The icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is one of the most well-known and loved images of the Blessed Virgin known to Catholics. For many years, a weekly holy hour or novena in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was common in many parish churches all over the world. Indeed, the custom continues in many places to this day, especially in the Philippines.
The history of the original icon, now enshrined in the Redemptorist Church of St. Alphonsus in Rome, can be traced back to the year 1495, when the image, already considered ancient, was enshrined in a church on the island of Crete. On March 27, 1499, the picture was taken in solemn procession to the church of St. Matthew the Apostle, where it was placed above the exquisite white-marble altar. The church itself was very small— only about 75 feet long and 35 feet wide. Nevertheless, a shower of miraculous graces began even before the image entered its walls, with a paralyzed man being cured as the procession passed by his house.Once again, Our Lady showed her pleasure at the love givenby her children through an outpouring of grace, for several miraculous cures took place that day.
As word of the miracles spread, people came by the hundreds to see the picture and honor the Blessed Virgin. Soon the whole front of the church was filled with abandoned crutches, canes,and tokens left in thanksgiving for cures. For the next three hundred years, this humble church was one of the most popular pilgrimage places in Rome because of the miraculous picture.
Devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help spread quickly to the United States. When the Redemptorists established a mission church in Boston, they dedicated it to Our Lady under this title and were privileged to receive from Rome the first copy of the icon which had been touched to the original and blessed.1 On Pentecost Sunday, May 28, 1871, the icon was carried in a magnificent procession to the church where it was enshrined above the main altar. As with the original image in Rome, no sooner had the painting been displayed for public veneration that the miracles began. Soon the small wooden church was thronged with so many devotees of Our Mother of Perpetual Help that it soon became necessary to begin construction of a new, larger church. But even the large, beautiful new church dedicated in 1878 could not hold the thousands who flocked to the miraculous image in those early years — and rightly so!
Between the years of 1871 and 1884, according to Fr. John Byrne, C.SS.R., “no less than 331 well-authenticated cures had been reported, some of which had been wrought in favor of people living so far away as West Virginia and Texas.”2 In 1886 alone, from January 1 to May 31, he continues, “Thirty-one cures, apparently beyond the power of nature to effect, were reported.” A few years later, seven cures were reported to have taken place on a single day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1891.
The weekly devotions in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help is a custom that was introduced in 1922 at St. Alphonsus Church in St. Louis, Missouri, which at one point drew as many as 18,000 people every week. The devotion spread quickly from church to church, until eventually, in St. Louis as in New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago, and Boston, it became necessary to schedule eight to ten services a day to accommodate all the people who wanted to honor Our Lady under this title. Before long, the custom of weekly devotions in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help had spread worldwide.
PRAYER TO OUR MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP
MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP, grant that I may ever invoke Thy most powerful name, which is the safeguard of the living and the salvation of the dying. O Purest Mary, O Sweetest Mary, let Thy name henceforth be ever on my lips. Delay not, O Blessed Lady, to help me whenever I call on Thee, for, in all my needs, in all my temptations I shall never cease to call on Thee, ever repeating Thy sacred name, Mary, Mary.
O what consolation, what sweetness, what confidence, what emotion fill my soul when I pronounce Thy sacred name, or even only think of Thee. I thank God for having given Thee, for my good, so sweet, so powerful, so lovely a name. But I will not be content with merely pronouncing Thy name: let my love for Thee prompt me ever to hail Thee, MOTHER OF PERPETUAL HELP.
Recite Nine Hail Marys.