National Catholic Register


Fatima Shrine Boasts World’s Largest Rosary

BY Joseph Pronechen

December 14-20, 1997 Issue | Posted 12/14/97 at 1:00 AM


More Christmas lights, plus one of the largest outdoor rosaries in the world, grace Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Holliston, Mass. About 25 miles from the La Salette Shrine, it's easily reached by taking Interstate 95 to Interstate 495 north, exiting on Route 109 east, driving 1.5 miles to 126 north and the shrine just more than a mile.

From Nov. 30 to Jan. 4, the season's displays illuminate the whole shrine area with its places of devotion each evening from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The shrine is also open daily all year for private visits and group pilgrimages. In fact, back in the 1950s, the annual Children's Day pilgrimages in September had up to 12,000 participants. When Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston came to impart a solemn blessing on the shrine in 1950, there were 5,000 present. A decade later, the Boston Globe estimated that 2 million people had been there since the opening.

Xaverian Missioners administer the shrine, begun in 1949 by the first Xaverian in the United States, Father J. Henry Frassineti SX. While a missionary to China from his native Italy, he built the first chapel to Our Lady of Fatima in 1932—it was one of the earliest in the world.

As founder, he obtained this Holliston land to train missionaries, then started the shrine as a sign of devotion to Our Lady and a place to make known the messages of Fatima as well as Xaverian mission work.

The grounds are heavily wooded, and paths circle to some surprising spots for prayer and meditation, such as the Hill of Fatima, which marks the original shrine. In front of it is a lawn and stone expanse with a large outdoor altar where many liturgies have been celebrated.

Every 13th of the month, from May to October, candlelight processions wind around the grounds and pass the beautiful wayside stations of the cross, whose walkway is always illuminated.

The Hill of Calvary, or Crucifix Hill, has a grotto with a Pieta within it. Stairs climb to the crucifix, from where a pilgrim can see the monumental rosary stretching out to cover an acre or more. “We believe we have the biggest rosary in the world at the shrine,” says Father Robert Maloney SX, the local superior.

Apaved walk leads around the rosary. Each bead is a boulder with its length and width measured in feet. On each decade's “beads,” the Hail Mary appears on a plaque engraved in different languages, from the familiar Italian, Polish, French, German, to the more exotic including Tamil, Bengali, Old Arabic, and Inuit. This variety echoes the universality of Mary's request.

Heavy anchor chains from a ship join the beads together, while a large anchor linking beads to the crucifix is on loan-lease from the U.S. Navy, given in memory of President John F. Kennedy.

Blessed by Bishop Jeremiah Minihan in 1964, the rosary has indirect connections to the earliest American missions. Father Maloney explains that a Xaverian got the idea while on retreat at the North American Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville, N.Y., where a rosary of rocks recreates one that an Indian maiden convert had to fashion for her use among hostile tribe members.

At the head of the grounds, the permanent chapel was built in 1975 for services that wouldn't be dampened by the cold, snow, or rain. Indoors or out, the peace and the presence of the message of Fatima remain.

—Joseph Pronechen