THE HISTORY OF THE PILGRIMAGE TO ST ANN'S
In 1937, bishop C.L. Nelligan, announced to Father J.N. George, his approval of a Shrine to St. Ann in Cormac, as it was centrally located in the diocese. On Tuesday, July 26, 1938, the Feast of St. Ann, the first Pilgrimage was held at St. Ann's, Cormac. Hourly masses were held from 6 am. To 10 am., when a Pontifical Mass was celebrated and a sermon given by Bishop Nelligan at the main alter, which was removed from the church and erected on the grounds. Additional priests offered the Masses and in the afternoon there was a veneration of the Relic of St. Ann to the sick. The Shrine that graces our grounds today was erected after the first Pilgrimage. Natural stone was used for the archway with a wooden platform for the alter. The blessing of the Shrine took place on July 16, 1939, at 3 pm by Bishop Nelligan. The only physical change to the Shrine was made in 1950 when the wooden platform was replaced by stone work, a circular railing erected around the Shrine and steps leading to the alter. With Father Tom Hunt's advertising in 1946, he and Bishop W.J. Smith saw buses arrive from Pembroke, Ottawa, Kingston, and Cornwall. The day ended with a procession to the Shrine at 8:30 pm. After World War II, the number of Pilgrims increase from 4,000 to 10,000 between 1946 and 1949. During those years buses also arrived from Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec and continue to arrive today. A Knights of Columbus Honour Guard was started by Father Tom Hunt and a St. Ann's banner was designed, and it also carried in the procession.
In the early years, many weeks of prayer were offered for the spiritual success and preparation of the Pilgrimage. A nine day novena commenced on July 20, 1940 before the Pilgrimage. There was Solemn Benediction and a Sermon in the evening for the spiritual success of the Pilgrimage. This was changed in 1941 to a Triduum, started with morning Mass, evening Benediction and a Sermon. There was usually a guest preacher invited to preach the sermon. The Triduum was not part of the Pilgrimage from 1946-1956 but was reintroduced again in 1957 with evening Mass and Sermon. A candlelight procession to the Shrine on Saturday night was started by Father Grant Neville and continued for a number of years. For nearly three decades, there was a Solemn Benediction at 3 pm at the Shrine until 1967, when Father Bernard Hunt introduced the 3 pm Mass, later known Mass for the Sick. This Mass still concludes the Pilgrimage today.
Today, the Pontifical Mass is the only morning Mass at 11 am. Generally, the Bishop of the Pembroke Diocese is the presider who preaches the Sermon. As the procession proceeds to the Shrine, St. Ann's choir, accompanied by other parishes, and pilgrims raise their voices in song, “Kneel at Thine Altar”, praising and imploring St. Ann to listen to their prayers. Anointing with Holy Oil is administered at one of the Triduum Masses and also at the 3 pm mass, giving strength and hope to the Pilgrims as they journey home. With the presence of many priests, confessions and veneration of the relic takes place in the afternoon.
From two large buildings on the grounds, Religious Articles are sold and a lunch of barbecued hot- dogs, hamburgers and ice cream are served. Pilgrims may enrol in St. Ann's Mass League and once a month a Mass is celebrated in the parish for their intentions. With few families to help with the Pilgrimages, it is with thanks to our clergy, parishioners, summer residents, members of other parishes and media that the Pilgrimage, held on the last Sunday of July continues today. Over 2,000 Pilgrims traveled the last Sunday in July 2012, to the 74th Pilgrimage of St. Ann's, Cormac.
The words prophesied by Reverend James McCormac in 1891, as the cemetery was moved from the Opeongo Road to its present site, “there will be a larger procession of the living to this center than the dead we are interring today”, are fulfilled by our Pilgrimages. These words were probably related to his firm belief, that the devotion to St. Ann would bring large crowds of people to Cormac. Father Grant Neville once said, “the greatest miracle of all, is the faith of the people”.