the church grounds of St. George. Under his leadership, parish members commissioned a statue of Mary in 2018 and the creation of a rosary garden in her honor.

The statue is a replica of Our Lady of Grace. The original image dates back to the 19th century, when Fr. Louis Querbes was appointed pastor of St. Nizier Church in Lyon, France. He inspired his parishioners with his devotion to Mary and he eventually devoted the month of May to Mary.

Viatorian parishes worldwide carry on this devotion, including at St. George, which is why Fr. Dan will cherish the group photo he took with this year’s May crowning court.

“I want to thank everyone for the gifts and everyone who attended my goodbye party,” Fr. Dan wrote to parishioners. “All of the memories are awesome.”