For many years Donna Bruno had a strong devotion to St. Peregrine. She believed his intercessory prayers on her behalf kept her healthy after a kidney transplant, and helped her beat esophageal cancer once and battle it a second time several years later, according to her husband, Bob Bruno.
Although Donna eventually lost that battle in April 2015, her belief in the power of the saint’s intercessory prayers never wavered. After her death her husband carried out her longtime dream of erecting a shrine to St. Peregrine at St. Francis of Assisi Church, which is part of Ss. Mary and Martha Parish in Auburn, and hundreds of people have visited this shrine to pray for the saint’s intercession in their own lives. And each month, dozens of people touched by cancer or other illnesses make their way to the church for a prayer service for healing near the shrine.
“It touches your heart to just stand up in the choir loft and see all the people in there,” Bruno remarked. “You’ve got people coming in to the prayer service with wheelchairs or walkers. Ladies come in who’ve got (scarves) on because they’ve got cancer. It’s just a touching thing.”
St. Peregrine is well known as the patron saint of those afflicted with cancer, as well as leg ailments or any life-threatening illnesses, according to Father Frank Lioi, pastor of Ss. Mary and Martha Parish. Born in Italy in 1260, St. Peregrine was 60 years old when he developed an infection in his leg. Doctors said the limb needed to be amputated, and the night before the surgery the future saint prayed before a fresco of the crucifixion. When the doctor arrived the next day to perform the amputation, he found no sign of the cancer and St. Peregrine was healed, Father Lioi said. He was canonized in 1726, and many sick people are believed to have been healed through his intercession.
Donna Bruno learned about St. Peregrine before her kidney transplant nearly two decades ago and frequently prayed to him, asking him to pray for her healing, Bob Bruno said. She clung tight to her belief in the saint’s intercession throughout the dozens of rounds of chemo and radiation treatments she later endured, and she frequently talked with her husband about finding a way to honor the saint and make more people aware of him, Bruno recalled.
“We always talked about having a shrine in the church, so when she passed I said donations could be made to either hospice or St. Peregrine’s shrine. ‚Ä¶ Donna was a big advocate for that shrine,” Bruno said.
For nearly two decades Donna Bruno had been a special-education and preschool teacher in the Port Byron Central School District, where she touched a lot of hearts, Bob Bruno said. Her funeral at St. Francis of Assisi, where she had been a lifelong Mass-goer, was standing-room only, and in the weeks following the funeral, her friends and loved ones donated more than $15,000 in her memory toward the construction of the shrine, Bruno said.
Two of the church’s unused confessionals were removed to make room for the shrine, and new lighting and a marble floor were installed before the statue was placed inside, Bruno said.
People touched by cancer and other serious illnesses have been flocking to the St. Peregrine shrine and the monthly prayer services since Father Lioi began offering the services last September. During the prayer services, which are held at 5:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month, prayers are offered for those afflicted with cancer and other illnesses before individuals have the opportunity to be blessed with a relic of St. Peregrine.
“At the last prayer service there were people there from Cazenovia. That’s 50 or 60 miles from here. We’ve had people come from Watertown,” Bruno said. “You’ll see people go down (to the shrine) during the day to light candles, sit and pray, sign the book, sit in the peace and quiet.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the St. Peregrine prayer services, contact Ss. Mary and Martha Parish at 315-252-7593.