More than 1,000 attend enthronement of image at cathedral

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

PHILADELPHIA – It was an especially spanerse congregation of a thousand or so for the Saturday evening vigil Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul on June 13 as Cardinal Justin Rigali celebrated the Mass for the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) and blessed the four new or refurbished side altars and enthroned a beloved icon in one of them.

“Not only do these shrines enhance the beauty of our cathedral but they also will inspire for many years to come all who come here to pray in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord and to seek the intercession of Our Lady and the saints,” the Cardinal said in his homily (For full text of Cardinal Rigali’s homily, click here).

He also gave special mention to the Redemptorist Fathers who donated the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph altars. Those previously graced the now closed St. Boniface Church, which the congregation conducted for more than a century and a half. The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, which was enthroned by the Cardinal at the Blessed Mother altar, was formerly enshrined in the rectory chapel at St. Boniface. The new seven-foot marble statue above the altar is of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, a devotion which was first introduced to Philadelphia by the Vincentian Fathers, the Cardinal noted.

The St. Joseph shrine also has a newly sculpted marble statue, as did the completely refurbished shrines honoring Philadelphia’s St. Katharine Drexel and St. John Neumann, who was also a Redemptorist.

Concelebrating with the Cardinal were Bishop Designate of Saginaw, Mich., Joseph R. Cistone, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph P. McFadden and retired Auxiliary Bishop Louis A. DeSimone. In addition to diocesan priests there were a score of Redemptorist priests led by their provincial, Father Patrick Woods, and also concelebrating was Vincentian Provincial Father Michael Carroll.

Immediately after the Mass, the Cardinal, the bishops and priests processed to each of the shrines for special prayers, after which the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was enthroned by Cardinal Rigali in the same marble frame her image had filled at St. Boniface.

St. Boniface Church was founded in 1866, the same year Pope Pius IX placed the original icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in the care of the Redemptorists, and 10 years later when they took charge of the parish they introduced the devotion there.

“This is a happy day for us. We are delighted that the Cathedral St. John Neumann started to build has the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and it will be better known in Philadelphia,” Father Woods said. “It was surely hard for us to leave St. Boniface, we were there for such a long time, but we are happy we were able to do this.”

Present, too, were several pews of Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, the congregation founded by St. Katharine Drexel.

“Katharine herself walked in this very church. She came here with her parents, she came here as a young woman, she came here as a religious,” said Sister Patricia Suchalski, president of the Blessed Sacrament Sisters. In contemplating everyone who visits today, she said, “Who knows how God is going to use us for God’s kingdom if we are open to it?”

Among the many worshippers from parishes that have devotions to the honored saints was a group from Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Morton and also a number of Filipino Catholics from St. Peter the Apostle, where St. John Neumann is entombed.

Among them was Vilma Fucanon Wong, who said, “Every Wednesday we have devotion to St. John Neumann.”

Logan Baxter, in seventh grade at St. Peter School, is a former member of St. Boniface Parish. “I remember the altars when they where there,” he said. “I also loved the Stations of the Cross which are here; they were in St. Boniface too.”

Other religious congregations present in numbers were the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who had a long association with St. Boniface Parish; Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, whose congregation was founded by St. John Neumann; and Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

“We’ve always had a devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help because we were founded by a Redemptorist, Father (Louis) Gillet,” said Sister Regina Anthony, I.H.M.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the four shrines is how seamlessly they blend in with the stately basilica.

“The shrines are wonderful,” commented Louis Ferraro, historian for the cathedral and a lector at the Mass. “They fit right in with the architecture of the cathedral. It seems that the Cardinal has a very good eye for classical architecture.”

“The best compliment is when people say they fit in as if they were always there,” said Louis DiCocco, president of St. Jude Shops, the firm that executed the renovations. “We don’t want to do something that was not the intention of the original architect.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.