The 15th-century icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help


The 15th-century icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

July 27, 2015

In 1866, Pope Pius IX appointed the Redemptorists as custodians of the 15th-century icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help with the mission to "make her known throughout the world."

Fifteen years later, a community of Redemptorists brought a replica of the icon with them when they established a permanent presence in Toronto.

As it enters its 150th year, that mission to make the icon known was honoured recently as thousands of pilgrims passed through St. Patrick's Shrine Church in downtown Toronto to venerate at the national shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.

Father Santo Arrigo, pastor of St. Patrick's, said the parish is blessed with an active devotion to the icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help. Arrigo jokes that he sometimes feels like he is serving two parishes – one community that attends Wednesday devotional Mass and another that attends Sunday Mass.

"A lot of it overlaps, but it's almost like we do Sundays twice a week because we have six Masses on Wednesday," he said.

The 150th anniversary marks many important moments in the mission and the parish's history.

The replica of the icon that arrived in Toronto in 1881 was moved to its permanent residence in St. Patrick's when the church was completed in 1908.

By 1916, devotions were held every second Sunday. The devotions became so popular that in 1929 they were moved to every Wednesday, where they have remained for 86 years.

The Redemptorists are currently running missions in about 80 countries.

Father Philip Dabney, associate pastor of the Basilica Shrine Church of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Boston, was presider and homilist at the thanksgiving Masses.


"Our focus is teaching people to pray not just to, but with the icon and not just for, but allowing the icon to speak to them," Dabney said. "There is a contemplative focus."

Faye Arellano shared her testimony before the thanksgiving Mass.

Arellano said being a part of the Wednesday community at St. Patrick's helps her cope with being homesick. The devotion at St. Patrick's reminds her of her visits to the Philippine national shrine during her childhood.

"It reminds me of the Baclaran days in the Philippines," she said. "It's always full of devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help who is very popular back home."

Arellano said, growing up with seven other siblings, she had never felt close to her own mother. Her mother had always spread herself too thin. As the middle child, Arellano learned to be independent so as not to burden her mother.

When she immigrated to Canada in 1987, her emotional distance from her mother was amplified by the new physical distance.

"One day, I suddenly felt a deep longing for a mother," she said. "While praying to the Blessed Lady, I was reminded of those happy times when our family would pray the rosary together or when we joined in candlelight processions."


That night, Arellano made a pact with Mother Mary to make her a faith companion. Since then, her loneliness has been replaced with a feeling of peace and contentment.

She became more active in St. Patrick's church community.

During her lunch breaks, she would visit the shrine every day. She volunteered to be a lector for the lunch time and evening Masses. She also joined a parish social justice group.