The National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia in South Philadelphia recently renovated a room in its lower shrine known as the “Saints’ Grotto” by adding the relics of 40 saints to the modest space.
It marks the first step in a three-phase renovation with plans to add an additional 100 relics as well as perpetual memorial candles within the next year.
Since 1907, faithful Catholics from throughout the country have visited the Shrine to pray for the intercession of Saint Rita of Cascia, a 14th-century saint known as a peacemaker and reconciler. Most notably, she is the patron saint of impossible cases.
Over the last 20 years many visitors to the shrine have found the grotto to be an additional source of consolation.
“The Saints’ Grotto was originally a home to statues that were popular among visitors, but had no other place to go,” said Jonathan Jerome, the Shrine’s Executive Director.
He continued, “As the grotto became more and more of an attraction on its own for prayer and devotion, it was clear that something more could and should be done with the space.”
It wasn’t until the recent death of Fr. Richard Cannuli, O.S.A. that the addition of the relics became the clear path forward.
For the past two years, the Shrine has worked with the Augustinian Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova to document, organize, and display relics from the personal collection of Fr. Cannuli.
Known both locally and nationally as a prolific artist whose influence, design, and sacred artwork have graced churches throughout the United States, Fr. Cannuli was a dear friend of the Shrine. When it came time to decide what to do with his hundreds of relics, the Augustinian Province decided the Shrine served as the best place to display them for public devotion.
Fr. Robert Guessetto, O.S.A., the Assistant Shrine Director, took on the task of cleaning and coordinating the installation. Local woodworker and lifelong patron of the Shrine, Samuel Bruno, worked with a team to design and build a new base for the existing statues and the new display cases for the reliquaries.
Half of the current display includes popular Augustinian saints who are foundational to the Order, including Saint Augustine and Saint Monica. There is also a spot saved for a local saint-in-the-making, Servant of God, Fr. Bill Atkinson, O.S.A. as the first paraplegic person to be ordained a priest, his cause for canonization was opened in 2015.
In addition to these Augustinian relics, there is also a display of other popular saints and shepherds of the church. With representation from the Apostles, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Saint Thomas Aquinas, and Saint John Paul II, there is no question you are surrounded by holy men and women when you visit.
The second phase of this project will see the addition of twelve smaller displays with 100 additional relics organized by month according to feast days.
“The intercession of the saints is such an important part of Saint Rita’s story and it’s an important part of ours as well,” said Jerome. “While Saint Rita relied on the companionship and prayerful support of Saint John the Baptist, Saint Augustine, and Saint Nicholas of Tolentine, we hope the grotto provides each pilgrim the space and inspiration to find their own saintly companions.”
The Shrine has already experienced an increase in student trips, faculty retreats, and parish groups since the addition of the reliquaries.
The staff of the Shrine hopes that these displays continue to inspire all pilgrims to engage in the lives of the saints with joy and hope.
To learn more about the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, and to support its mission and ministries, please visit: www.SaintRitaShrine.org.
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