WSVN–Pahokee is a small town on the banks of Lake Okeechobee, surrounded by sugar cane fields, populated by poor migrant workers.
But what is drawing people to this area sits inside a tiny Catholic church called St. Mary's.
“It's got many many jewels around it. It's got south sea pearls and emeralds and diamonds and rubies.”
The icon of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus was created in the 16th century and was owned by the last Czar of Russia.
It wound up in the hands of an art dealer who thought it belonged among the poor in Pahokee and gave it to Father John to place in his church.
Father John Maricantante: “So that's a long journey — from Prussia to Russia to Pahokee.”
And after the icon was hung in the church we came to see it because of remarkable stories of miracles happening in Pahokee..
Miracles that occurred after parishioners prayed to the icon.
Ivania Larios: “They told me it was lupus, and others told me it was leprosy.”
After asking the Virgin Mary for a miracle, Ivania's son was cured.
The women who could not get pregnant in Pahokee prayed to the icon and later had babies.
Father John needed $39,000 for a youth center…
Father John Maricantante: “So I prayed to Our Blessed Mother and a man came up and gave me $40,000 worth of stock.”
Before we left, Father John told me he was praying for what seemed like the miracle of all miracles for his poor parish — a million dollars to build a new church.
Father John Maricantante: “I said if the Blessed Mother wants us to have it, we will have it.”
That was in March when we first told you about the miracles at St. Mary's.
Patrick Fraser: “After our story aired $250,000 poured in. Father John says that impressed him… But what really surprised him was the flood — the flood of people from South Florida coming to see the icon.”
Father John Maricantante: “We had pilgrimars coming from all around and people of great faith. They just kept coming. We had one weekend, we had two pullman busloads from a nursing home that they brought out the spanish speaking people to pray.”
The people continued to come from Dade and Broward, but the money slowed.
Father John still needed $750,000 to reach the goal of a million.
And then a man walked up to Father John.
Father John Maricantante: “He came up to me and said, 'I really want to help you' and I said 'thank you very much', thinking maybe another $100 or something.”
A few days later Father John called and told me to come out to Mass on Sunday, they might be getting a nice gift.
That morning, a good sign for the church — a Jaguar and a Rolls Royce came down the main street of Pahokee.
At the church we saw the one owner in a blue coat — Leo Albert — a noted philanthropist who quietly handed Father John a personal check.
Father John Maricantante: “That's the biggest check I have ever held in my life and certainly that's the miracle.”
This was First Communion Sunday in Pahokee. So many people were there, Mass was moved to the activity center.
No-one knew what Father John held in his hand.
After the First Communion — after Leo took a couple of pictures to remember the day — Father John gave his congregation a reason to never forget the day.
Father John Maricantante: “Leo has given us a check for $500,000.”
Thats right, Leo Albert had written this check to St. Mary's for $500,000.
Leo Albert: “I hope you enjoy your new church and I hope I am here when its dedicated.”
And the woman who had been driving that other luxury car had a gift as well.
Father John Maricantante: “Carmel Quinn…$50,000.”
Carmel told me she was very sick and had come to pray to the Virgin Mary. The check was her way of saying thanks.
Patrick Fraser: “That's very generous.”
Carmel Quinn: “Well, say a prayer for me I go back to the hospital tomorrow…I am not out of the park yet.”
But even after those donations, Father John only had $800,000 of the million the church needed. He told his parishioners 'keep praying'.”
Carmel Quinn: “I said to my people, 'don't leave me now, because we still have 200,000 more to raise'.”
Leo Albert heard that and spoke softly from his pew.
Leo Albert: “I don't want to give you a heart attack, but the 200,000 will be in the mail next week.”
That's right, after giving $500,000, Leo Albert donated another $200,000 on the spot… For a very simple reason.
Leo Albert: “Well, I think the sooner they can start the church the better and I wouldn't want Father John to wait another year to raise another $200,000. So I figured I would take him out of misery and give him the money.”
The surprising twist gave many of the people in the church chills.
As Father Johns face shows, getting the money for his new church so suddenly amazed him.
Father John Maricantante: “Well I''m very Italian…so I started to cry.”
When he walked down the aisle to end the Mass, his tears had dried, but his gratitude continued to pour out.
Patrick Fraser: “Do you think that if you did not have the icon that you would have a million dollars in your hand today?”
Father John Maricantante: “Never…never. I think the Blessed Mother wants to stay in Pahokee.”
And the Virgin Mary proved it, Father John says, by sending a million dollars to his parish.
Parishoner: “Thank you you very much…”
Leo Albert: “My pleasure…”
As the parishioners said thanks, Father John was already thinking ahead, getting ready to ask the Virgin Mary…For some more help.
Patrick Fraser: “What's the next miracle you are praying for?”
Father John Maricantante: “Just to get it constructed now. I still need an architect and I am looking for one for free.”
He laughed, but Father John is not joking. And if you are an architect, don't be surprised if you suddenly feel the urge to call a small parish in Pahokee.