FAIRFIELD, CT. – The 1846 apparition of Our Lady of La Salette is not so well known as the apparition in Lourdes some twelve years later, in 1858, but devotees are to be found around the globe. So are the Missionaries of La Salette, the congregation of priests and brothers founded to bring the message Our Lady left with two shepherd children in the mountains outside the village of La Salette in the French Alps to the world.
If you’re in New England this summer and looking for a pilgrimage site, you could do a lot worse than the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, New Hampshire—but hurry, because the century-old mountain haven is slated to close on October 1st after the last priests of the La Salette Missionaries assigned to the shrine leave the place.
The Enfield shrine honoring Our Lady of La Salette overlooks the western shore of Lake Mascoma in western New Hampshire, and has been a favorite of pilgrims, tourists, and wanderers—just about anyone looking for a beautiful place to break from the frantic world and enjoy a quiet moment among the rock-lined paths of their statuary gardens.
La Salette Missionary priests have cared for the place since they bought the land from the neighboring Shaker community early in the 20th century. The place itself has a rustic, “old New England” feel to it. Both the priests and the lay people who help them care for the shrine have a sense of humor at once winsome and self-effacing.
“The Shrine Chapel has a character that fits the setting,” they say on their website. “The old wooden pews,” they say, “provide just enough comfort to prevent our minds from wandering but not enough to distract us from the journey.”
Fr. John Sullivan, Director of the Our Lady of La Salette Shrine, was emotional when he spoke to Crux of the development on July 7th. “I’ll be 80 years-old next month,” he said, “I’ve been a priest 50 years, and seven years at this place, which is just beautiful.”
“A place where we try to be faithful to the message of Our Lady of La Salette, which is encapsulated in the word, ‘reconciliation’,” is how Sullivan described the shrine. He said they work for the “reconciliation of people to God and each other, of families, of peoples.”
It is also a place where one can feel the world “charged with the grandeur of God,” as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ wrote. “One can experience here – really feel – our being part of nature,” Sullivan said, adding that the shrine is a place one can feel with particular force the power of Pope Francis’s call for greater care of our common home and for our fellows in humanity.
Sullivan said a recent fundraiser for the Ukrainian people, for example, raised over $40,000 for relief efforts in the war-torn nation. Over two thousand people took part. “We ran out of food,” Fr. Sullivan said.
Vocations to La Salette Missionary life have steeply declined in the US, however, and the congregation can’t staff the Enfield shrine any longer.
“We have very dedicated lay people, and we hope they can keep things going at the shrine, but we don’t know if that will be possible or what it would look like.”
The head of the La Salette Missionaries’ North American province, Fr. William Kaliyadan, confirmed the planned closing for Crux, though he also said that efforts to find a way to make things work are ongoing. “We are working on it,” he said, “we are working together,” though a workable long-term solution has so far proved elusive.
A dearth of vocations in the US especially is driving the crisis at the Enfield shrine and elsewhere. There are over a thousand La Salette priests and brothers worldwide. Fr. Kiliyaden is from India, himself. He said he’d looked abroad for help. “We’d been in contact with other provinces,” he said, “but there was no serious interest,” in sending stable help.
Meanwhile, the La Salette Missionaries are amping up their recruitment efforts.