From the Beginning

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By Melanie Williams (Jun 9, 2016)
Many hands make light work — and a fun picnic!

Saturday, June 4, was the annual volunteer picnic at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, at which volunteers from near and far gathered to be fed, blessed with a special Mass, and thanked. During the picnic, I got the chance to sit down with two local sisters who have been volunteering at the Shrine from its very beginning.

Pat Plourde and her sister, Mary, grew up in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in the 1930s. When Fr. Walter Pelczynski, MIC, found the Eden Hill property in 1943 and the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception purchased it, Pat and Mary were present for it all.

Pat shared that she remembered Fr. Pelczynski was a wonderful man! She shared, "He was so kind and generous. He would come talk to people to try and get money to buy this place, and then when he did, he would write letters every week and send them out to us all."

Mary remembered Antonio Guerrieri, the master carpenter from Italy who designed the whole Shrine in his mind and built it. "He knew how to fashion everything according to Italian cathedrals and churches. He did just about everything to build the church. He got the marble from the Westinghouse Estate here in town, which had just burned down."

Pat commented that she didn't know what the Marians would have done without those two. "Guerrieri gathered men from the area, stonemasons, to work together in the building of the church, and Fr. Pelczynski always made sure that his men would pray. After they worked hard all day on the church and in the fields, he would go out in search of them all and call them in for prayer."

Mary and Pat were blessed to watch this all literally grow before their very eyes as little girls. Seventy years later, they have seen many things change here on Eden Hill.

Pat shared that they were here before the Divine Mercy devotion reached America. "We were here when it was just the Marian Fathers. We saw the Divine Mercy devotion come, go away when it was banned, and come back and really take off here when it was finally approved!"

Mary shared her amazement of what the Shrine has become. "It is such a culturally diverse place here now; people come from all corners of the world, really! When it first started out, it was basically people from the area who came, now it's so changed. So few people from the area come here for Mercy Sunday. They will come for Mass on Sundays, but for Mercy Sunday, it is mostly people from out of town, except for the workers and volunteers, a few of whom have stayed throughout the years."

Pat shared that she also stays at home now for Mercy Sunday, but she prays for the people here, especially as they endure harsh weather conditions! She commented that the weather is so unpredictable here, and she has many memories of being in the thick of it.

Pat shared, "I was a Eucharistic Minister here for 15 years, and I will never, ever forget one Mercy Sunday. It was pouring rain and freezing cold. I was distributing Holy Communion, and I was sent out to the handicap section. I 'weebled' my way up to the section, and had just a wonderful experience — there was this young man, probably about 20 years old, who received Communion. He got down on his knees, in the mud and everything else, and the bells were ringing, and the tears were coming down my face! I prayed out to God — it was so wonderful! My heart was so moved! And there are so many other beautiful memories I have of being here. And these priests here are just wonderful, can't say enough good things about them — they are wonderful! Especially the new young guys, they are really livening up the place and keeping it going. It really gives us hope for the future."

Mary shared that now that the sisters are getting on in years, they aren't able to come up to Eden Hill as often as they used to, but they still come up to clean the statue of St. Joseph in the Holy Family Shrine. Their aunt and her family donated the statue years ago, and the Holy Family Shrine was built around it. So, as a memorial to them, they continue to come up and clean it.

Mary and Pat are just two of the wonderful and dedicated volunteers here at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. Come join the ranks of Marian Helpers, and help spread the message of God's Merciful Love to the many pilgrims who come to visit Eden Hill!

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Mary - Jun 11, 2016

What a beautiful story!! Thank you Pat and Mary for all your work. I'm blessed to know you and this wonderful history.