Pilgrim’s Progress: Madonna Queen of the Universe National Shrine

by Patrick Stallwood


Pilgrim's Progress is a new feature highlighting sites of interest for Catholics in the Boston area. 


Many Catholics seek to creatively reinvigorate their prayer life. One can pursue this goal with a pilgrimage, a prayerful journey to a place of spiritual significance. The Church affirms the importance of pilgrimage in the Catechism, which states, “Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven” (CCC 2691). However, in everyday life, it’s impossible for many of us to drop everything and go to the Holy Land or Rome. Therefore, this new segment will highlight the hidden Catholic gems around Boston for your next local pilgrimage.

In East Boston, next to Logan Airport, stands a magnificent monument to Our Lady. The Madonna, Queen of the Universe Shrine stands atop a hill overlooking the Boston skyline. The shrine has two parts: the Pilgrim Plaza on top of the hill, and the connected structure below ground level containing the church, a small chapel, and other parish functions. When I approaches the shrine, my eyes were immediately drawn to the 35-foot statue of Mary. Standing atop a sphere representing the universe, her bronze skin radiates under the light to all who behold her. She is clothed in a teal garment and mantle--though it is clear that they used to have a dark copper finish. The contrasting hues of bronze and patinated teal emphasize the detail in her face, as she fixes her powerful, regal gaze on the surrounding plaza. Her left hand extends to the sinners on earth, while her right hand points to her Son in heaven. The statue is set on the exterior wall of a tower containing a Marian grotto that opens in the summertime, and the top of the tower is designed to look like a crown. A bronze crucifix stands perfectly centered in front of the statue. Along the walls of the plaza are sparkling mosaics depicting the mysteries of the rosary.


The building next to the Pilgrim Plaza houses first and second-class relics. St. Pope Paul VI dedicated the shrine in 1978, and the shrine houses two of his mitres. The site also has first-class relics from the St. Pius X, St. Joseph Cottolengo, a piece of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem, and St. Luigi Orione, who is the founder of the Sons of Divine Providence (FDP) the order that played a major role in the creation of the shrine itself. Below the relics lies the main church, constructed in the 1980s. The massive space is peppered with statues of saints, with adorned with large mosaics depicting various scenes of Jesus and Mary. Behind the altar sits the golden tabernacle flanked by statues of angels, and behind it the tabernacle is a glimmering mosaic of the Ascension. There are two chapels in the back of the church, one of which holds daily Mass and expresses sincere hospitality.


Jeannine Beaudoin is one of the parishioners who frequents daily Mass. She and the pastor, Fr. Antonio de Souza, FDP, expounded on the history of the shrine. During World War II, citizens in Rome feared their city would be demolished as the Nazis invaded Italy. As a community, they prayed that God would spare their city from the destruction of war. If God saved them, the citizens promised to devote themselves to prayer, service, and build a shrine for pilgrimage. The Sons of Divine Providence continued to serve the poor and safely harbor Jews. After the war ended, and the city was still standing, Jewish sculptor Arrigo Minerbi wanted to repay the religious order that housed him during the Nazi occupation. In thanks, he made the Madonna Queen of the Universe statue and the people of Rome had their pilgrimage site. The original sculpture is still in the Don Orione Center in Rome. In 1954, the Sons of Divine Providence in East Boston requested a replica of the statue, which was then shipped in three parts and built in the Don Orione nursing home. In 1979, the shrine was built as a new home for the statue and as a pilgrimage spot for the people of Boston. The Italian American community thrived around the parish, as local Italian artists fashioned all the mosaics and murals. According to Fr. Antionio, the Italian-American community has slowly dwindled, but Masses now serve a Brazilian and Latino community with a vibrant liturgy. 


Visiting the Madonna, Queen of the Universe Shrine is a beautiful way to honor Mary. Local pilgrims should take the time to pray the rosary in the plaza while viewing the beautiful mystery mosaics. The statue is a magnificent depiction of Mary as the Queen and Mediatrix of all creation. Most importantly, visitors will find a welcoming atmosphere and a new place to revitalize one’s devotion.

Photos from the Shrine:


The shrine does not operate a website, but can be reached at (617) 569-2100

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