Fr. Joseph Aloysius Skelly, CM, was born on March 24, 1874, in Philadelphia’s Germantown section. Though he would spend most of the next 89 years living and working within walking distance of his boyhood home, Fr. Skelly’s leading roles in the founding of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal and the Miraculous Medal Shrine, each inspired by Marian devotion, have made a lasting global impact.
As the fourth of six children born to Daniel and Elizabeth (Hanlon) Skelly, young Joseph entered the St. Vincent’s Seminary near his home in 1895 and was ordained into the priesthood at Philadelphia’s St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1900. He initially served with the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Baltimore, but in 1904 was appointed as prefect of St. Vincent’s. A decade later, Fr. Skelly was placed in charge of raising funds to build a new Vincentian seminary in Princeton, New Jersey.
By then, Fr. Skelly had developed a profound interest in the story of Catherine Leboré, the French novice who in 1830 encountered three apparitions of Mary and was instructed by the Blessed Mother to create the medal that would later become known as the Miraculous Medal. Fr. Skelly had read of the many miracles attributed to the medal by those seeking Mary’s intercession, so he enclosed a small version of the medal in each fundraising letter he sent.
The response to this simple act of faith was so resounding that in 1915 Fr. Skelly founded the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal to perpetuate their distribution. Devotion to the Blessed Mother through her medal blossomed in the United States and worldwide in the ensuing years, inspiring Fr. Skelly to direct the creation of the Miraculous Medal Shrine at the Vincentians’ Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in 1927.
Three years later, on December 8, 1930, Fr. Skelly initiated the Perpetual Novena. This weekly devotional prayer has been held at the Shrine every Monday without interruption for more than nine decades. Today, devotees from around the world can also participate in the Perpetual Novena virtually by tuning in live each week via YouTube or Facebook.
In the final 50 years of his life, Fr. Skelly produced and distributed tens of millions of Miraculous Medals and other devotional materials to recipients from almost every nation on Earth. Fr. Skelly died on July 8, 1963, at age 89 and is interred in the St. Vincent’s Seminary crypt mere footsteps from the landmark shrine that continues to beckon prayerful pilgrims to the foot of Mary’s altar.