In January 1990, Regina Costello began visiting the Miraculous Medal Shrine in Philadelphia’s East Germantown neighborhood to pray a novena — a special prayer –to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Costello, now an administrative assistant at La Salle University, had reason to pray.
Twenty-two years old and newly married, she desperately wanted to start a family. Fertility doctors told her that was out of the question. Knowing she was Catholic, however, they passed along a pamphlet about the big Catholic shrine at 500 E. Chelten Ave. and the miracles it worked.
Costello began praying at the shrine and got what she longed for. “I wasn’t supposed to have any children and ended up having four,” she said during a recent interview.
Annual visits by 68,000
Costello is one of some 68,000 people from around the world who journey to the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal every year. Many leave with miraculous stories to tell. Some claim to have beaten stage 4 cancer. Others say they returned from war unscathed. Yet others believe the medal at the shrine helped them get jobs to support their families.
News of prayers answered spreads by word of mouth, inspiring others to visit the shrine, according to the Rev. Michael Shea, a Vincentian priest and associate director of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal, which oversees the shrine.
Sharing the good news
“It’s the dynamic of a person, once they have something good and it really touches the fibers of their heart, they want to share it with people,” Shea explained. “It’s something that lives inside you.”
Built in 1927, the Germantown shrine honors Mary, the most revered saint in Catholic theology. As the story goes, Mary appeared to Saint Catherine Laboure in Paris on Nov. 27, 1830. She stood on a globe with light beaming from her hands and told Saint Catherine, “Have a medal struck upon this model. Those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around their neck.”
Today, the original 19th century medal is housed in Paris, with a copy at the shrine in Germantown.
The shrine’s chapel, where the Vincentian priests and brothers celebrate Mass, is its largest room. It is built in Romanesque style in the form of a cross. Marian artwork, ornate altars, and traditional stained glass surround the chapel, along with several candle-lit rooms for prayer and intentions. The archways that separate the rooms of the shrine are modeled after those of the Church of Sophia in Istanbul.
Shea said anyone can visit the shrine for blessings. But he wants more people to see their search for blessings as an act of faith rather than an act of begging. When prayers are answered, he said, people spread the good news.
Like winning a basketball championship
“I taught at a school in Brooklyn, we had won the basketball championship that season,” Shea recalled. “I wanted to immediately run home and tell my parents. That is what it feels like to understand the good news and the people who visit this shrine want to share it.”
Regina Costello needs no convincing about the good news at the shrine. Nearly three decades after she visited the shrine for the first time, she wears a replica of the miraculous medal around her neck and carries another replica on her key chain. Every Monday, she attends Mass at the shrine.
The beauty of it
“I like to go there because it’s comfortable and also you see Catholic people from every ethnic background. That’s the beauty of it,” Costello said. “You’ll see people who are in pretty bad shape, physically and mentally. They have various illnesses or they’re troubled, and the priests always try to help.”