The story of Our Lady of Ransom begins with St. Peter Nolasco, born in Languedoc about 1189. At the age of 25 he took a vow of chastity and made over his vast estates to the Church. After making a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Montserrat, he went to Barcelona where he began to practice various works of charity.
He conceived the idea of establishing an Order for the redemption of captives seized by the Moors on the seas and in Spain itself; they were being cruelly tormented in their African prisons to make them deny their faith.
He spoke of it to the king of Aragon, James I, who knew him well and already respected him as a saint; for the king had already asked for his prayers when he sent out his armies to combat the Moors, and he attributed his victories to those prayers.
In effect all the Christians of Europe, and above all of Spain, were praying intensely to obtain from God the remedy for the great evil that had befallen them. The divine Will was soon manifested. On one night — August 1, 1218 — the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Peter, to his confessor, Raymund of Penafort, and to the king, and through these three servants of God established a work of the most perfect charity, the redemption of captives.
On that night, while the Church was celebrating the feast of St. Peter in Chains, the Virgin Mary appeared first to St. Peter, saying that she indeed desired the establishment of a religious Order, later known as the Mercedarians, bearing the name of her mercy. Its members would undertake to deliver Christian captives and offer themselves, if necessary, as a ransom pledge.
The Order, thus solemnly established in Spain, was approved by Pope Gregory IX under the name of Our Lady of Mercy. By the grace of God and under the protection of His Virgin Mother, the Order spread rapidly. Its growth was increased as the charity and piety of its members was observed; they very often followed Our Lady’s directive to give themselves up to voluntary slavery when necessary, to aid the good work. It was to return thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin that a feast day was instituted and observed on September 24, first in the Order, then everywhere in Spain and France. It was finally extended to the entire Church by Pope Innocent XII. Pope Leo XIII encouraged the devotion by making this feast proper to all the dioceses of England, with a focus on how Our Lady ransoms us from the slavery of our sins, and brings us the grace of conversion.
Prayer to Our Lady of Ransom
O God, who by means of the most glorious Mother of Thy Son
was pleased to give new children to Thy Church
for the deliverance of Christ’s faithful
from the power of the heathen; grant, we beseech Thee,
that we who love and honor her as the foundress of so great a work may,
by her merits and intercession,
be ourselves delivered from all sin
and from the bondage of the evil one.
Through the same Christ, our Lord.