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Miracle on the Hill

Miracle on the Hill

Stephanie Longo (August 2, 2008)
Stephanie Longo
Fr. Dominic Papa recites the Prayer to St. Ann to Obtain a Special Favor in Italian on July 26, 2008.

Scranton’s Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Ann is the site of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s largest annual religious celebration.


“Evviva Sant’Anna!”

  Above: Statue of St. Ann and Mary in the grotto on the grounds of St. Ann's Basilica.

    Praises in honor of St. Ann, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Grandmother of Jesus Christ, can be heard in various languages from July 17-26 in Scranton, Pennsylvania’s West Side. Although they are not united linguistically, the thousands of pilgrims who congregate on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine to St. Ann for the annual solemn novena in her honor are united in one thing: their faith that this saint will stand by them in good times and bad.

     On July 26, the feast day of St. Ann and her husband, St. Joachim, novena prayers can be heard in several languages, including Italian. It is a known fact that many Italian immigrants settled in Northeastern Pennsylvania during the 1900s, when the shrine was first built. As a commemoration of the area’s Italian heritage and as a welcoming gesture for the Italian-speaking pilgrims who attend novena services, the basilica, holds an Italian mass and novena service every year at 2:30 p.m. The basilica is run by the Passionist priests, who also have a monastery on the grounds.

     Northeastern Pennsylvania’s rich Italian heritage can even be seen on the basilica grounds. The outside grotto was begun by Carmen Daiute, a stonemason who arrived in Scranton from Italy around the time the shrine was first built. During the Great Depression, stonemason Stephen Di Rienzo restored the grotto on a yearly basis because of its position in a coal mine cave-in zone. Stephen’s son Felix continued his father’s work after his retirement.

     The Scranton coal mines are, in fact, the source of what is considered the greatest miracle to have taken place on St. Ann’s Hill. Fr. Cassian Yuhaus, C.P., who along with Fr. Richard Frechette wrote “Speaking of Miracles: The Faith Experience at the Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Ann in Scranton, Pennsylvania” , explained that the “crisis of monumental proportions” occurred on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1911:

A very serious disturbance underneath the property caused by subsidence in the coal mines significantly injured the entire structure. Most of the Passionist community was sent to other monasteries, while a skeleton crew remained to look after the spiritual needs of the people here at St. Ann’s.
Eventually the situation seemed safe. Engineers reported that the subsidence was over, and the work of repairing and strengthening the monastery began. It all seemed to be going well until July 28, 1913, when disaster struck again. The worst “squeeze” known in local mining occurred. The priests were told it was not safe for anyone to remain in the building; a great slide was carrying the entire Round Woods [former name for West Side] in an easterly direction and nothing whatsoever could be done to save the monastery. What was it, then, that accounted for the fact that the mighty slide that threatened to swallow up the monastery and the entire hill stopped, turned back, and settled solidly under the foundations of the monastery? It seemed to reecho an earlier observation that St. Ann would take care of her own.
The engineers and mining inspectors themselves considered the event miraculous. On the fatal day when everyone was ordered off the hill and out of the monastery, the skeleton community decided to remain and redouble the urgency of their prayers to good St. Ann. The following morning, they requested the engineers and inspectors to check yet one more time. They descended. When they emerged, they were astonished beyond words. The unbelievable happened. Three huge boulders—boulders they had never seen before in weeks of inspection—had locked themselves in an immovable position directly below the monastery: from death to life, from near total collapse to a fresh beginning!

(From "Speaking of Miracles: The Faith Experience at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Ann in Scranton, Pennsylvania" by Fr. Cassian J. Yuhaus, C.P. with Fr. Richard Frechette, C.P., page 36. Published by Paulist Press, 2006.)
   Perhaps the pilgrims who attend St. Ann’s Solemn Novena are searching for their own fresh beginning or, at the very least, are hoping for their own miracle on the hill.
Above: The main altar at St. Ann's Basilica.
From the video:
Fr. Dominic Papa, C.P. recites the Prayer to St. Ann to Obtain a Special Favor in Italian on July 26, 2008.
Italian text:
O Gloriosa Sant’Anna, piena di compassione per coloro che vi invocano e di amore per quelli che soffrono, sommamente gravato dal peso dei miei travagli, mi getto ai vostri piedi e vi chiedo umilmente di prendere nella vostra speciale considerazione l’oggetto di questa mia preghiera. (Qui si formula in silenzio la propria intenzione) Degnatevi di raccomandare questa supplica alla vostra Figlia, la Santissima Vergine Maria, e di presentarla davanti al trono di Gesù, perché Egli così mi esaudisca. Non cessate di intercedere per me fino a che la grazia non mi sia concessa. Anzitutto, ottenetemi la grazia di trovarmi un giorno col mio Dio nel cielo, a lodarlo e a benedirlo con voi, con Maria Santissima e con tutti i Santi, per tutta l’eternità. Così sia.
Buona Sant’Anna, madre di Colei che è la nostra vita, la nostra dolcezza, la nostra speranza, pregatela voi per noi: e otteneteci le nostre richieste. (Si ripeta altre due volte).
Padre Nostro, Ave Maria

Buona Sant’Anna, pregate per noi.
Il sacerdote benedice il popolo colle reliquie.
Above: Relic of St. Ann
English text:
O Glorious Saint Ann, filled with compassion for those who invoke you and with love for those who suffer, heavily laden with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at your feet and humbly beg of you to take the present affair, which I recommend to you under your special protection. (Here mention silently your intentions) Please recommend it to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and lay it before the throne of Jesus so that He may bring it to a happy issue. Please continue to intercede for me until my request is granted. Above all, obtain for me the grace of one day beholding my God face to face and with You and Mary and all the Saints praising and blessing Him for all eternity. Amen.
Good Saint Ann, mother of Her who is our life, our sweetness, and our hope, pray to Her for us and obtain our requests.
Our Father, Hail Mary
Good Saint Ann, pray for us.
The priest then blesses the congregation with the relics.
The author wishes to thank Fr. Richard Burke, C.P., rector of St. Ann’s Monastery, for allowing her to videotape the Italian Novena prayers for this website.

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