EAST HAVEN – Carol Scussel and Judy Esposito could never have imagined either the success or longevity of the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help that they began 18 years ago at of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish.
From a humble beginning with an attendance of 35 people in 1995, the annual nine-week novena ended on April 24 this year with more than 200 people gathered for the concluding Mass, eucharistic adoration, outdoor candlelight rosary procession, individual veneration before the image of Our Lady and presentation of a holy card. (Click here to visit photo gallery.)
"It’s exciting and very rewarding for us because we see so many people who have benefitted from the petitions and prayer intentions," said Mrs. Esposito. "We’ve seen many people cry because the experience was so spiritual for them."
Adds Mrs. Scussel, "We have so much devotion to the Blessed Mother. I know prayers have been answered through her intercession."
It was a parishioner from a neighboring parish who first approached Mrs. Scussel about the idea of holding the novena. "It was such a coincidence because I had just received a prayer card with the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help," she recalled.
After obtaining permission from Father Dennis Hussey, who was then pastor of the parish, the two women began the nine-week novena as a Lenten program for the parish, starting two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ending the week after Easter. They ordered novena booklets from the Redemptorists, who have been charged with spreading devotion to the image since 1865.
Visiting priests are invited to lead the weekly devotion that includes a Scripture reading, homily, exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, recitation of the rosary, and the novena prayers accompanied by hymns to the Blessed Mother. The priests also lead healing prayers and conduct the blessing and investiture of the Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, or brown scapular.
Other members of the parish have also volunteered to help with the novena, including the Knights of Columbus and the Columbian Squires, the youth fraternity of the Knights for boys between the ages of 10 and 18.
Both women find it hard to believe that it’s been 18 years since they organized the novena. "The time has flown by," said Mrs. Scussel, "but we hope to continue for another 18 years."
They attribute the growing success of the novena to their pastor, Father John L. Lavorgna. "He’s wonderful … such a blessing and so inspirational," said Mrs. Scussel.
Father Lavorgna said the novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help "is a wonderful and joyful tradition of our parish."
He said, "I am grateful for the involvement of so many members of our community, from the parish and beyond," he said, "because the novena really strikes to the heart of our Catholic identity – joining together to worship the Lord Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; to seek the intercession of Our Blessed Mother; and to pray for our needs and those of our relatives, friends and neighbors. During this Year of Faith, and in the face of so many societal challenges, these spiritual exercises take on a whole new meaning and purpose. We need to turn to God always."
As parishioners concluded the novena, the two friends were tearful as they stood in the back of the church receiving expressions of gratitude from participants. "It’s so emotional," said Mrs. Esposito. "This is our best one yet … so many prayers were answered."
The ancient icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is one of the most recognizable images of the Mother of God in the world. The original miraculous icon and shrine are housed in the Church of St. Alphonsus Liguori in Rome.