Celebrating the St. Ann’s Novena, Scranton, Pennsylvania

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July 26, 2001: Passionist Devotional Life the Passionist Sesquicentennial

Today Passionist Fathers Leo O’Boyle and Joseph Jones complete preaching the Novena to St. Ann. Held annually from July 17-26 at the Passionist foundation in Scranton, Pennsylvania, this devotion has taken place since 1924. Father John Joseph Endler, C.P. is the Passionist most closely identified with this event.

Though a short summary history of the novena exists on the St. Ann Basilica Passionist website at www.themass.org/novena/history.htm, it is also true that no adequate study has been done surrounding the overall impact of this devotional experience. The sesquicentennial of the Passionists in the United States (1852-2002) is a reminder that Passionists have long advocated the healing graces associated with the Catholic devotional life. One may ask why such devotions as making the steps on Good Friday at Mount Adams in Cincinnati, Ohio and the devotion to St. Ann in Scranton have retained their power throughout the century?

Over the last decade devotions such as the novena, stations of the cross, eucharistic devotions, and lighting (preferably real) candles have held their place in the Catholic consciousness. At the same time, it is also true that local parishes have found the number of people who attend novenas or Forty Hours to be much less in number . Understanding these devotional trends, which were so influenced by the renewal of Vatican II (1962-1965), seems appropriate because it may help foster a greater knowledge of Passionist identity in relationship to the overall identity of Catholic devotional life in the United States and in the respective dioceses where Passionists are represented. It might be helpful, for instance, to place the larger Passionist devotional approach in Joseph P. Chinnici, O.F.M. Living Stones: The History and Structure of Catholic Spiritual Life in the United States (Orbis, 1996). Likewise, it would be proper to place the St. Ann’s Novena in the context of the Diocese of Scranton by reading Msgr. John P. Gallagher, Ph.D. A Century of History and A Second Century Begins 1969_1993 and James B. Earley, Envisioning Faith _ The Pictorial History of the Diocese of Scranton, (Wm. T. Cooke, Pub., Inc. 1994).

Passionists are part of both the national and local understanding of United States Catholic devotional life. In this case, the St. Ann Novena in Scranton, requires further study and reflection. The sesquicentennial is a perfect reminder to highlight Passionist educational self-understanding. Rather than self-promotion, Passionist educational self-understanding uses the detail to name the full meaning of the devotional experience. In other words, as we remember the Feast of St. Ann on July 26, 2001 it might be time to ask not only how the Passionists have organized, promoted, and celebrated this event; but also how the Passionists have been changed by the event. For example, if you have been a preacher of the St. Ann Novena, how has that influenced your faith? What is the difference between preaching to people, preaching on T.V., or preaching on the radio? What does it mean to be a confessor or share the blessing of the relic during the Feast of St. Ann? Such reflection on how Passionists grow and learn from the devotions they preach might be a dimension of experience which we often put on the back burner. Many times I have heard Passionists express their awe and respect for the faith of the people who make the St. Ann Novena. And quickly, they then state how being present to minister at the novena was a personal moment of unexpected, or in some cases, expected grace. Again, the St. Ann Novena offers the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of devotional life in the ministry experience of the Passionists in North America.

The Passionist Historical Archives and the archives of St. Ann Monastery offer invaluable material to assist the Passionists and friends of the Passionist to come to a greater understanding of the St. Ann Novena. During the sesquicentennial I hope to conduct an archival survey of the archives of St. Ann. A quick survey of the archives here in Union City shows that there is a core deposit of material which could enlighten our Passionist self-understanding. There are some copies of St. Ann Novena prayers and schedules. There are also a series of newspaper clippings on the Novena as they were celebrated through the decades. Each folder is organized into ten years from the the 1940s through the 1980s. It would be worthwhile to analyze how Catholic press coverage differed from secular press coverage. What has the Novena meant to the Catholic diocese of Scranton? What does the Novena mean to the economic stability of Scranton in general? How were ethnic devotions covered? How has the ethnic experience surrounding the St. Ann Novena developed over the decades? In some cases, indications are that people came from the greater northeast United States to attend the Novena. How has this experience changed over the years? Is it more a regional and less an east coast experience? Also in what way is this a personal devotion? In what way is this a family devotional experience? From a business point of view, how was the marketing of devotional medals, Novena oil, rosaries, and prayer books developed over the years? Do these people who attend this Novena ever call themselves pilgrims? Do they go to other Novenas? How do sponsors of other devotional shrines view the St. Ann’s Novena in Scranton? How do the Passionists consider if the Novena is a success? Have we ever gathered stories or testimonies of healing?

Finally, it would be most beneficial to write a basic chronological history. The following material was culled from The Passionist. This was published by Holy Cross Province as a means to educate and inspire United States Passionists about Passionist province ministries in North America and throughout the world. For example, in 1948 Passionist Superior General Albert Deane, C.P. visited St. Paul of the Cross Province. World War II had curtailed the ability for international communication between Passionists throughout the world so this was an important event. Deane preached at the feast of St. Ann on July 26 in Scranton. Attendance was estimated at one hundred thousand. 1949 was also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the St. Ann’s Novena in Scranton. The closing crowd was over seventy-five thousand. In 1953, the St. Ann’s Novena preachers were Father Julian Connors, C.P. and David Bulman, C.P. The closing crowd was estimated that 75,000. On February 15, 1954 Father Norbert Herman, C.P. delivered his one hundredth radio broadcast on St. Ann’s Novena Hour over Scranton Radio Station WGBI. The 1955 St Ann’s Novena had about one hundred and fifty thousand people to listen to Fathers Clement Buckley, C.P. and Benedict Mawn, C.P. In 1957, WDAU was televising a weekly Mass in Scranton. Because of the difficulty for wives and mothers to devote a whole weekend for a retreat in the late 1950s Father Cletus Dawson, C.P. of St. Ann’s in Scranton arranged for a Ladies Day of Recollection in St. Ann’s Church on December 8, 1957. Four hundred and fifty women attended In 1958 more than four hundred thousand attended the St. Ann’s Novena. Preachers were Fathers Denis Walsh, C.P. and James Follard, C.P. St. Ann’s Novena was preached in 1959 by Fathers Agatho Durkin, C.P. and Raymond Houlahan, C.P. Estimates were that one hundred and twenty thousand attended. In 1961 the St. Ann Novena was preached by Fathers Cletus Dawson, C.P. and Jordan Loiselle, C.P. In 1967 Passionist seminarians were assigned to work the novena. The Forty-fourth St. Ann Novena in 1967 was preached by Fathers Leander Della Veneri, C.P., Wilfred Scanlon, C.P. and Basil Trahon, C.P.

On this Feast of St. Ann 2001 we celebrate this Passionist devotion. May we grow in the graces its understanding as we celebrate the Passionist sesquicentennial of 1852 to 2002.

Fr. Rob Carbonneau, C.P.
Historian and Director of The Passionist Historical Archives.
July 26, 2001

Please contact me at [email protected] if you have any comments.

Copyright Passionist Historical Archives 2001. All rights reserved. Permission of Archives needed for publication.