A Humble ManTrish Shea
Mary's Central Shrine
A mother’s parting words to her son formed the beginning of a mission for Mary and the Miraculous Medal.
While Fr. Joseph A. Skelly, CM, was the force behind the The Miraculous Medal Shrine (now The Basilica Shrine), it was his mother’s parting words to him as he left home to study for the priesthood that formed the beginning of this young man’s mission for Mary and the Miraculous Medal.
“Wear this Medal always,” instructed his mother, Elizabeth Hanlon Skelly, as she draped a Miraculous Medal around his neck. This simple motherly gesture formed the path for a modern apostolate of the Miraculous Medal and its impact on the millions who wear the Medal around their necks or visit Our Lady’s Miraculous Medal Shrine.
Fr. Skelly came from a large family, who had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. His parents, Daniel and Elizabeth, had six children. Fr. Skelly was number four of the clan and the only one to enter religious life.
Today, there are only a few living direct descendants of Fr. Skelly, who remember the saintly priest. Ironically, one relative, Mary Ann Tragesser, Fr. Skelly’s great niece, contacted The Basilica Shrine upon receiving word of the Shrine’s elevation to basilica status. We had the privilege of speaking with her as she reminisced about the man who would impact so many through his Vincentian ministry.
Mary Ann fondly remembers “Uncle Joe” during his later years of priestly service. She recounts how he was a gentle, kind soul, who had a great sense of humor and could easily blend in with his relatives. This unassuming manner hid his dynamic energy for spreading Mary’s message as spoken to St. Catherine Labouré and manifested through her Miraculous Medal.
CIGARS AND MEDALS
“Uncle Joe was very down-to-earth and never without a stash of medals that he generously handed out to everyone he met,” recalls Mary Ann.
Mary Ann’s childhood home served as the family’s holiday gathering place. Fr. Skelly’s holiday visits were magical to Mary Ann. She reminisces how he made every Christmas special and memorable, bearing gifts in one hand and a cigar in the other.
Uncle Joe was never without a Miraculous Medal and a cigar.
“My favorite gifts were a religious monopoly board game and a record album about the story of St. Catherine,” she says about these meaningful treasures from Uncle Joe. “I don’t know where he found them.”
Her family appreciated the privilege of having a priest as a relative to preside at important sacramental occasions such as Mary Ann’s parents’ wedding and her christening. “When I was born (December 17), Uncle Joe baptized me in Misericordia Hospital’s (Pennsylvania) chapel on Christmas day. I’ll always remember the date of my Baptism.”
Mary Ann is proud of her great uncle’s legacy and commitment to spreading the message of the Medal. “[When] I look at what he built (the Shrine), I am in awe. He was an amazing man,” she states.
AN INDOMITABLE SPIRIT
Others remember him with the same fondness and reverence as his family. In a eulogy delivered at his funeral mass on July 8, 1963, Fr. Joseph Dirvin, CM, recounted an unassuming man with an indomitable spirit.
“Rarely has a man of such a humble background and quiet, unpretentious life as Father Joseph Skelly gone to God, hands filled with so many visible, great good deeds,” proclaimed Fr. Dirvin. “Our Lady has been waiting for him to take him right into heaven…I urge you not to forget [his] soul.”
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