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Annual Novena approaches centennial

At the altar of St. Ann's Basilica in Scranton, Brother Andre Mathieu began the church's annual Solemn Novena with a blessing.

"In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit," he said.

"Amen," the congregation replied.

For the past 99 years, those faithful to St. Ann have made a pilgrimage each July to the namesake’s church on the namesake’s street. St. Ann is the grandmother of Jesus. The Novena — nine days of prayer — ends on her feast day, Wednesday, July 26.

The church was founded over 100 years ago by the Passionists, a religious congregation. According to the church, in the early 1900s, a mine subsidence damaged the monastery. Two years later, a hill slide threatened to destroy the property, just two days after St. Ann’s Feast Day. Priests prayed through the night and in the morning, two huge boulders rolled into place, stabilizing the monastery. A weekly Novena was started in honor of what the priests believed was St. Ann's intercession.

Those who come to the church each summer pray for many things, including health and strength. One couple prayed for a baby, said Brian Hallock, Novena coordinator.

"One year to the day of the starting of the Novena their baby was born," he said. "So there's some great favors that have been granted by St. Ann."

On the second day of prayer, St. Ann’s Street was lined with cars on either side and in the middle. The grounds of the red brick monastery and basilica sit on a plateau. Surrounding a walkway to the church are marble benches with the names of past parishioners, the shrine to St. Ann and the grotto. Behind the stone cave opening, the faithful light candles for themselves and others.

"Everybody is praying for certain things ... maybe it's peace in Ukraine or maybe it's something else in their own family," Hallock said.

During Tuesday’s daily 11 a.m. mass, pews were mostly filled inside the church. Outside under big white tents, devotees sat on plastic chairs praying along with Mathieu to St. Ann. Ken Nole sang between prayers. They sat on the lawn and in their cars. The church broadcasts the services over the radio.

“During the Solemn Novena, it's a totally different place," said Hallock. "It's almost like a big fair or festival, not in the sense of all the hype and all the stuff that goes on, but where people are together, they're talking, they're sharing stories with one another ... families come together.”

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.