“Through the intercession of St. Ann may God bless you in every way,” reads the inscription on the sanctuary arch in the Basilica and National Shrine of St. Ann. This prayer has most definitely been answered, ever since the time the Passionists were invited to Scranton, Pa., to build a monastery.
When they first saw this 10-acre site — the highest point in West Scranton — on Sept. 8, the feast of the birth of St. Ann's daughter, Mary, little did they realize that thousands would eventually visit the shrine on a weekly basis, and that one day Masses would be broadcast from St. Ann's and seen by millions. By 1905, when the Passionists moved into their new monastery named in honor of Mary's mother, one of the priests said, “St. Ann will take care of her own.” The words were prophetic.
From the mid-1800s, Scranton's rich anthracite deposits made mining the town's primary industry. But on August 15, 1911, a sudden subsidence of the mines beneath the monastery seriously damaged the building. The Passionists turned to St. Ann; within a week, the slide stopped.
Then on July 28, 1913, an urgent warning to evacuate the area was given. Mining engineers were powerless in the face of the immense slide which threatened to carry away the hill, and with it the monastery. This time it was the mine engineers who joined the Passionists and prayed for St. Ann's intercession.
Two huge boulders rolled beneath the monastery, the slide turned back, and everything locked solidly in place. One expert admitted that it was St. Ann's intercession which miraculously did what engineers could not do. Never again has there been a subsidence. Interestingly, in the Middle Ages, Good St. Ann was known as the patroness of coal miners.
In 1905, lay people asked if they could join the Passionists in the novena the community said privately. By 1924, public devotions were held for the first time in the small chapel. Within six months thousands of visitors began arriving.
“The church is a direct result of the people who came weekly for the devotion to St. Ann,” said Father Richard Burke CP, shrine-basilica director until last month. It was in the springtime of 1929 that the St. Ann Monastery Church was built and dedicated. Within a year, nearly 4,000 letters had poured in expressing gratitude for favors received..
Devotion to the saint has grown through the years. Today, upward of 4,000 people attend the perpetual Monday novena in honor of St. Ann. The weekly novena, now in its 74th year, is as strong as ever. The solemn novena held from July 17-26 regularly sees the faithful come from more than 38 states. Closing day last month had more than 25,000 people in attendance.
Some pilgrims continued the long tradition of making the journey to the shrine on foot. A large group from Pittston, for example, walked eight miles and arrived for confessions, Mass, and devotion of the day at 4:30 a.m. Services continued throughout the day with a pontifical Mass at 7:30 p.m. which closed the solemn novena.
Other family “traditions” are part of the popular devotions to Good St. Ann. Father Burke explained that many men and women have married as a result of having met at the novenas. This summer, one such couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary with a Mass at the shrine.
Then there are the countless “St. Ann Babies.” Many childless couples came to the novenas, some for years, seeking St. Ann's help. Some have returned and introduced their “St. Ann's baby” to the priests and staff. Father Burke agreed that there are many such stories — the son of the contractor who helped renovate the shrine is among the happy parents.
Letters of thanksgiving for all kinds of favors arrive often. There are thanks, too, for the second major ministry of the shrine — St. Ann's Media ministry broadcasts daily and Sunday Mass over stations. An estimated five million of the 30 million subscribers of the Odyssey Channel regularly watch the Mass. Radio stations join TV to broadcast the weekly and solemn novenas.
Named a basilica in 1996, this national shrine has many appealing reminders of St. Ann. One is the three generations painting high in the apse.
Since its renovation, the basilica blends the best of the old and the new. The altar, where daily Mass is broadcast, is high on a circle of stairs, forward of the gleaming marble baldachino, which is the canopy.
The second focal point is the large side shrine that depicts St. Ann instructing the child Mary. This carved, 10-foot wooden statue is a gentle portrayal of the saint.
Off the vestibule, on the way to the lower church, stands another beautiful statue of St. Ann that dates from the Depression years. There is also an inspiring Pieta in color.
Part of the lower church — which honors several Passionist blesseds and saints — remains a spacious chapel joined by a glassed vigil-light chapel. Another statue of St. Ann, carved with her holding a replica of the church, has been in the same spot since the church opened.
Outside, a large stone grotto honors this popular saint with statues in an outer niche and also within the vigillighted interior. Here, as especially inside the church, are constant reminders that at the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Ann, as from the start, “St. Ann will take care of her own.”
To reach the basilica-shrine, from Interstate 80, then Route 380 (north) to Scranton, and Interstate 81 (south) to exit 51, Davis St. Go right over Lakawanna River, to South Main Ave. Turn right onto St. Ann St. (Telephone 716-852-3316)
For those who visit the shrine or want to see more of Scranton, there aresites such as Steamtown National Historic Site with a large collection of vintage trains and excursions; the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum; and the nearby Pocono Mountains.
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.