CLYDE — Margaret Colasurdo has hosted a novena to St. Anne at the homemade shrine in her back yard every year since 1955. On the third evening of this year’s novena, however, the area remained empty while her garage and driveway slowly filled with people. Nearly two dozen people gathered in the shade of the garage and driveway in a futile attempt to escape the oppressive mid-July heat and the sunshine still beating down on the back yard.
“I told them that if it was too hot I’d open the garage,” Colasurdo explained.
At 7 p.m. on the dot, the people gathered at Colasurdo’s home began reciting the rosary. Together they prayed the five sorrowful mysteries of the rosary, followed by three prayers to St. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After they finished they returned their folding chairs to Colasurdo’s garage and stood chatting together for a few minutes before departing. Most would return the next evening, and for the next five evenings after that.
This year the novena began on July 17 and continued through July 25 before concluding with a July 26 Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde. For many years the concluding Mass was held outdoors right at the shrine, Colasurdo said, but that was before St. John clustered with St. Patrick Parish in Savannah and St. Michael Parish in Lyons.
“We’ve only got one priest for three towns now, so I figured I don’t want to put him through too much,” she said, noting that Father Augustine Chumo, the cluster’s sacramental minister, has been very supportive of the novena.
The inspiration for the novena came during a bus trip Colasurdo led to three religious sites in Canada in the early 1950s. During that trip she prayed to St. Anne and promised to put a shrine to the saint behind her house when she returned home. Colasurdo kept her promise after returning to Clyde, and her late husband, Joseph, built the shrine for her using stones from a nearby gravel pit.
“He brought them home a little bit at a time. He started that in 1954,” she recalled.
While her husband built the shrine Colasurdo searched for the perfect statue of St. Anne. When she couldn’t find one she liked locally, she ordered one from Rome, finally selecting a 36-inch marble statue of St. Anne with a young Mary by her side. She ordered the statue in the Marian month of October, but became a bit frustrated when the statue hadn’t arrived several months later.
“I had an awful time getting the statue here. It took nine months to get here. I ordered it in 1954 and by the time the statue came from Italy it was 1955,” Colasurdo said.
She eventually learned that St. Anne and Mary had traveled across the Atlantic Ocean on God’s time, not on her time, and the statue arrived in May, another Marian month. With the statue carefully placed in its niche, flowers blooming in front of the statue and a spotlight trained on it at night, the shrine finally was complete.
Fifty-six years later, the shrine still invites passersby to pause for a few moments of prayer. A row of bright pink flowers draw attention to the shrine, and four carefully placed pots hold more pink flowers. The spotlight is now gone, but the stone shrine and its matching birdbath nearby have held up surprisingly well, Colasurdo said.
“I didn’t think it was going to last this long. It’s been there all through the storms that we’ve had and everything,” she said.
Colasurdo hosted her first novena to St. Anne in July 1955, just a few months after the statue arrived, and 165 people came to the first night of that inaugural event, she said. In those early years, she added, the priest would process around the house to the back yard accompanied by boys and girls who’d recently made their first Communion.
“The priest would start right in front of the house and the kids and the girls with their little white dresses would march all the way around the house. They knelt in front of the shrine the whole time,” she said.
It’s been a long time since the novena drew hundreds of people, Colasurdo said. The older people that used to come gradually are dying, and the younger generation just doesn’t seem very interested in devotions like novenas, she noted. Colasurdo won’t be deterred, however, and plans to continue holding the novena, which is open to the public, for as long as she is able.
“I thought, well, I made that promise, and as long as I’m alive we’ll have the novena here,” she stated.
Nick and Dorothy DiLeo have been coming to the novena for more than 50 years. They occasionally miss a night here and there, but always do their best to attend, Nick DiLeo said.
“We put a lot of faith in St. Anne,” he said.
Eleanor Pulvino agreed. She comes to the novena partly because she enjoys seeing her friends there and because she doesn’t want to let Colasurdo down, but St. Anne really is the big draw for her, she said.
“I come mostly because I have faith in St. Anne because she’s the mother of the Blessed Virgin, and I have a lot of faith in the Blessed Virgin,” Pulvino said.