The shrine to the Blessed Mother still stands off the southbound Grand Concourse south of Van Cortlandt Avenue where an apparition is said to have occurred in 1945
Do You Remember? Young boy claims seeing Virgin Mary
By Bill Twomey
Published: February 2008
There was an interesting article by Dinesh D’Souza, a research scholar at Stanford, in a recent edition of Columbia magazine that refutes philosopher David Hume’s assertion that miracles are not possible. Interestingly, D’Souza uses the same theory to justify the existence of miracles. Perhaps the deciding factor for most will be their faith or lack of it. For one man, touched by heaven, however, there is no room for doubt.
The man’s name is Joseph Vitolo and his miracle occurred right here in the Bronx when he was just a child. When Joseph was nine years old and a fourth grade student at P. S. 8 at Mosholu Parkway and Bainbridge Avenue, there was nothing exceptional to distinguish him from other youngsters of his age. Then on October 29, 1945 something special is said to have happened to the boy. While playing on a ledge near his Villa Avenue home with John Bruno, his friend, he said that the Virgin Mary appeared to him.
Word of the vision spread throughout the neighborhood and the following evening over 200 area residents came to witness the phenomenon. The apparition would return for a promised sixteen more days and eventually crowds numbering as high as 25,000 flocked to the scene. Joseph, however, is the only person claiming to have actually seen the Virgin Mary.
The apparition did promise that a spring would sprout up at the site and this never occurred. There were, however, several unexplained occurrences that caused many to believe. A number of people, nine in all, brought votive candles to place at the site where the Virgin appeared. Oddly, the witnesses said that none of the candles were able to be lit, although many attempts were made to light them, until Joseph arrived at the scene. Another interesting incident relative to the candles occurred later that evening. They were placed in the form of a cross and eight of the candles flickered out one at a time leaving only the one in the center still aflame. Some at the site took this as a sign that something miraculous did, indeed, occur.
The Catholic Church refused to take a position on the incident and it was soon forgotten, that is, by most. Some locals mocked the boy derisively calling him Saint Joseph and some maintained their belief. Hundreds came just to be touched by the boy and some claims of cures were made. A shrine was built at the site and Joseph continued through adulthood praying nightly at the grotto where some still gather to pray the rosary and assert their belief in miracles.
Mike McGrory, Bill Armstrong and Nick DiBrino had all brought this marvel to my attention and last week while I was scouting the area with Tom Casey, we stopped at the shrine. I’m pleased to say it’s still there on a hill overlooking the Grand Concourse south of Van Cortlandt Avenue and worthy of a visit. Should you decide to stop by on a Wednesday evening about 7:30 p.m., you may find Joseph still leading believers in prayer. Do you believe in miracles?