Marian Year of 1954

Archbishop John F. O'Hara presides over a Mass at St. Peter's Church to open Marian Year, December 8, 1953

May is the month devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Marian Year of 1954. A hundred years earlier, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. Pope Pius XII, in his papal bull Fulgens Corona, expressed his wish for the Marian Year:

During this centenary celebration, Christians should conform their lives to the image of the Virgin Mother of God. Just as all mothers are deeply affected when they perceive that the countenance of their children reflects a peculiar likeness to their own, so also our Most Sweet Mother wishes for nothing more, never rejoices more than when she sees Christians portray the lineaments and ornaments of her own soul in thought, word, and deed.

Construction crews adding the cross to the top of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament. October 13, 1954

Here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop John O’Hara opened the Marian Year at the Shrine of then-Venerable John Neumann on December 8, 1953. While Bishop of Philadelphia, Neumann travelled to Rome and was present at St. Peter's Basilica on December 8, 1854, when Pope Pius IX solemnly defined, ex cathedra, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Throughout 1954, ten parishes were founded and all were named in honor of Mary, such as Stella Maris in South Philadelphia and Mother of Divine Providence in King of Prussia. In addition to new parishes, a new chapel, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, was built at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.

Several pilgrimages took place during the year, most of which included a stop at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Germantown. The Shrine, which had been housed in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception of Saint Vincent’s Seminary since 1927, saw about 65,000 pilgrims from 322 groups during the course of the Marian Year. The December 10th issue of The Catholic Standard and Times noted that “These totals do not include the thousands who came on pilgrimage to the shrine either singly or in family or neighborhood groups.” Throughout the Archdiocese, smaller shrines were set-up, such as the Pier Chapel of Our Lady of Port Richmond and the Shrine of Our Lady at Queen of Peace Parish in Ardsley.

MC006 - Pier Chapel of Our Lady of Port Richmond
Shrine of Our Lady at Queen of Peace Parish in Ardsley
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Several events took place during the Marian year. A two-year exhibition of Vatican stamps, the first time displayed in the United States, opened at the short-lived National Philatelic Museum. By far, the biggest Philadelphia event was the Marian Congress of the Oriental Church held on October 22, 1954. It was a joint celebration between the Exarchate of the Byzantine Rite, the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Ceremonies and Masses would be held at both religious and secular institutions. Over 30,000 people attended the main event at the Civic Center, including Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian, Patriarch of the Armenian Catholic Church, and Thomas Cardinal Tien Ken-sin, exiled Archbishop of Beijing.

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Decades later, Pope John Paul II would call for a Marian Year beginning June 7, 1987 (Pentecost Sunday) and ending August 15, 1988 (Feast of the Assumption). During a reflection at the Shrine of our Lady of Divine Love in Rome, the Holy Father commented that "The Marian Year should especially stimulate us to commit ourselves to the full maturity of the fruits of the recent council (the Second Vatican Council), which has been for our century a kind of new Pentecost."


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