Do Novena Prayers Deliver?

June 11, 2022

More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” – Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809- 1892), poet Laureate during much of Queen Victoria’s reign. 

Praying to St Antony of Padua (15/8/1195 - 13/6/1231), Italy, especially through novenas is known to restore things lost. (For the uninitiated, novena is an ancient traditional praying in Christianity, consisting of prayers repeated for nine successive days before liturgical feast on the 10th day.( In the special  case of St Antony’s Ashram at Jeppu, the novena stretches to 13 days ending with the saint’s  feast on June 13 – his death anniversary). 

If someone loses a key of the house lock of car, among Christians, first thoughts turn to St. Antony. That trust and confidence may be well placed considering the devotees who throng  Milagres Church, Mangaluru every Tuesday for novena in honour of the saint. They have their petitions expressed through a long classified list read out by the officiating priest who is generally from St. Antony’s Asylum (Ashram) – a home for the poor, destitute, aged and abandoned – at Jeppu. There is a long history behind the asylum stretching over a century. 

In 1898, the assistant parish priest of Milagres, Fr M P Colaco, returned from Padua, home town of St. Antony, with a relic of the saint. He started a devotion to St Antony on June 12, 1898 which continues on every Tuesday even now. On the days of this devotion, now called St Antony’s Novena, bread was distributed to poor people who came begging at the church compound. This came to be known as St Antony’s bread and was given to 25/30 people. As time went by, it was realised that these unfortunate souls had no means for lunch or dinner. This sowed the seeds of what is today St Antony’s Asylum which is home for 390 people – men women and children (numbers vary). 

It was also realised that the recipients of St Antony’s bread every Tuesday had no shelter of their own. So, a number of huts were built across the road from Milagres Church. As the years passed, the number of destitutes so catered increased beyond the capacity of the huts at Milagres Church. So, in 1931, the scene shifted to Jeppu where 28 acres of land was acquired in a government auction. About 70 beneficiaries moved to this location. The campus is now spread over 24 acres which has 13 buildings which function as dormitories with 20 beds in each. In addition, there is a chapel. Many of the inmates are mentally retarded or alcoholics. Women and children include those driven out of the house by alcoholic males. The children have their own ward and get education until they can safely fly out of the coop.  

St Antony’s Asylum is managed by its director – it was Fr Clifton at the turn of this century when I first wrote about it. There were office staff and religious Sisters of the Order of Helpers of Mary. Many of the inmates themselves were given some responsibilities to run the attached farm whose cocoanuts, paddy, vegetables, piggery and dairy partly meet the requirements of the asylum. The inmates can wander around the vast campus, watch TV or go to the chapel for quiet prayer and meditation. About 15% of the non-Christian inmates can have their own private devotion or prayers. 

About half of the inmates are senior citizens, with many of them bed-ridden.  They get their medical attention and medicines in-house. Serious cases are taken care of at Fr Muller’s Hospital. The asylum doesn’t charge anything for admission or maintenance. On the other hand, it advises the prospective inmates to settle their property claims or problems before admission.  

“An empty sac does not stand erect.”  So, how does the asylum run for over a century? As noted earlier, the whole thing started with St. Antony’s devotion at Milagres church. That goes on with Christians and non-Christians crowding the church every Tuesday with petitions and offerings. Besides offerings put in the donation box, devotees of St Antony send offerings through mail.  

What do those who manage the institution get in return? As Fr Clifton, an earlier director, explained:  “It is the satisfaction that we are helping and caring for the unwanted people whom their families and society have rejected”.  

What Ails Mangaluruans? Will and Whom St Antony Oblige?                                                                           

An old news item from Mumbai that a foreign-made pistol was found in the donation box of St Michael’s church at Mahim draws attention to the novena devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Soccour which draws hordes of devotees in many churches. The devotion at Mahim church, where the revolver was found, is considered the mother of all novenas. Several sessions are held from morning to midnight which are attended by people of various faiths. The pre-midnight sessions are the favourite of Bollywood actors. Such devotions have a rationale. 

Ask and it shall be given to you” - The Bible     

Based on these assurances people pray for various things and also to save them from difficulties. Christian favour-seeking and thanks-giving often takes organised form, tabulated and read out at church services (novenas). Many of these favour-seeking devotions are formalised through novenas.  

Mangaluru has its own favour-seeking centres and shrines. The oldest of these, dating back to 1898, is St Antony’s novena at Milagres Church every Tuesday after the 6 PM mass service. It is conducted by the priests from St. Antony Charity Institute (Home for the Destitutes) at Jeppu. St Antony is known for finding lost things and is also described as Saint of Lost Causes. We zero down on St Antony at Milagres because of the related novena gives an insight into what worries, bothers - physically, mentally emotionally and materially - Mangaluruan Christians (which can apply to non-Christians as well because many of them attend). This is reflected in the intentions read out at the novena. Here is an indicative list read out on a typical Tuesday, with number of requests in brackets.  

Well-paying jobs (36), permanent jobs (5), unspecified wishes to be fulfilled (23), to study well  (28 ), to pass in exams (33), to recover from illness (39), good health (64), peace in the family (18), peace of mind at workplace and home  (22), good future (26), good match and marriage (21), get money and letters from abroad (3), good health for relatives abroad (16), give up bad company and pick up good company (6), difficulties in life to go away (11), protection from accidents (8), find out lost and stolen things (3), restore eyesight (4), miscellaneous needs (8), priestly vocations (4), success in court cases (6), success in business (9), to settle debts (4), to get back loaned money and gold (3), to get passport without problems (3), to get good job visa (17), to go abroad for job (22), children for married couples (9), safe delivery (4), good increment at work (2), job security (2), success in operation (2), to sell plot for good price (2), to get house on hire (2), to get plot and build house (4), to solve problems of plot amicably (4), to give up drinks (13), rented house to be surrendered (7), peace and love among married couples (15), relief from cancer (10), relief from mental illness ( 1),  relief from joint pain (10), relief from kidney disease (3), job satisfaction (4),  good life and happy death (17) and  special intentions - unspecified ( 25 ). 

There were 54 thanksgivings for favours received. It may be surmised that all who had their wishes fulfilled may not go back to thank. Some tend to be complacent or arrogant and think that their work was done despite the novena. They tend to say that a cold gets cured in 15 days with medicine and in a fortnight without it. They are in good company. In one Biblical episode Jesus cures ten lepers and only one comes back to thank him, provoking him to say: “Didn’t I cure ten? Where are the others?” 

The onstitute’s then director, Fr Clifford D’Souza, got weekly petitions collected from Milagres Church, tabulated and read them out at the novena. He conducted the 15-minute novena service in a soothing and reassuring mode. Those who thronged the novenas included many non-Christians. Much of the support to run St Antony’s Asylum/ Ashram comes from the votive donations made by devotees and favour-seekers at the weekly novenas at Milagres. Others go or write to the Ashram asking for prayers for their intentions. 

Faith is essence of prayer. As Burns says, “They never sought in vain that sought the Lord aright.” That brings us to the flippant side of prayer. Kneeling on the first pew of the church at the novena at Milagres church is Peter who is fighting a court case against Paul who is kneeling on the fifth pew. Jane on the fourth pew is praying for her father to forsake drink whereas he on the 10th pew wants his daughter to be enlightened so that he can continue to enjoy his moderate drinking. Charlie and Vincent work for the same firm and both are eyeing and praying for the manager’s position. Who will St Antony oblige? 

The subject is open to many views. What are yours? Your response is welcome in the format given below (Pl scroll down a bit). Once again, welcome to reason.


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By John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • Anita Rkp, Mangaluru

    Sat, Jun 18 2022

    From the time I have grown up as a teenager to my present middle aged status I am a staunch believer in st.Antony.I have a unique style of my devotion to him.We can’t ask him favours only when we need them but definitely in our daily life we can ask him to intercede for us.I have interceded to him in all my needs and I am truely blessed.I can give my testimony regarding it.I don’t believe in dropping our intentions in the petition box or the priest reading his list of favours and intentions.We should intercede with him for the people who have nobody to guide or pray for.Whenever we receive certain favours we should try to help the needy people as a token of appreciation for receiving what we ask for.It could be in any form.I certainly agree with some of your views which I too have questions but many a times I have not got answers from well known priest too.Thanks Mr.John for giving me a opportunity to raise my views.Good luck!

  • Manohar, Udupi

    Thu, Jun 16 2022

    Just believe in are judged for how you dealt with our miseries on good you were to your neighbors

  • Daniel, Mangalore

    Thu, Jun 16 2022

    Richard, Jesus is the only mediator ? If Father God, Brother Jesus, Mother Mary, Mother will have more Mercy than Brother ? Like in the family ? Jesus said pray 'Our Father' that means brother Jesus right?

  • Richard, India

    Thu, Jun 16 2022

    Lord Jesus Christ while on earth set an example of praying , it was a constant , intimate communication with his own father. He also taught with examples that when we insist and persist in a prayer there would be results. However Praying through a third party is totally against scriptures, which clearly teach us that there is no other mediator between God and man , except Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Daniel, Mangalore

    Thu, Jun 16 2022

    mohan prabhu, mangalore, Interestingly, "miracles" or But who can convince believers? Did Jesus do the miracles specially raising dead Lazarus to life after 4 days ? and other 3 dead to life, proving that He is the Resurrection and Life, His Words in John 11.25. and Also one more of His Quotes: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father in John 14:12 ////// Following Man of God holds the record of highest numbers in raising the dead.... Smith Wigglesworth (Born 1859 Died 1947 ) did countless healings and raising 14 dead people to life. Why less "miracles" in these modern days because no faith and no giving Glory to God but self!

  • mohan prabhu, mangalore

    Thu, Jun 16 2022

    Thank you John B. Monteiro for your informative article on Novenas, especially to St. Antony of Padua. I remember this saint's name everyday of my life without praying to him for favours, because I was born on his day and he knows my mind and needs. Yes, novenas do help but not for doing the impossible - like finding the keys in a locked car. Will they they help to automatically open the car? I doubt so. Many so-called "miracles" which people report are not miracles at all, but can be attributed to other real reasons. But who can convince believers? My advice to all: KEEP THE FAITH. And, to you John, Many thanks for a beautifully written article.

  • John Monteiro, Bondel, Mangaluru

    Wed, Jun 15 2022

    Thank you dear Ivan for your kind comments and I will strive to live up to your opinion of me. Beyond saying this, I have a feeling that there is a Covid-related fatigue which has restrained many of my valued respondents from this column. I take this opportunity to request these valued respondents to come back to the forum and enrich it.

  • Ivan Frank, Kankanady, Mangalore

    Wed, Jun 15 2022

    It was a pleasure reading Do Novena Prayers deliver. Got to know so many new things about the Novena, its origin in Mangalore and about the St. Antony's Asylum. There is only one person who can give indepth knowledge on any subject in a simple and lucid manner which a common man can understand and that is Sir John B. Monteiro. Thank you.

  • Daniel, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 14 2022

    Robert, Cherry Picking ? Following wrong answer ? Revelation 8:3-4 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.

  • Robert, Belman

    Tue, Jun 14 2022

    Right answer is through scripture Colossians 2:8 and 18 John 8:36 Hosea 4:6

  • Robert Cardoza, Belman

    Tue, Jun 14 2022

    You will get right answer through word of God , read scripture Colossians 2: 8 and 18, John 8:36, Hosea 4;6

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel, Mangaluru

    Tue, Jun 14 2022

    Triduum preceding the feast of St. Antony’s Ashram, Jeppu, noted in my article may give the impression that the novena is extended by 3 days. It is clarified that the triduum is a three-day devotion leading to the saint’s feast on 13/6/22. Also, the heading of the special article on St. Antony’s novena might give the impression that I am implying no remedial result comes out of it. At St. Antony’s novena at Milagres and other novenas like at Infant Jesus Shrine at Bikarnakatte, a list of favours received, apparently drawn up on the basis of data from the favour-seekers /receivers, is compiled and read out.

  • Roland, Mangalore

    Mon, Jun 13 2022

    In 2020, I had been feeling sad. Every night, I had been playing on my phone 'Litany of the Saints' in Latin, (Youtube: Litaniae Sanctorum, 2014 video). One night while it was being played, I started experiencing strange thing in the bedroom. As if some resident evil (bad spirits) were stirred by the litany, I heard tapping sounds from the doors of one cupboard to the others, as if something was jumping from one place to another. First I thought it could be rats, but then there was empty space between two cupboards, perhaps rats were running on unseen ethereal bridges. I made out it was poltergeist activity. After a few days, the menace stopped and I became happy. If mere playback of the Litany could expel bad spirits, then imagine what would be the benefit out of praying (intercessory) to the saints. In Catholicism, things like praying to saints had not come into effect by faithful people deciding on their own. They had been rightly directed and guided by the Vatican after receiving divine knowledge through the prayerful meditation.

  • Alphonse Rodrigues, Udupi

    Mon, Jun 13 2022

    I believe and respect saints of all christian faith who have lead an exemplary life in the faith and belief of God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. I do not pray with saints. Jesus said ref. John 14:14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it". So I am asking and praying to Jesus directly for anything or any of my required needs. He is answering and providing whatever I pray for as He knows my necessary needs for my daily life. Praise the Lord and His name be glorified, Amen.

  • Vinod Kumar, Mangalore

    Sat, Jun 11 2022

    100% Delivery with 0% Doubt. God’s logic, thinking and delivery is different than human logic, thinking and reward. eg: Christ’s suffering and death wasn’t his choice but God’s choice, although Jesus prayed to pass this cup without him drinking it. So, eventually Christ’s suffering, death proved most glorious and the best choice for Christ and his people and the world to profess his eternal message.

  • Ben D'Souza Prabhu, Mangalore, Bombay Bandra now in Canada

    Sat, Jun 11 2022

    You, our dear Shri John B Monteiro, such a devout Person creating a sense of deep doubt in the minds of the faithfuls should know the answer ! THANKS FOR YOUR LOVE !!!

  • Daniel, Mangalore

    Sat, Jun 11 2022

    Novena funda - These novenas will calm one down. Not modern 5 minutes which are for name sake only but at least 30 minutes so people will have clear vision and not confusing thoughts. Basically man and God relation. if one trusts God, God gives greater wisdom knowledge and understanding as He is oceans of Wisdom. But if man stubbornly trust himself, his ability, his reasoning as it doesn't come from God or comes from his own making or sins. Here he himself justifying his actions and thinks too much, reasoning so to loose his peace, sleep, relationship, loved ones sometimes.... So he goes after addictions, attachments... then comes sickness because of lack of peace / sleep. Basically he looses God's providence. So these novenas will deliver people overcoming effects of their own making.

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