Living Hope Newsletter – October 2012

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The National Shrine and the St. Jude League:        A Living Devotion

For over 80 years, the National Shrine of St. Jude has been a unique place for prayer and reflection for those who trust in St. Jude’s intercession. Since its founding, the Shrine has been a base for the growth of the devotion to St. Jude throughout the United States. Today, it receives a steady stream of visitors from around the country, and endless petitions for intentions and for gratitude from members of the St. Jude League, each offering their serious needs and challenges to the Patron of Hope.

In 1929, Claretian Fr. James Tort, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Chicago, built a shrine to St. Jude and held the first Solemn Novena, drawing a crowd that filled the street outside the small church on the Novena’s final day. The strong local support confirmed what Fr. Tort had already suspected . . . the devotion to St. Jude could be a blessing to the Catholic community throughout the country. In time, the small beginnings of the shrine were designated the National Shrine of St. Jude, as a seat of the devotion nationwide.

Shortly after this designation, Fr. Tort made a pilgrimage to Rome with some St. Jude devotees from his church. The Vatican had graciously agreed to provide the Shrine with two bone relics of St. Jude to be powerful anchors of the Claretians’ commitment to the devotion to this saint in the U.S. in the National Shrine. These relics continue to be centerpieces of the National Shrine to this day.

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The larger relic is housed in a special glass cabinet on the altar at the Shrine, just below the statue of St. Jude. The second, smaller relic is encased in a special protective glass and is anchored on a kneeler in front of the altar to St. Jude so it is accessible to all visitors. Most of the visitors to the Shrine touch this relic as a sign of their respect, love, and devotion for St. Jude.

As the devotion has grown, pilgrims to the Shrine continue to express their needs in prayer at the altar of St. Jude. Over the years, the tradition of lighting candles became another means for visitors to express their hope in prayer to St. Jude. Originally, votive candles were lit at the back of the church, but in the 1960s, Fr. James Maloney, C.M.F., arranged for a special Vigil Light room to be built near the altar of St. Jude specifically for devotees. The warm glow of this room is a witness to the many prayers offered at the Shrine year after year.

The relics, altar, and Vigil Light room make the Shrine a uniquely personal space for prayer and reflection for the pilgrims who come each day. Fr. Ferdinand Okorie, C.M.F., the Novena Director at the National Shrine, said he sees between 40 and 80 visitors on the average day . . . every day! “Most of those who come to pray at the Shrine are from outside the community,” Fr. Okorie said. “They come from different cities and suburbs, and in the summer they come from as far away as Texas, California, and Canada."

Many devotees travel in groups to the Shrine and, with prior planning, arrange for a special Mass to be celebrated during their visit. “Last week, I celebrated a Mass for a group from Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” said Fr. Okorie. “I later received a word from their leader that they would like to come back again another year. I’m glad they enjoyed their experience at the Shrine so much that they all already want to be able to count on another day here.”

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And for devotees who can’t make it to the Shrine, the Claretians established the St. Jude League in 1929 to provide a consistent path for them to get their petitions and intentions to the National Shrine. These are continually placed at the altar of St. Jude; they are then offered in the Masses at the Shrine and remembered in the prayers of the Claretians.

The St. Jude League today is made up of thousands and thousands of members around the country. Their devotion, their petitions, and their prayers are deeply personal and individual, but through their convergence at the National Shrine they also become part of a communal experience of prayer as two or more gathered spiritually in Christ’s name. Just as the original community around the Shrine sought St. Jude’s intercession, today’s members seek his support in their daily lives and in their extraordinary life challenges.

The League also continues Fr. Tort’s tradition of hosting Solemn Novenas to St. Jude five times each year. These special services are the core of the modern devotion to St. Jude and continue to draw large numbers of devotees to the National Shrine— both in person and through handwritten petitions. Many others participate in the Novenas in their own homes.

The Claretians are grateful to actively steward the devotion to St. Jude. With their guidance, the National Shrine continues to be a home of hope and inspiration for all those in need of St. Jude’s intercession and care.