Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston, directed by the Barnabite Fathers, has the opportunity this year of celebrating the golden anniversary of the laying of the dome chapel's cornerstone in 1965, and the ruby (40th) anniversary of the dome chapel's designation as a basilica in 1975.
The Clerics Regular of St. Paul (Barnabite Fathers) came to the U.S. in the early 1950s, seeking to recruit American seminarians. Their search took them through many dioceses across the country before arriving in Buffalo. Then Bishop Joseph Aloysius Burke (1952-1962), granted permission for the Barnabites to build their seminary in this diocese.
In 1954, Walter and Helen Ciurzak, hearing the Barnabites needed a place to build a residence, offered the fathers 15 acres of their farmland in Lewiston. They made a humble request for a small grotto in honor of Our Lady to be built behind the future seminary in thanksgiving for favors received through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. With the greatly anticipated release of the Fatima secrets in 1960, great numbers of pilgrims began coming to Lewiston as early as 1956, to seek protection under the mantle of Our Lady.
A simple grotto was not sufficient to accommodate the vast numbers and needs of the pilgrims. Construction of the present day basilica began in 1959, which was dedicated in 1965, and conferred with the title of basilica in 1975 by Pope Paul VI. The humble request for a small grotto is, today, the National Shrine Basilica of Our Lady of Fatima.
Ministry at the Shrine includes the offering of daily Mass and confession. The shrine is also a venue for daylong youth, confirmation and adult retreats. Sunday devotions include the rosary and Benediction at 3 p.m. First Saturday devotions include 3:30 p.m. rosary, and Mass at 4 p.m. Eucharistic adoration is held every Wednesday and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. Healing Masses are celebrated the first Sunday of the month, from May through November, at 6:30 p.m.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the shrine annually from across the U.S., Canada and around the world. Over the years, annual daylong celebrations of faith, family and culture by Italians, Poles, Filipinos, Koreans, Eritreans and Latinos have come to reflect this diversity. French Canadians, Chinese, Lebanese, Chaldeans, Indonesians, Indians and many more also visit annually. The Byzantine and Maronite Rites have been celebrated at Fatima Shrine. The New York state Knights of Columbus make an annual pilgrimage as well.
Decades have passed, but the Barnabite mission remains, fostering priestly vocations and honoring Our Lady by spreading the Fatima message of praying the rosary for world peace and praying for the conversion of hearts.
While the Barnabite Fathers celebrate their two special anniversaries this year, they are also looking forward to celebrating the shrine's 60th anniversary in 2016, and celebrating an even greater anniversary in 2017, the 100th anniversary of Our Lady's apparitions to the three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal.