Living Hope Newsletter – October 2008

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The Claretians and St. Jude: A feast to remember

The National Shrine of Saint Jude was founded on its present site by a Claretian missionary, the late Father James Tort, C.M.F., pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Chicago. Many of Tort’s parishioners were laborers in the nearby steel mills, which were drastically cutting back their work forces early in 1929. The reduction of jobs was an ominous portent of the business depression that would culminate with the stock-market crash on Wall Street the following October.

The Claretian pastor saw breadlines being formed in the community. He saw evidence of children being undernourished, and his heart went out to his neighbors—Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Father Tort prayed for and with his people. He had started construction of a church; but having few financial resources, he felt the building project would have to be abandoned.

Tort, James

Father Tort was devoted to St. Jude Thaddeus, who was relatively unknown to the general Catholic population at that time. During the Middle Ages, St. Jude was widely venerated, but perhaps because of the confusion between his name and that of the traitor Judas Iscariot, he slipped into temporary obscurity.

Night after night, however, Father Tort persevered in his prayers to St. Jude, asking his intercession and promising to erect a shrine in the saint’s honor if the church could be finished. In an effort to lift the spirits of his parishioners, Father Tort began regular devotions to St. Jude. On February 17, 1929, Auxillary Bishop Bernard J. Sheil visited South Chicago to dedicate the statue of St. Jude. Thus began the first devotional services to St. Jude at Our Lady of Guadalupe, and before the year ended, the country’s first National Shrine of St. Jude would be firmly established.

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Devotees Flock to St. Jude

During the Lenten season of 1929, Father Tort noticed many of his parishioners praying before the statue of St. Jude. When all of the statues in the church were covered with purple drape during Holy Week, he quietly moved the statue of St. Jude to a place of prominence above an altar on the right side of the church.

The congregation at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church showed such great response to the devotion to St. Jude that an overflow crowd attended services on the final night of the first Solemn Novena that ended on the saint’s feast day, Oct. 28, 1929—the day before the US stock market crashed. More than 1,000 people stood outside the church to hear the service.

Eventually some money came into the church—never enough to guarantee security but enough to continue the spiritual and social-welfare endeavors of the parish and help in the completion of the church. A modest shrine to St. Jude was finally established.

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Word of the devotions to St. Jude gradually spread from that tiny corner of Chicago to other parts of the country. During the Great Depression and World War II, thousands of men, women, and children attended novenas at the shrine; devotion to the “patron saint of hopeless causes” spread throughout the country.

Because the majority of St. Jude devotees cannot personally attend novena services at the National Shrine in Chicago, the St. Jude League distributes novena literature throughout the country to those who want to participate in the novena and send in their prayers and petitions for inclusion in the services.

The letters that pour into the National Shrine provide inspiring testimony of the desire of the faithful to unite themselves with God through prayers to Saint Jude.

The late Father Joachim DePrada, C.M.F., one of the successors to Father Tort as director of the National Shrine of St. Jude, once commented: “The continued interest in St. Jude indicates the hand of Providence at work. The change that St. Jude has wrought in the spiritual lives of many thousands of persons substantiates this belief.”

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Today, the National Shrine of St. Jude provides solace and comfort to hundreds of thousands of people through the St. Jude League. At the heart of the devotion to St. Jude is nurturing the healing, hopeful presence of this patron saint. The letters of gratitude that are sent to the Claretians each day in thanksgiving for St. Jude’s intercession are an inspiration.

The National Shrine of St. Jude welcomes visitors from all over the world, encouraging a worldwide congregation to unite in prayer and hope. Devotion to St. Jude isn’t superstitious; rather, it is grounded in faith and love for a merciful God, and is nourished by the power of prayer. The Claretians share a profound gratitude for the St. Jude League community and remember them in Masses throughout the world.