A Virtual Feast Day for St. Rita

The National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia is honoring its namesake with a virtual novena and Feast Day celebration.

In his role as shrine director, Jonathan Jerome lauds the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, 1166 S. Broad St., as “the pearl in the heart of Philadelphia.” While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed operations at the 113-year-old location, it has not tarnished Jerome’s metaphorical description of it, as the spiritual destination has pressed on with a virtual novena to its patron and will mark her feast day this Friday, May 22, through a live stream broadcast.

“The novena is always an interesting time to consider our place in the world and those who provide direction as we go along our journeys,” Jerome said. “As we experience this global event, I would say that the example that St. Rita set makes her even more worthy of emulation as we nurture our hope and persevere.”

The Shrine commenced a nine-day prayer cycle in honor of the 15th-century Augustinian nun on May 13, using the ensuing period of time to invoke the Saint of the Impossible to provide guidance and grace. The site has assisted the faithful through 10 a.m. broadcasts from the lower church that keep devotees spiritually close to St. Rita as they hope for an eventual physical return to the environs.

“Some of the prevalent feelings that many people are having during this crisis are sadness, anxiety, fear, and isolation,” said Jerome, who is overseeing his first novena. “St. Rita, because of various events in her life, dealt with all of these, too, and she pressed on because she trusted the Lord. That’s a great message to proclaim today.”

That direct tie between the religious figure and her believers has led to great receptivity for the virtual Masses, which the Shrine is showing on its Facebook page and YouTube channel. In a divine example of making lemons out of lemonade, Jerome and the Augustinian priests who join him in furthering the space’s community standing are appealing to area residents and other populations through social media, something they had intended to do prior to the pandemic’s rise. That measure and the esteem that many followers have for Rita should make the Masses through Thursday well-received beacons of hope, too, with Friday’s 11:30 a.m. Feast Day celebration likely to resonate the most.

“We’re fortunate that EWTN will be broadcasting the final Mass on our social media accounts,” Jerome said of the Catholic-themed programming network. “So even though people have to take a rain check on visiting us that day, they will still hear plenty of uplifting messages that I think we could all use during these troubling times.”


For the Feast Day Mass, Archbishop Nelson Perez will serve as the main celebrant, and Rev. Michael DiGregorio, the Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova and a former rector of the Shrine, will provide the homily. To maintain an additional sense of tradition among those who typically attend the novena and Feast Day Masses, the Shrine is selling virtual roses, with their purchasers’ petitions visible through Friday.

“The pandemic has closed our building and others, but the church, meaning the community of believers, goes on,” Jerome said. “We’re all struggling in some way, and we need a boost to push us through. St. Rita is a great person to call on for such help.”