The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, delivers the homily for the Solemn Closing Mass of the Novena on the Feast Day of Saint Ann, July 26, 2022. (Photos/Mike Melisky)

SCRANTON – Thousands of people made their way to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Ann in West Scranton in late June for an annual pilgrimage that has been ongoing for 98 years.

The Solemn Novena in honor of Saint Ann, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, began on Sunday, July 17, and culminated with the celebration of the Feast of Saint Ann on Tuesday, July 26.

“It is such a holy place. As soon as you walk on the grounds, you can feel it. It is inspiring and a time when you can reflect on your faith,” Novena volunteer Debbie Coval said.

Coval and other volunteers were happy to see so many worshippers turn out for this year’s event.

“With all of the bad stuff going on, it’s good to see a lot of people practicing their faith,” volunteer Noah Palauskas added. “Everybody is extremely friendly here. You can come and make new friends without even trying.”

The guest preacher for this year’s Novena was Passionist Father Paul Fagan.

“Each day is more energizing,” Father Fagan said. Father Fagan preached about Saint Joseph, the son-in-law of Saint Ann, this year.

“We started with looking at Saint Joseph generally and for the rest of the Novena, we took a title of Saint Joseph each day and reflected on that,” he explained.

Carol Ann McNulty of Laflin has been coming to the annual Novena for more than 25 years. She says Saint Ann has blessed her with health, happiness, holiness and prosperity.

“When I have asked Saint Ann to intercede for my family, if it were health problems or whatever it may be, she has come through for us,” McNulty explained. “My brother who had cancer, we brought him here for the very first time when he was going through treatments. When he came, he was amazed at the size of the Saint Ann statue and he said he felt different after he left, it was like a special blessing he received.”

This year, the tradition of blessing the faithful with a relic of Saint Ann has returned after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They tell you, ‘Be careful what you pray for because you may get it but not in the way you think you’re going to get it,’” Marion Kruska of West Wyoming said. “I’ve had a lot of things happen in my lifetime and I got what I wanted but it was a long haul of comfort and suffering to guide me through it.”

Guy Pelosi has been attending the Novena for decades. His mother taught him to have a deep love and respect for Saint Ann.

“I was born and raised in West Scranton. I was a member of Saint Ann Monastery since birth. I was an altar boy, a choirboy, a boy scout, I was in the Vocation Club. I worked here years ago as a porter and also worked in the kitchen washing dishes. I literally grew up here. This is my life. Our community was based at Saint Ann’s,” he explained.

When asked to describe how the Novena itself has impacted his life, Pelosi responded simply, “It is beyond words!”

The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, celebrated the Solemn Closing of the Novena on the Feast of Saint Ann.

During his homily, he discussed faith, family, gratitude.

“My sisters and brothers, open your ears and listen to the voice of God as he speaks to your heart and offers you a message of consolation and hope,” Bishop Bambera said. “Look within yourselves. See God walking with you even and particularly amid all of the hurts, the wounds, the brokenness, the guilt, the grief and pain that are yours.”

He continued, “See in the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Jesus – God’s love poured forth for you, for me, as we are, wth the gifts of life, salvation and peace.”

As the Solemn Closing Mass of the Novena came to an end, Father Richard Burke, C.P., Rector of St. Ann’s, thanked all those who made the 55 Masses and Novena services possible, including Bishop Bambera, who celebrated the final Mass.

“Your Excellency, Bishop Bambera, we are so pleased that you are here with us tonight to bring to a conclusion this week of marvelous prayer, marvelous hope and marvelous inspiration that we’ve had from the virtues of Saint Joseph throughout these nine days,” Father Burke said.