The Story of the Shrine at the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal
The story of our Shrine is a story of grace and prayers answered through fervent and loving devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
In 1875, construction was begun for the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The chapel was attached to St. Vincent’s Seminary and originally it was to serve as a place of worship for the seminarians and priests of the Congregation of the Mission (CM), of the order commonly known as the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers.
The Chapel was consecrated by Bishop Ryan, CM, of Buffalo, N.Y. in 1879. At the request of Archbishop James F. Wood, it was built large enough to serve as a chapel of convenience for the surrounding neighborhood until 1902 when the local parish erected its own Church.
History of the Shrine
In 1912, Father Joseph Skelly, CM, received a special assignment from the Provincial of the priests and brothers of the Eastern Province USA, which was to raise funds for the construction of a Minor Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. Father Skelly placed a small Medal in each appeal letter that he mailed to raise funds for the Minor Seminary. So generous was the response brought through the intercession of Mary Immaculate that Father Skelly felt some special mark of gratitude to Our Lady was in order. After prayer and consultation, it was decided to form – in March of 1915 – The Central Association of the Miraculous Medal (CAMM), a society devoted to Mary, with Father Skelly as its first Director.
The idea of forming the Central Association had further consequences, and, in 1927, a change in the structure of the Chapel occurred. The transept area (west side of the Chapel), dedicated to St. Vincent de Paul, was removed and the area enlarged. In its place Father Skelly built “Mary’s Central Shrine.” He always spoke of it as the “Center and Heart of the Association.”
In 1927, Father Skelly introduced a nine-day Novena — four times a year — in the Public Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. For three years, the Chapel hosted Solemn Novenas during November (Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal), February (Our Lady of Lourdes), May (Our Lady, Help of Christians) and August (Feast of the Assumption).
The devotions at the Shrine became so popular and so fruitful that the Director of the Association made another momentous and courageous decision. While retaining the Solemn Novena in preparation for the feast of the Miraculous Medal, he decided to inaugurate a weekly Novena service. After consulting local parishes about their evening activities, he chose Monday as the day for the Perpetual Novena in honor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.
On Monday, December 8, 1930, in order to honor the 100th Anniversary of the Apparitions of our Blessed Mother to Saint Catherine Labouré, Father Skelly himself initiated the first Monday Novena Service. He used a “little Novena booklet” containing the prayers his confreres prepared especially for this Novena. In time, the number of Monday services grew to twelve.
The Perpetual Novena is still alive and well today at Mary’s “Central Shrine.” Each Monday, eight Novena Services are held along with the celebrating of Masses, benediction and confession. The Shrine Chapel underwent major interior renovation in 1979. More recently, we had to replace the tile roof and refurbish the Steeple Carillon. In 2008, the complete interior of the Shrine was painted.
In the Millennium Year, 2000, the Archdiocese designated the Shrine Chapel as one of six official pilgrimage sites. In 2002, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia reported that the Miraculous Medal Novena is the most popular novena devotion in its parishes. The Central Association of the Miraculous Medal gives thanks to God and to His Blessed Mother for hearing the cries of the poor and needy during these many years.