The Shrine of St. Jude, located in downtown Baltimore, stands as a fitting American tribute to the popular apostle who has come to be known as the “saint of last resort or impossible cases.”
The shrine was originally built as a Baptist church more than 150 years ago. As the Baptist population proliferated, many of its members moved to the suburbs. The Archdiocese of Baltimore purchased the building in 1904. The Pallottine Fathers, founded by St. Vincent Pallotti (1795-1850),moved in in 1917; they have operated and staffed it ever since. In 1953, the Pallottines began to operate it as a national center for the propagation of devotion to St. Jude.
As you enter the vestibule, a life-size statue of St. Vincent Pallotti greets you, and extends his hand with a loaf of bread. A Bible is tucked under his arm. On a nearby wall, the words “The Charity of Christ Urges Us On” catch the eye. At this shrine, the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti is interwoven with devotion to St. Jude. The Pallottines, in imitation of their founder's attitude of hope and help, minister to the souls who venture here. St. Jude is the main focal point of petitions and prayers.
As the center double doors open, to the immediate right, St. Jude's Chapel invites pilgrims of all ages and cultural backgrounds to implore the saint for their needs. St. Jude's statue, constructed of four different types of marble, looms high above a pair of kneelers and 1,300 green electric candles.
Though this apostle and kinsman of Jesus gives ear to every type of request, Pallottine Father Frank Donio, the shrine's director, points out that the saint has long been associated with physical healing. On the floor, a large basket contains an overflow of petitions. “And these are only those we've received in the last two weeks,” notes Father Donio. Large mosaics of the Infant of Prague and “Our Lady of the Chains” adorn the walls. People constantly move in and out of the shrine to pray, particularly the chapel area. As one of the few downtown churches that keeps its doors open until late in the day, visitors come and go, and St. Jude never lacks continual prayers for his powerful intercession.
The back wall of the shrine exhibits an enormous mosaic of Jesus, “San Salvatore,” or “Holy Savior.” Added to the shrine in the 1960s, this beautiful artistic rendering of Christ contains bits of cut glass, stone and marble. The pews surrounding the altar are tri-sided, to ensure that all who assist at Mass will never be more than 10 rows back from the altar. A first-class relic of St. Jude can be venerated after each Mass.
Rich, vibrant colors draw the eye to stained-glass windows where are depicted the Annunciation, Assumption, and Holy Family, as well as St. Michael, St. John the Baptist and Gethsemane. These were all added in the 1930s. At the rear, an exhibit of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles, stands amid the disciples and holy women in the upper room at Pentecost. At the front, near the tabernacle, the Sacred Heart of Jesus keeps a watchful eye over the entire shrine; Our Lady of the Chains stands on the left. Placid chant music plays quietly, creating a contemplative atmosphere.
In the Millennium Room at the St. Jude's Visitor's Center in the lower area, a computer kiosk lists names of persons appealing for prayer, or the names of benefactors.
This computerized display allows the public to touch the screen to pray with members of St. Jude's family. An additional screen allows visitors to access the St. Jude Shrine Web site at http://www.stjudeshrine.org.
Comfortable benches, and banners of the Pallottine Fathers and St. Vincent Pallotti, decorate the walls to create a place conducive to prayer and reflection. An information desk, located on this lower level, provides pilgrims with schedules of novenas, Masses and general information helpful in maneuvering around the shrine. A large gift shop and all-purpose room are also at ground level.
Shrine of Many Stories
The shrine's dedication to community outreach is outstanding. Programs include food and clothing drives, nursing-home visitations and meetings for those trapped by addiction, all of which simply touch the surface of what St. Jude's Shrine does for the needy. With St. Jude as the central figure, it would be hard to miss the Pallottine charism of apostleship, which emphasizes the need to touch the lives of others, especially those in pain.
As a multicultural worship center, St. Jude's invites the hurting world to come to Jesus with his uplifting and compassionate presence. Around 75,000 visitors come here each year, as well as at least 200 bus pilgrimages.
The Shrine of St. Jude is a place where people like to leave their stories. Even the gift shop functions as a place of ministry, an extension of the shrine's spiritual mission, where people tell others of the graciousness of God through the power of St. Jude.
If you can't visit the shrine personally, your prayer requests can always be sent by mail or Internet; here St. Jude is invoked constantly for spiritual, emotional and physical needs.
St. Jude's body rests in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and the Baltimore shrine has arranged to have a daily Mass celebrated on the altar above the tomb for the intentions of those who send in petitions or leave them at the shrine.
As we drove out of the city, I looked through some literature given to me during my visit, and found a quote from St. Vincent Pallotti. It reflects the sense of healing and hope that the shrine imparts upon its visitors: “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.”
Anyone who visits here will understand the mission of the Pallottines in light of this quote. St. Jude is a helper close at hand, leading broken souls straight into the heart of God.
Regina Marshall is based in Hamden, Connecticut.