The year 1975 marked the 300th anniversary of Jesus' first appearance to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in Paray-le-Monial, France. On June 22 of that year the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Harleigh, Pa., was dedicated on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart. Today, 23 years later, it remains the largest outdoor shrine in America devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Construction began on the shrine less than a year earlier — Aug. 22, 1974 — the memorial of the Queen-ship of Mary. The shrine's founder, Father Girard Angelo, was, at that time, pastor of St. Raphael's Church in Har-leigh, in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. After the shrine was completed, Bishop J. Carroll McCormick of Scranton, then local ordinary, changed the parish's name to the Church of the Sacred Heart. Throughout the years the shrine's founder has remained its director.
Behind the large outdoor granite altar at the shrine is a white Carrara marble statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Rays of gold radiate from behind the statue, while above it a golden crown surmounted by a cross encircles the area like a canopy.
Rows of stone pews are on either side of the square. A circular fountain is the fifth in a series of pools symbolizing the five wounds of Christ. Along the walk that takes visitors past the pools are several plaques recalling the 12 promises that Jesus made to St. Margaret Mary.
“I will give them all the graces necessary for their state in life,” the first announces. “I will establish peace in their homes,” the second reminds.
As the walk continues, pilgrims take to heart more of the Sacred Heart's promises: (3) “I will bless every place where an image of my heart shall be exposed and honored”; (4) “I will comfort them in all their afflictions”; (5) “I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all in death”; (6) “I will shed abundant blessings on all their undertakings”; (7) “Sinners will find in my heart an infinite ocean of mercy”; (8) “Tepid souls will become fervent”; (9) “Fervent souls will rapidly grow in holiness and perfection”; (10) “I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts”; (11) “The names of those who promote this devotion will be written in my heart, never to be blotted out.”
Visitors become familiar with the specific promises from Jesus' heart, which he told the saint,‘has heaped upon them so many benefits.’
Visitors become familiar with the specific promises from Jesus' heart, which he told the saint, “has heaped upon them so many benefits,” such as in the 12th promise: “I promise you, out of the prodigal pity of my heart, that my all-powerful love will grant to those who receive Holy Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays of the month the grace of final perseverance, so that they shall not die in my disfavor without the sacraments. My divine heart will be their sure refuge at the last.”
Of course, First Fridays are always observed at the shrine — as well as First Saturday devotions.
Because the love of Christ's heart is so connected to his crucifixion and death, the outdoor stations of the cross present another important element. Although they don't cover an extensive area, their setting offers the peace and solitude necessary for quiet prayer and meditation. It is possible to wander through the landscaped area and away from the people on one of the many paths that surround the area. The stations are made of South Carolina granite and were carved in Hazleton, PA.
Also on the grounds are shrines to Our Lady of Fatima, and the Tomb of the Unborn Child. Candlelight processions take place on Good Friday along the path that leads to the Tomb of Christ, another one of the many quiet places for meditation.
The church itself is beautiful and inviting. A statue of the Sacred Heart graces a side altar and under the main altar, encased in glass, there is a display that features a first-class relic of the finger bone of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, better known as “the apostle of the Sacred Heart.” There are also relics from St. Claude de la Colombiére, St. Margaret Mary's confessor and confidant, and from St. Francis de Sales, founder of the Daughters of the Visitation, the order to which she belonged.
Men of the Sacred Heart, whose purpose is to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart and who originated at the shrine, have their headquarters here. The group now numbers 13 chapters throughout the state, with another one in Buffalo, N.Y. There are also the Ladies of the Sacred Heart and all chapters congregate there each year for the solemnity of the Sacred Heart.
More than 100,000 visitors visit the shrine each year. Even the Missionaries of Charity, who live almost 20 miles away, come regularly.
For pilgrims on organized bus tours, the shrine, which is open 24 hours a day, provides breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the dining hall of the Sacred Heart Center. Those wishing to stay overnight can find accommodations in two nearby motels — one of which offers a discount through the shrine.
It's a simple route from Philadelphia (99 miles) or the East to get to the shrine. From Interstate 80 (west), take exit 39 onto Route 309 (south); follow it to state Route 940 (east). The shrine is less than a mile away.
Because coal mining was once of primary importance in the Hazleton area, there is a “living history” museum of 19th-century mining, farther east on route 940 is Eckley Miners' Village. There is also the Pocono resort area, which pilgrims can visit once they have mined the spiritual treasures at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart.
To contact the shrine, telephone 717-455-1162.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.