The world-renowned sacramental we call the Miraculous Medal has several connections that perhaps are not so well known – to the Vincentian Order for priests and brothers, to the Daughters of Charity religious Order for women, and to the city of Philadelphia. Exploring how these fit together hopefully will help us celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal on November 27th with a renewed understanding that will be pleasing to her.
We begin by traveling far back in place and time, to France in the year 1625, when Saint Vincent de Paul founded an Order for men dedicated to encountering Jesus Christ in the faces of the poor. Originally entitled the Congregation of the Mission (CM), this Order, more commonly referred to as the Vincentians, still exists today.
Not long afterward, in 1633, the Daughters of Charity Order for women also was established by Saint Vincent, along with Saint Louise de Marillac. This Order mirrored the Vincentian charism of work geared to relieving the suffering of the poor; this remains their focus today.
When we move ahead close to two hundred years, we find a simple, humble Daughter of Charity named Catherine Laboure early in her novitiate in a Paris convent. Her unassuming, quiet spiritual life was dramatically affected by a series of events that occurred in 1830.
On two occasions that year – July 19th and November 27th – Catherine was favored with heavenly visitations. Our Lady spoke to her very clearly and at some length during both visits. On the second occasion, she explained to Catherine the momentous mission which was being entrusted to her.
Our Lady described the image of a medal which she desired to be designed according to her exact specifications, front and back. The front of the oval-shaped medal was to bear the inscription, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
Catherine recorded Our Lady’s words: “Have a Medal struck after this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; they should wear it around the neck. Graces will abound for those who wear it with confidence.”
Catherine acted on this heavenly mission, although keeping her identity secret except for her priest confessor. She maintained this anonymity for the following forty-six years, sometimes at great cost, until shortly before her death in 1876.
Within two years of the apparitions, Our Lady’s medal received episcopal approval and began to be distributed among the faithful. Originally called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, in response to the influx of reported miracles, the faithful termed it the Miraculous Medal.
The medal’s connections to the Vincentian Fathers and to the city of Philadelphia are also noteworthy. Having arrived in Philadelphia in 1840, the Vincentians later built a minor seminary in the Germantown section. In time, this became the site of the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, opened to seminarians and the public in 1879.
Devotion to the Miraculous Medal sprang up quickly, first locally and then farther afield. A key player in this effort was Father Joseph A. Skelly, CM. In 1915, the Vincentians established the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal in Philadelphia with Father Skelly as its director.
By 1927, the enthusiastic response of the faithful prompted Father Skelly to commission construction of a Shrine to Our Lady under this title by an extension of the Immaculate Conception Chapel.
On December 8, 1930, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Father Skelly initiated the “Monday Novena,” or Perpetual Novena to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The traditional novena prayers owe their composition to three Vincentian priests: Fathers Kieran Moran and Michael Drennan along with Father Skelly. The popularity of the novena spread rapidly across the U. S. and to other countries of the world. Multitudes of the faithful have recited the same prayers down through the decades and still continue to do so.
As for the Shrine which hosts the weekly Perpetual Novena, it is a place not only of palpable spiritual comfort but also of stunning artistic beauty. Works of art in various media contribute to the reverent ambience. There is a representation of Our Lady’s visit to Saint Catherine Laboure featuring a replica of the chair where Our Lady sat during the apparition. The Shrine offers much to appeal to the mind, the heart, and the spirit.
Through times of peace and of war; cultural, social, and economic shifts; vagaries of climate; even the onslaught of a pandemic – the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal Shrine, and its long-standing Novena to Our Lady, have endured. When the Shrine was closed to the public last spring, devotions continued unabated, with live streaming and free online access.
The website affords many opportunities to participate in prayer and to delve into the Shrine’s history. Reports of favors received from Our Lady continue to be published regularly.
Reaching back close to 90 years, we close with the stirring words of a sermon delivered by Father Kieran Moran – words that could have been composed just yesterday:
“Oh my friends, in these days of evil, in these times where fierce enemies are threatening to destroy us, when so many forces are leagued together to battle against our faith, to destroy all the decencies of life, why do we not give the strong Mother of God the chance that she desires to protect us? … It may well be that God has inspired these Novena devotions in honor of Mary in order that through them we may find effective protection against whatever may come to pass.” (The Message: A Publication of the Miraculous Medal Shrine – Fall 2020)
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, pray for us!
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