Madonna Queen of the Universe National Shrine, East Boston, Massachusetts

Madonna Queen of the Universe National Shrine, East Boston, Massachusetts

Pillars & Foundations was initiated as an exploration communities as well as faith through religious institutions. My intent is to share experiences, and spread the positivity that I observe. Faith centers embody a drive to make a difference which they deliver upon, regardless if it is with one person looking for hope & community, or a recipient of their expansive charitable work.

This post took to the fringes of what I'd consider my neighborhood, and shows how much there can be to see right in our own back yards that we take for granted. For many years the sign on the side of Rt. 1A intrigued me but I never took the time to explore it. For whenever I saw it, despite being a twenty minute drive away, I was headed to a destination, perhaps the airport, or a business along the road. When I began exploring area churches, I finally made a point to research, and the reviews of visitors blew me away, and still didn't prepare me for this unique shrine almost lost deep in a neighborhood of winding one way streets perched high atop Orient Heights looking down at Boston.

To give perspective of the plaza and the skyline, the sanctuary lies beneath

Boston's skyline appears closer in person

Looking at the neighborhood below

The History/Shrine

I did not have the luxury of attending a Mass at Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine, and I will have to make a point to return in the future. The church itself is built into the hillside, and one could easily miss the large sanctuary if the were caught up on the plaza, its commanding Madonna statue, magnificent views of the city, and lovely mosaics that are integrated into the perimeter. I nearly did not check the door, because the gift shop was closed for the 4th of July weekend, but I did, and it was open. Entering from the high plaza on the hill one must descend several flights of stairs. Music wafted up through the stairwell which soothed my anxiety that I perhaps was somewhere that I shouldn't be. 

This is at the top of the stairwell leading to the Church/Sanctuary. A creative why to display benefactors by my understanding

And when I arrived a few individuals were praying and lighting candles. I stopped in a pew for some quiet reflection, left a donation, and lit a candle before slowly taking in the various unique artwork situated around the church.

A commemoration plaque about a dedication of Madonna Queen National Shrine (9/17/78), and honoring the Shrine's 25th anniversary
I am far from the first to attempt to write about, or blog about this experience, however maybe my blog's focus on churches will hopefully add some unique perspective from others that often are doing so to highlight what a unique site it is, or that it is a hidden gem/unknown site, which it undoubtedly is. But this is a living landmark, and I will expound on that a little bit more later. 

One of the better write ups that I found on the history was in the Lowell Sun (interestingly enough since Lowell isn't exactly next door!) Debbie Hovanasian does a great write up that touches upon the Don Orione order that built the Shrine, as well as a nursing home across the street. Arrigo Minerbi was a Jewish sculptor who was given refuge from the Nazis by the Don Orione order in Rome. Minerbi showed his gratitude by sculpting a 35-ft tall Madonna for the Order which now overlooks Rome from the hill of Montemario. Boston's Madonna is a replica of this statue which was made for this pilgrimage site. There are some superficial differences to the décor, and certainly the locations share only a hilltop. 

Saint Luigi Orione for whom the Order is named, was a priest who dedicated his life to the poor, the sick, and the elderly, of all ethnicities. Saint Louis Orione was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2004.

Mass Times
While the plaza itself was constructed in the 1950s, and was actually the second home for the Madonna (The first being on the nursing home itself), the sanctuary below was not built until the 1980s.

What the Order Does

The website of the Don Orione Home spells out in great detail various services available from rehabilitation, long term care living, and adult day care services. The website also details its support for veterans exemplified by a terrific write up on one such veteran's 100th birthday celebration.
I love this photograph because of the woman praying to the small Madonna, I hope her prayers are answered and that she gets the comfort she needs

Despite a clearly vibrant Church, I have not found a website specifically for its activities other than Discover Mass, Catholic Shrines, Faithstreet, or The Boston Pilot. I do appreciate the write up on Faithstreet which appears to have been written by the Don Orione Order, because of its welcoming, open posture. If anyone has a resource with some additional information, please leave a comment as I would love to elaborate further.

I'm uncertain if the original designers ever intended there to be a sanctuary in this space under the plaza, regardless the nave is warm, inviting and feels spacious. The alcoves, one of which you see corner right, expand the space further providing side sanctuaries, areas for prayer and reflection and to light candles for small donations.

Colorful mosaics decorate and add warmth to the modern space


Madonna Queen of the Universe National Shrine defines East Boston's skyline and feel, but it also has helped shape the lives of many, providing comfort, and more recently providing an active place to worship as well. Regardless of your affiliation, this site certainly is a hidden gem, and I would recommend visiting be it for contemplation, an awe inspiring view, or perhaps to find your community.

Text and photographs by George Parks
Sources are embedded in links


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