Take it from a German! A Faith Alive

Take it from a German!

When I entered the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal last Wednesday to join the celebration of the memorial mass of Our Lady of Knock I expected an Irish celebration. It certainly was that. But,  for me… and the more than 400 people present… it was so much more. It was a profound celebration of a faith that goes far beyond just people of Irish heritage. In my 80 plus years I have rarely witnessed such a profound prayerful witness to our common faith. It touched me deeply.

When Mary Jo Timlin, current CEO of the Central Association of the Miraculous  Medal, spoke she echoed the immigrant experience of my mother and father, and no doubt many other immigrant families from other countries.

In Mary Jo Timlin-Hoag’s own words:

Good evening everyone. Thank you for joining us in celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Knock.“140 years ago (1879), on a dreary, rain soaked August night, during a very sad century in Ireland’s history, the Blessed Virgin Mary came to comfort the Irish people. She appeared to a group of 22 people of all ages in the little town of Knock.

She came to a country which had remained faithful through centuries of persecution. She came to a country whose people, although poor, had never lost hope.”   The Story of Our Lady of Knock, Jim Dowling

140 years ago on a cold day in November, in Philadelphia, the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception was solemnly dedicated. The Irish immigrant community of the time was instrumental in building the Chapel, providing much of the labor to complete the task, providing financial support when they could, and attending Sunday Mass.

You are sitting in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conceptionnow known as the Miraculous Medal Shrine. You are sitting in the very seats your forefathers/mothers sat.

And so this evening I say to you all……Fáilte Abhaile……Welcome Home!

As was true in Ireland in 1879, the Irish immigrating to the States brought with them their deep faith, affectionate love for our Blessed Lady, and their endless hope. The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception/Miraculous Medal Shrine is a symbol of that faith, strength, and hope.

Many Irish immigrants settled in Philadelphia and around the Germantown Area. The Shrine, with its Monday Novena and Sunday Mass, became a gathering place for the Irish Community.

We could practice our faith, go to Mass, attend the Novena to the Miraculous Medal on Mondays, and catch up on what was going on at “Home”—who was ill, who got married, had babies, or was coming over to the States.

It was a place to network and perhaps find a mate. Many a marriage started within these walls!

At the Shrine’s peek, 15,000 people would attend the Monday Novena. Many, many of these attendees were Irish. Such was their love and belief in Mary. I’ll bet you have your own stories of the Shrine, either stories from your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, or your personal connection with the Shrine.

The Shrine continues much the same today. It remains a place of devotion, comfort, and hope. It’s still a connection to Home, it’s still a place to network, and yes……it’s still a place to find a mate!

This is the house the Irish built……for Mary……whose arms are opened for all. This is the house the Irish built to nurture their strong faith and continue their connection with “Home.” This became a “Home away from Home.”

Fáilte Abhaile……Welcome Home!  You’re looking grand.

Please join me in saying the Novena Prayers……

All of this was true for German-Americans, Italian-American and so many other churches of my parent’s generation.

Other dimensions of the celebration

I do not have space to write much of the wonderful celebration that continued in the “Lower Shrine”.

When Andy Cooney sang it was clear why he consistently sells out international venues such as Carnegie Hall. Since he was once one of our seminarians, he added a very touching note. He visited some of his former teachers, Frs. Bamber and Kennedy now in their 90’s and residing in St. Catherine’s Infirmary. The corridors echoed as he sang just for them.

Sheila McGirl, Director Advancement for the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal, amazed all who did not know her with her powerful renditions of the Irish and America national anthems.

The Rince Ri Irish Step Dancers and Irish Thunder bagpipers impressed everyone.

Of course, everyone delighted in the Irish Bread and other goodies brought in from Irish festival country in the Catskills.

Let us think about how

  • As many peoples, we heard Mary’s words “Do Whatever he tells you!”
  • As many peoples, we listened to Jesus tell each of us “Do this in memory of me… Wash one another’s feet”.
  • As many peoples, we remember our immigrant heritages
  • Especially in such a confusing world, we remember that we (our ancestors) built this church

PS I have the following on good authority from a woman who as a young girl traveled across Ireland in rickety trains to stand in the muddy fields of Knock. She tells me “Knock” is the anglicization of the Gaelic word “cnoc” meaning “hill”.

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