The Shrine of the Immaculate Virgin was erected in 1935. The stone masonry niche was constructed so that it faced St. Elizabeth’s, the girls’ dormitory at Mount Loretto, once the largest orphanage in New York State. Mount Loretto opened in 1883 and was operated by the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin. It housed more than 1,000 orphaned children at its peak. By 1947, the facility encompassed 700 acres and 42 buildings north and south of Hylan Boulevard.
Across the front of the shrine is a gated iron fence. Inside the enclosure stands a marble altar, where a statue once stood of the woman recognized by Christians and other faiths as the mother of Jesus. Inscribed on the face of the altar is the declaration, “This shrine was erected in honor of the Immaculate Virgin by Misses Katherine and Helen Tracy in memory of their brothers Michael and John Tracy.”
The Tracy siblings were four of seven belonging to a tightly knit and devoutly Catholic family that acquired great wealth in shipping and other maritime industries. The Tracys were generous in their philanthropy, particularly towards hospitals and institutions serving the elderly and the poor. John Tracy was named a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope Pius XI for his many gifts to Catholic charities. Upon her death in 1940, Katherine Tracy bequeathed $350,000 (approximately $6.5 million in 2020) to charitable institutions, including $25,000 to Mount Loretto. The companies that the family founded ceased operation in the 1980s.
The orphanage ceased operations in the 1970s, although the church continued to provide social service at the former boys’ campus north of Hylan Boulevard. In 1999, the Archdiocese of New York sold the land between the road and Raritan Bay to New York State. The Department of Environmental Conservation now operates the property as the Mount Loretto Unique Area, a 241-acre nature preserve and public open space.
St. Elizabeth’s was destroyed by arson around the time that the archdiocese sold the property. Duval Hall, the former infant’s home next door, was demolished along with the dorm following the fire. The Madonna statue was removed from the shrine long before the state acquired the property.
In place of the statue of the Virgin Mary are statuary, rosaries, effigies, photographs, notes, and tokens of various sorts. Many appear to be votive offerings, left as a plea for help, or as thanks. Most of the items that have been left are arranged inside of the recess, but some adorn the outside as well. In spite of the changes to its context and the memorial itself, the Shrine of the Immaculate Virgin remains a place of devotion and supplication.
Know Before You Go
The Mount Loretto Unique Area is open year-round from dawn to dusk. It's most easily accessed by car and there is a free parking lot on Kenny Road, just south of Hylan Boulevard. The state preserve can be reached by public transportation by taking the Staten Island Ferry to the St. George Ferry Terminal and transferring to the S78 bus. The bus stops at Kenny Road in both directions. However visitors arrive, they should walk down Kenny Road to the end and make a right on Cunningham Road. The shrine will be visible on the left in about 200 feet.