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Band of Believers

Five Marian devotees—Pat Sharkey, Rita Dougherty, Angela McGowan, Pat Salomone, and Joe Coll—have bonded as a community through their shared devotion to our Blessed Mother and the intercession of the Miraculous Medal. This affable group shares their Shrine stories and experiences, which bear witness to the belief that the Virgin Mary is lighting their way. Each has her and his own Miraculous Medal anchor for spiritual support and emotional comfort.

Pat Sharkey is a strong and consistent supporter, devotee, and promoter of the Shrine and the Miraculous Medal, and the unofficial organizer of this band of believers. She has been coming to the Shrine since 1959 and is imbued with the belief that the Virgin Mary is guiding her and her fellow devotees. It has become her personal mission to strengthen and share Mary’s Miraculous Medal with as many people as she can.

“We built a community [of devotees] by inviting people to the Shrine and gathering friends,” says Pat. “Love of Mary brings people to the Shrine and unites us.”

Rita agrees.

“The Shrine is a very peaceful, serene place; I come every opportunity I can,” states Rita, whose first experience was attending a Novena at the Shrine as a teenager with her then-boyfriend. “My faith has always been at the core of who I am, and coming to the Shrine perpetuates my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”

Rita also recalls how the Miraculous Medal was a familial rite of adulthood; she and her 11 siblings received gold Miraculous Medals at age 21. This religious initiation symbolized what would become the advent of her devotion at the Shrine.

It was Angela McGowan’s husband, John, who first introduced her to the Shrine through his close association with the Vincentians. Growing up in the surrounding neighborhood, John was an altar server for Immaculate Conception parish, a Vincentian-run faith community, and regularly attended Shrine Novenas and services. She laughs as she recalls her husband once saying that local boys came to the Shrine to meet a “nice, Catholic girl.” Years since her husband’s passing, Angela continues to visit the Shrine as a connection, albeit a spiritual bond, to her husband and a fulfillment of her prayer life.

Pat Salomone has frequented the Shrine since childhood. Living only a few blocks from the Chelten Avenue site, both her parents regularly attended services and Novenas, and her father served as an usher. Upon graduation from Little Flower High School, Pat worked part-time in the administrative office, eventually becoming a full-time employee. She is proud to admit she had the opportunity to work under the leadership of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal’s founder, Fr. Joseph A. Skelly, CM.

“Fr. Skelly’s office was across the hallway from my space,” Pat remembers. “He was a bit of a curmudgeon and not very communicative to us, but we all knew he was a very busy person with a clear vision. We admired his devotion to the Shrine and the Vincentian mission.”

Joe Coll’s family also lived in close proximity to the Shrine and he recalls his grandmother’s strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. As a boy, Joe was an altar server at The Shrine. He remembers the “old days” when the Shrine was packed for hourly Novenas, and a trolley car was specifically assigned to bring devotees directly to the church from across the city.

“I have always thought of the Shrine as being part of my DNA,” Joe professes. “There is something special about this place, and I want to tell everyone about it.”

Joe doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. He frequently accompanies people—young and old, troubled and downtrodden, faithful and faithless—to the Shrine to help them find solace in times of need and despair.

“I see myself as a vehicle, as someone who should evangelize and take the Shrine’s message to others,” believes Joe. “The Blessed Mother’s message here is powerful.”

Rita appreciates the spiritual ambiance of the Shrine, as well.

“We are fortunate to have the Shrine in Philadelphia,” notes Rita. “It is a great place to have in our neighborhood and the answer to our prayers.”

To this special band of believers, the Shrine is its own unique kind of sacred space, and the Miraculous Medal connects them in a personal way to Mary and, through her, to Jesus. They encourage others to discover the Miraculous Medal and this peaceful sanctuary for prayer, meditation, and pilgrimage.