Daily News 2010 Article

Joseph Vitolo was 9 when he said The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him in 1945.
Joseph Vitolo was 9 when he said The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him in 1945. (Florescu for News)
The year was 1945, and 9-year-old Joseph Vitolo was playing in an empty lot on the Grand Concourse when he said The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him.
The story made headlines around the world as nearly 25,000 faithful showed up to what became known as the Queen of the Universe Shrine at 3091 Grand Concourse.

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On Sunday, more than 65 years later, the faithful will gather at the same spot to celebrate the anniversary with an outdoor Mass at 3 p.m. at the old grotto shrine, which now stands amid apartment buildings and stores.
"It was a beautiful experience and I'm glad it happened because it kept me religious," Vitolo, 74, said Thursday. "I came from a family that wasn't religious. My father was a drunkard."
Vitolo said the Virgin appeared to him on Oct. 29, 1945, as the country tried to recover from the horrors of World War II, telling the young boy to return for 16 straight nights to pray the Rosary for world peace.
The youngest of 18 children from an immigrant Italian family, Vitolo complied, even as the story of the appearance made world news - both Time and Life magazines published articles.
"It happened at Lourdes [in France]. It's happened in a lot of places around the world," Vitolo said. "Why not the Bronx?"
Vitolo says he did the Blessed Virgin one better, returning every night for the next 60 years at 7 p.m. to pray. He still lives in his childhood home, a short walk from the site.
"All my life, I kept saying, 'Why me? Why me?' I really don't know other than to say I was privileged."
A retired housekeeper at Jacobi Medical Center, he is no longer able to make nightly visits to the grotto. He underwent heart surgery last year and is battling prostate cancer.
His body is tired, he said, and he regularly rests in the afternoons.
But this Sunday, he said he will rejoice with the other faithful who attend the Mass, not only to mark the Blessed Virgin's appearance, but for a more personal reason, as well.
Vitolo said he will also celebrate what that vision has meant to so many other people through the years. It's sort of his life's work.
"It's meant a lot to a lot people," he said. "From what I've seen, it's kept them religious. For some, it changed a lot of people's lives. It brought them closer to God."