SCRANTON — The 97th annual Solemn Novena to Saint Ann at the Basilica of the National Shrine, honoring the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary in West Scranton, opens on Saturday, July 17. It will continue with nine days of Eucharistic worship, devotional prayer and preaching, culminating with the celebration of the Feast of Saint Ann on Monday, July 26.

Very Rev. Passionist Father Richard Burke, rector of the Saint Ann Passionist Monastery and director of the Saint Ann National Shrine Basilica, announces the guest preachers for this year’s Solemn Novena will be Passionist Fathers Robert Joerger and Robert Carbonneau.

The theme for the 2021 Novena devotion, “Lift High the Cross,” pays homage to the very foundation and charism the religious Congregation of the Passion was established upon 300 years ago by Saint Paul of the Cross — namely, the spreading of the Gospel message through pious devotion to, and particular emphasis on, the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ.

“The Cross of Christ is the focus on our faith,” Father Richard said. “The Cross of Christ is the wellspring of meaning for all the joys and trials in the pathway of life.”

According to the Passionist superior, the preachers for the midsummer Novena to the grandmother of Jesus will narrow the focus of this year’s general theme to provide a sub-theme for each day of the devotion. The daily schedule of those preached messages that will apply the overall theme to the lives of the faithful is as follows:

July 17, “The Cross and Our Search for Life”; July 18, “The Cross as the Foundation of My Faith”; July 19, “The Cross: Where Wounds Become Wisdom”; July 20, “Carry Our Cross as Ambassadors for Christ”; July 21, “The Cross and the Breath of the Spirit”; July 22, “Mary and the Healing Message of Christ”; July 23, “The Cross and the Healing of Resentment”; July 24, “Compassion and the Cross”; July 25, “The Cross is Our Belonging”; and July 26, “Lift High the Cross & Humbly Accept Healing.”

In regard to the blessing with the Saint Ann relic following all Novena devotions, Father Richard explained that precautions will continue due to the ongoing pandemic. As was the case during last year’s Saint Ann Novena, only a general blessing of the faithful with the saint’s relic will be imparted. No individual blessings will be offered.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., where he graduated from Xaverian High School, Father Bob Joerger currently serves as pastor of Saint Therese of Lisieux Parish in Montauk, N.Y., and is an Affiliated Member of the De LaSalle Christian Brothers.

Upon graduating from Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., he entered the Passionist Novitiate, professing his vows in 1973. He received  his master’s degrees in theology and divinity from Saint John’s University, Queens, N.Y., prior to his ordination as a Passionist priest in 1977.

Father Bob later earned a master’s degree in Christian spirituality and certification as a spiritual director from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and attended the Institute of Culinary Arts in New York City.

He is past director of Saint Gabriel’s Youth Retreat House on Shelter Island, N.Y., and served as provincial superior of the Saint Paul of the Cross Province of Passionists ministering in Canada, the Eastern United States, Jamaica, Haiti and Puerto Rico. He is also a former consultor to the Superior General of the Passionists in Rome.

Father Rob Carbonneau was assigned to the Passionist religious community at Saint Ann’s Monastery and National Shrine Basilica in 2018, serving as an adjunct professor in the History Department at The University of Scranton, where he has taught courses on the history of American Catholicism and Modern China. As official historian for the Saint Paul of the Cross Passionist Province, Father Rob oversees the Passionist Historical Archives collection at the Weinberg Memorial Library at The University of Scranton.

A native of West Hartford, Conn., and graduate of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., Father Rob was ordained a priest for the Passionist order in 1978. He received his doctorate in American and East Asian history from Georgetown University in 1992, with his thesis providing in-depth research into the martyred deaths of three Passionist missionaries killed in Hunan China in 1929.

During 2015-18, the Passionist priest served as executive director of the U.S.-China Catholic Association in Berkeley, Calif., where he acted as an official spokesman on the present realities of the Catholic Church in China.

Father Rob is recognized as an international scholar on the Passionists in America, with an emphasis on the history of American Catholic missionaries in 20th-century China. In 2004, he published an article, entitled “Coal Mines, Saint Ann’s Novena and Passionist Spirituality in Scranton, Pennsylvania,” for American Catholic Studies.

Special spiritual offerings highlighting this year’s Novena to Saint Ann include the Divine Liturgy of the Byzantine Rite on Tuesday, July 20, at 5:30 p.m., celebrated by Bishop Kurt Burnette of the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, and Mass with Anointing of the Sick on Thursday, July 22, at 1:30 p.m., with the Sacrament of the Sick available to all elderly, infirm and the ill.

On Saturday, July 24, the Novena will offer a special blessing service for all infants and children at the 10 a.m. Mass. The following day, Sunday, July 25, all Eucharistic liturgies will honor and bless grandparents and the elderly, in observance of World Day for Grandparents and Elderly recently inaugurated by Pope Francis and in prayerful tribute to Saints Ann and Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus.

Bishop Joseph C. Bambera of Scranton will celebrate the Solemn Closing of the Novena on the Feast of Saint Ann, July 26, at 7:30 p.m. Earlier on the feast day, the Mass in Polish will be celebrated at 1:30 p.m., featuring Polish hymns. Anyone wishing to join the choir in singing the liturgical songs in Polish is welcome to do so by coming to the choir loft before Mass.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation will be available to all faithful 45 minutes before each Novena Mass/devotion, with confessions heard in the Lower Basilica. On Saint Ann’s Feast Day, the Sacrament will be available throughout the day.

Father Richard also announced that the Saint Ann’s Religious Article Shop will be open throughout the Novena, and the Shrine’s Memorial Walkway and Saint Padre Pio Plaza will be available for those wishing to remember and honor the memory of loved ones.

Much to the delight of the faithful in attendance, Saint Ann Basilica Parish will once again staff and provide for the time-honored and popular tradition of the Novena Food Pavilion, offering menu items and refreshments for all devotees during their visit.