Local and national shrines are accessible by car

By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Shrines and the visitation of shrines are a beloved Catholic tradition. The Philadelphia Archdiocese and the surrounding area have many shrines, both large and small, they are favored places of prayer. In some cases, for generations.

The Shrine of St. John Neumann at St. Peter the Apostle Church, where the remains of Philadelphia’s fourth bishop and first canonized saint are venerated, probably has the longest history of pilgrimage. Bishop Neumann was a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), and when he died in 1860, following his stated wish, he was buried beneath the church among fellow Redemptorists. ##M[read more]##

From the very beginning, his grave was a place of visitation by the faithful because of his holy life, and many believed they received favors through his intercession. After his beatification his burial site was transformed into a shrine, and his remains were exhumed and placed directly beneath the altar.

Canonized in 1977, St. John’s resting place remains a favorite stop for pilgrims. Many of those who visit his shrine and pray for his intercession before God still report receiving miracles and favors.

The National Shrine of St. Katharine Drexel, Philadelphia’s second (and first American-born) canonized saint, is located beneath St. Elizabeth Chapel at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament in Bensalem.

This year, which marks the 10th anniversary of her Oct. 1, 2000 canonization, on March 7 Bishop Joseph P. McFadden will celebrate a feast day Mass at St. Elizabeth Convent. On Oct. 3, to coincide with the canonization anniversary, Cardinal Justin Rigali will celebrate Mass in her honor at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

Unlike St. John Neumann, St. Katharine’s remains have never been exhumed; it was no longer a necessary part of the process when she was canonized. Her casket remains undisturbed in the stone sarcophagus in which it was placed at her burial.

Her tasteful shrine is decorated with artifacts from the Native American and African-American missions she built. But more telling, directly above the sarcophagus is a mosaic depicting the Eucharist.

St. Katharine built schools and missions which led Native-Americans and African-Americans to a better life in this world, but her primary aim was to bring them Jesus Christ through the Catholic faith which she so dearly loved.

Probably the largest and most visited shrine in all of the Archdiocese is Mary’s Shrine at the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Although devotions started when the first chapel was built in 1875, Vincentian Father Joseph Skelly instituted the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal in 1915.

It was his wish to promote the use of the Miraculous Medal as presented by the Blessed Virgin to St. Catherine Laboure in Paris in 1830.

In 1927 he instituted novenas to Our Lady. They proved so popular that he transformed the nine-day, novena into a perpetual novena, which is held every Monday, nine times a day along with Masses, Benediction and confession. Most popular of all is the Solemn Novena held each November to commemorate the feast of the Miraculous Medal.

South Philadelphia’s most popular shrine is that of St. Rita of Cascia, located at St. Rita Church on South Broad Street, which has been conducted by the Augustinian Fathers since 1907. St. Rita of Cascia was a 14th century widowed Augustinian nun. From the foundation of the parish, the Augustinians have conducted novenas to St. Rita, who has a remarkable reputation as an intercessor before God. St. Rita’s Shrine is especially visited near her May 22 feast.

Under recent shrine directors and the work of ecclesiastical artist Anthony Visco the shrine has been completely and tastefully redone with a life-sized bronze statue of St. Rita in Ecstasy as a centerpiece.

Other works by Visco are displayed in a number of Philadelphia churches, but after St. Rita’s his most ambitious work is at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis.

Further out from the city, in Doylestown, there is the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, a favored pilgrimage destination for the Polish-American community, although people of all nationalities are welcomed.

Our Lady of Czestochowa, conducted by the Pauline Fathers, has the distinction of having had a sitting president attend its dedication. That was Lyndon Johnson, who in 1966 joined then-Archbishop John Krol at the shrine for a ceremony attended by 100,000 people. In addition to the shrine the Pauline Fathers conduct the Ave Maria Retreat House on the grounds.

There are many more parish-centered shrines within the Archdiocese, literally too many to mention, but here are a few:

St. Jude, the patron of hopeless cases, is venerated at St. Jude Parish in South Philadelphia, Our Lady of Knock, named for an apparition in Ireland, is venerated. St. Philomena Parish, Lansdowne, has a first class relic of St. Philomena, a presumed early martyr, although little is known for certain of her life.

The Shrine of St. Gianna Molla is located at Nativity of Our Lord Church, Warminster. St. Gianna, an expectant mother, refused an operation for her deadly cancer knowing it would kill her baby. Her child lived but she did not.

In Philadelphia, Our Lady of Hope Church, formerly Holy Child, has a shrine with a diorama of the Nativity, which had fallen into disrepair but has been recently refurbished. At the St. Peter Claver Center, formerly St. Peter Claver Church, the many memorials at the Shrine of Our Lady of Victory attest to the Blessed Mother’s intercession.

Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, is located at Immaculate Conception Church, Allentown. A focal point of the shrine is a life-size copy of St. Juan Diego’s tilma with the image of the Virgin as she appeared to him.

The Shrine of the Sacred Heart is located in Harleigh, Luzerne County. Pittsburgh features the Shrine of Many Relics with 4,000 relics (many of St. Anthony of Padua) in 800 reliquaries. In Uniontown there is the Byzantine Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help located at Mount St. Macrina Retreat House.

Across the river in Washington, Warren County, N.J., there is the impressive Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima located at the Blue Army Retreat Center. The almost six-ton statue of the Virgin atop the 145-foot spire commands the surrounding neighborhood.

Newark, N.J., is home to the National Shrine of St. Gerard, a popular intercessor for women experiencing difficult pregnancies. Stirling, N.J., has the Shrine to St. Joseph, and the Rosary Shrine is in Summit, N.J.

Happy pilgrimages!


Opportunities for retreats, either weekend, mid-week or single day, are plentiful in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The largest by far is lay-owned Malvern Retreat House (610-644-0400) which can accommodate up to 350 guests in private rooms. Other houses with overnight accommodations listed in the Philadelphia Catholic Directory include Clare House and the Franciscan Spirituality Center, both in Aston (610-558-5372), conducted by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia; Cranaleith Spirituality Center, Philadelphia (215-934-6206), conducted by the Sisters of Mercy; Fatima House Retreat Center, Bedminster (215-795-2947), conducted by the Apostolate of Our Lady of Fatima; The I.H.M. Spirituality Center, Immaculata (610-647-4136), conducted by the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Mother Boniface Spirituality Center, Philadelphia (215-335-7541), conducted by the Missionary Sisters of the Blessed Trinity; St. Mary of Providence Center, Elverson (610-942-4166), conducted by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence; St. Raphaela Center, Haverford (610-642-5715), conducted by the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart; the Spirituality Center at Daylesford Abbey, Paoli, (610-647-2530) conducted by the Norbertine Fathers; and the S.S.J. Spirituality Center, Philadelphia (215-448-7222), conducted by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

In addition there are opportunities for day retreats and days of recollection at a number of other facilities throughout the area. – Lou Baldwin