By Bill Skowronski
Director of Communication and Marketing
Central Province, USA
From the 13th century, Dominican Friars were responsible for maintaining the Tomb of St. Jude Thaddeus in Armenia, where he was martyred. Centuries later, after fleeing persecution in the area, these Dominicans heard of a growing devotion among Catholic immigrants thousands of miles away. In the United States, St. Jude would find a new home.
The Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus has been a ministry of the Dominican Friars since its inception. For a decade it existed as part of the Eastern Province (Province of St. Joseph), before the Central Province, USA (Province of St. Albert the Great) was founded.
Saint Jude Thaddeus is called the Patron Saint of Lost Causes, Hopeless Causes, or Difficult Cases. When the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude opened in Chicago’s Near South Side Pilsen neighborhood, it did so during perhaps the most hopeless and difficult time period in the 20th century. The Shrine opened on October 20th, 1929—nine days before Black Tuesday, the stock market crash signaling the beginning of the Great Depression.
Around the world, people suffered financial losses that triggered emotional and spiritual depression and despair. Many were homeless and hungry after losing their jobs and homes. Father William A. Merchant, O.P. had been the pastor at St. Pius V Parish for three years. His mother, an immigrant from England, held a strong devotion for St. Jude. His brother Thaddeus, also a priest, was likely named after Jude.
Fr. Merchant had the Shrine of St. Jude built, perhaps because of his own family’s devotion, which mirrored that of many immigrant families in Chicago at the time. By record, he established the Shrine to make St. Pius V, which was founded during the World’s Fair 40 years earlier, a center for prayer during a time of declining attendance. The Dominican Friars did very little to advertise the Shrine’s opening Novena, anticipating only a small gathering. To everyone’s surprise, a crowd filled the church and spilled out onto the streets.
On the 10th anniversary, the Dominican Central Province was founded. To commemorate the occasion, the walls of the Shrine were faced with green Alpian Italian marble, and the vaulted ceiling was faced with Venetian mosaic.
A decade later, the Dominicans received a gift from their Order of Preachers brothers in Turin, Italy — a forearm bone from St. Jude Thaddeus, believed to be the largest relic of an apostle outside of Rome. The Shrine was dedicated with a life-size statue of St. Jude watching over the “Peoples of the World”: a working man in overalls, a mother with her baby, a business man, a young woman, a nurse, a doctor, a Dominican Friar, and a Dominican Nun. At the time, devotion to St. Jude was so uncommon that there were no statues of him available. One had to be commissioned by a nearby priest.
The Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus remains in Chicago at St. Pius V, as other shrines have dotted the globe in its wake. The arm relic is now on display year-round and Dominican Friars celebrate Solemn Novenas throughout the year and throughout the country. Always caretakers of St. Jude, Patron Saint of the downtrodden, the Dominicans maintain their connection to Christ, offering the power of hope through intercessory prayer to all in need.