SCRANTON – Born and raised just one street over from the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Ann, Kathy Dennebaum feels a deep connection to the annual Solemn Novena. She makes it a priority to attend services each year.

“I’ve had three major intentions that I’ve brought to the Novena and all three of them came to fruition so I’m a firm believer,” she explained.

Crowds gather on the lawn of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Saint Ann on July 26, 2023.

An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people attended Novena services each day this year.
“This has been a very sacred place since I was a little kid. My grandmother and grandfather had nine children that came here and were all members of this parish until they died,” Dennebaum added. “I just like to come and listen to the priests when they speak. A lot of times it’s very meaningful.”

The West Scranton native, who has been married to her husband Mark for 45 years, now bring their own grandson to experience the peace that comes from the prayerful place.

“I think it goes back to the fact that we grew up here and we’d like to have him be part of what we were part of when we were young,” Mark Dennebaum said.

This year marked the 99th year for the annual Novena that began July 17, 2023. The Novena concluded July 26, the Feast of Saint Ann.

“We never miss it, my whole family of eight sisters and brothers,” Patricia DeNapoli, a parishioner of Saints Anthony and Rocco Parish in Dunmore, said. “No matter what I ask, somehow, someway, it gets answered. You have to believe. If you don’t have faith there is nothing else!”

Very Rev. Richard W. Burke, C.P., rector of Saint Ann’s Shrine Basilica, said the annual Novena remains popular because Saint Ann is such a powerful intercessor.

“Every week we get letters and calls and have conversations with people who had their prayers answered one way or another through the intercession of Saint Ann,” Father Richard said.

With the centennial anniversary of the Solemn Novena quickly approaching, Father Richard believes its importance and relevance is just as important as when it started in 1924.

“Just think about all the major issues that we have to pray about. We can influence them through the gift of our prayers that God gives to us, we can influence the events of the world,” Father Richard stated. “The end of the hostility in Ukraine is a prayer that is on everybody’s mind. When they send in their petitions to put at the Altar of Saint Ann, nine out of ten of them have peace in Ukraine on those petitions.”

Jacob and Matthew Metzger, twins who grew up in West Scranton, began attending the Novena at a young age.

“This is the holiest ground I could be on,” Matthew said. “It is the greatest time of the year. It brings us a lot of peace and a lot of happiness to come down here.”

At 20 years old, the twins, who are both pre-med students, now volunteer every year at the food stand at the Solemn Novena to Saint Ann.

“It is such an amazing place to be. Everyone is kind and loving and filled with the Holy Spirit,” Jacob said. “It’s a family environment here. We all love what we do. We all love helping the people and putting a smile on people’s faces every day.”

With the 2023 Novena just having wrapped-up, coordinators say they will not waste any time in getting ready for next year.

“We’re going to get a committee going in August to begin planning what is going to happen next year. We already have some suggestions,” Father Richard hinted. “It will be very special.”

SCRANTON – As he celebrated the closing Mass of the Solemn Novena to Saint Ann, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, told a personal story which he said emphasized the power and presence of God in his life.

It revolved around an encounter with a man experiencing homelessness on a cold winter night around Christmas. The man – who said he was hungry and needed shelter – approached the bishop as he tried to get inside the Cathedral rectory.

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, delivers the homily during the Closing Mass for the Solemn Novena July 26, 2023.

“As I was struggling with what appeared to me to be a set-up, some better angels spoke to my heart. What if he was telling me the truth? How could I turn someone away who was in such need? What would Jesus do?” Bishop Bambera told the crowd. “Maybe that was Jesus – testing me and my resolve to live as his disciple.”

After some internal struggle inside his mind, the bishop provided the man with some money to get something to eat and stay in a local hotel.

“I felt a little bit guilty for wondering about his honesty. But then I took some quiet consolation in trusting that, as best I could, I tried to be a witness to what I believe as a Christian,” Bishop Bambera explained. “Remember those words of Jesus? ‘When I was hungry, you gave me food. But when Lord? As often as you did it to the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it to me!’”

The bishop said every person gathered at the Closing Mass of the Novena has likely had a moment like the one he experienced at his backdoor last winter.

“For me, that exchange became an unexpected moment that was filled with the presence of God. God was teaching me a lesson about all that is possible when we set aside our selfish, self-centered, self-righteous ways, when we seek to forgive, and when we let Jesus guide us forward,” he said. “Every one of us has been and continues to be touched by the presence of God in our lives when we least expect that presence to grasp hold of our hands and hearts. And every one of us can recount a moment in our lives – perhaps even during this treasured Novena – in which we were blessed to encounter the presence of God.”

As he ended the Novena, Bishop Bambera urged the faithful to follow the path that the Lord desires.

“God continues to use unlikely individuals like (Saints) Ann and Joachim, like Joseph and Mary, like me and you, to accomplish his purpose in our world – to give hope – and to proclaim a message of life, salvation, mercy and peace,” he said.

SCRANTON – The annual Mass of the Anointing of the Sick during the Solemn Novena to Saint Ann brought out a large crowd on July 20, 2023, as hundreds chose to experience the healing presence of Jesus in their lives.

“It means everything to me. I love it,” Patricia Williams said.

During the Mass with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, held during the Solemn Novena to Saint Ann on July 20, 2023, Very Rev. Richard W. Burke, rector, Saint Ann’s Monastery, administers the Sacrament.

Williams, a native of Scranton, made a special effort to attend this year’s Mass with her friend.

“I got my friend to come because she just had an operation and I came for my eyes,” she explained. “I might lose my eyesight because of macular degeneration in my family. I mainly came for that.”

During his homily, Very Rev. Richard W. Burke, C.P., rector of Saint Ann’s Shrine Basilica, described two precious moments he had recently celebrating the sacraments. One was with a 92-year-old nun and the other with a person in a coma who later recovered.

“The Sacrament of the Anointing is a very powerful moment of grace for everyone who wants to receive it, anyone who is sick, any of us who are elderly,” Father Richard explained. “It is a wonderful opportunity to look into the eyes of Jesus and discover His love, discover His healing presence and discover His guiding force in the heart of our lives.”

Elaine Jacklinski of Scranton believes attending the Mass of the Anointing of the Sick at last year’s Novena played a part in saving her life.

“Last year, it was very beneficial for me because my heart stopped a few days after the Novena when I was in the hospital and I was brought back and I feel it was because of the anointing Mass that God was with me,” the West Scranton resident explained.

While she admits it isn’t as easy getting to the special Mass because of mobility issues, Jacklinski is thankful she was able to attend.

“This Mass is very special. It’s very beneficial for me,” she said.

SCRANTON – Benita Trently has been attending the Solemn Novena to Saint Ann for years and was thrilled this year’s annual devotion included a Mass in Spanish for the first time.

“There is a big Spanish community so hopefully they will start coming and start participating,” Trently said.

Father Luis Daniel Guivas, C.P., celebrated the first Mass in Spanish at the Solemn Novena to Saint Ann on July 23, 2023.

On Sunday, July 23, 2023, Father Luis Daniel Guivas, C.P., who is originally from Puerto Rico, but currently stationed in Queens, N.Y., celebrated the first Spanish Mass for the Novena at 1:30 p.m.

“The hope is to have this first step so we can promote it so we can have a bigger celebration next year during the whole Novena,” he said.

Jonathan Ramos, who is in formation for the Passionist community, said it is important to welcome people of all backgrounds and languages.

“Having this today is a great opportunity to get to know more people, our neighbors, and have the opportunity to serve them,” Ramos explained.

Very Rev. Richard W. Burke, C.P., rector of Saint Ann’s Shrine Basilica, said he is hopeful that for the Novena’s 100th anniversary next year they will be able to offer daily Masses in Spanish.

“I’m hoping that we’re going to be able to inaugurate a daily celebration in Spanish next year. We have so many members of Hispanic origin who are very devoted and dedicated people and I think it’s very important to make something available to them as part of the Novena,” Father Richard said.

That news is very exciting for Trently, who believes Saint Ann performs many miracles.

“My mother was very sick two months ago and I prayed to her (Saint Ann) to leave her here and she did, so I do believe she fulfills miracles,” Trently said. “My mother is healthy now. She is doing much better!”