Miracle on the Hill

Stephanie Longo (August 06, 2008)
Scranton’s Basilica of the National Shrine of St. Ann is the site of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s largest annual religious celebration.

    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: