‘A Peaceful Place’
Enfield’s La Salette Shrine Slated for Likely Closure Next Year
Brother Claude Rheaume waters flowers at La Salette Shrine in Enfield, N.H., on May 30, 2014. (
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Brother David Carignan rings up Carole Bryant, of Springfield, N.H., at the La Salette Shrine gift shop on May 30, 2014. Bryant was raised Catholic but is not practicing now. She stops at the shop on occasion and always comes to see the Christmas light display. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Father Joseph Ross picks out a card in the La Salette Shrine gift shop in Enfield, N.H., on May 30, 2014. Ross is one of the priests who lives at La Salette. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Enfield — Priests of the La Salette shrine along Route 4A, recognized around the Upper Valley and beyond for its annual display of thousands of Christmas lights, have begun spreading word that the shrine is likely to close next year.
The shrine’s superiors, based in Connecticut, notified the shrine’s clergy two weeks ago, which was followed by a brief notice in writing, said Father René Butler, the director of the shrine.
“Everyone is disappointed,” Butler said Friday. “No one is jumping for joy.”
The decision still needs to be rubber-stamped by the religious order’s leaders, based in Rome. If it is approved, Butler said, they don’t know when in 2015 the shrine would close or what would happen to the 27-acre property, including the hillside shrine — featuring white statues of Jesus and other religious figures in a park-like setting that draws sightseers from near and far — as well as a chapel, housing for priests and more.
No specific reason was given as to why the Enfield shrine was picked to be closed, Butler said, but he said several other La Salette properties will probably be closed as the number of priests and brothers joining the order has declined over the years.
“Basically it’s that, as our personnel continues to diminish, they have to plan for the future, where will we be 10 or 15 years from now,” he said. “So they decided that they cannot anticipate in that time frame that the shrine would still be here, so they decided that instead of waiting for that to happen,” to close it in 2015.
Butler said he announced the news at mass last Sunday. He said that this year’s Christmas display will continue “in all probability, but we can’t guarantee.
“All we know is the bare fact that sometime next year, the shrine is slated to be closed,” he said. “For this summer everything will be normal. After that it all depends on a decision” from superiors.
Rev. Phil Negley, the provincial superior in charge of making the decision, is on an international pilgrimage and could not be reached for comment. An email sent to the La Salettes’ communications director in Attleboro, Mass., was not returned Friday.
The missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette — a Catholic religious order who operate separately from the Catholic diocese — are named after the reported apparition of Jesus’s mother, the Virgin Mary, to two children in France in the mid-1800s.
According to the La Salettes’ website, the missionaries seek to “ walk in the footsteps of Mary, sharing her message of motherly concern for her people. ”
The property overlooking Mascoma Lake, on what is now Route 4A, was first put to use by the Shakers in the 1780s, according to information on the Enfield La Salettes’ website.
A La Salette missionary arranged to buy the property in 1927, four years after it was closed by the Shakers, for $25,000.
Today, the land and four buildings listed to the La Salettes in Enfield’s assessing records are valued at about $1.3 million.
Enfield Town Manager Steve Schneider said Butler announced the pending closing during a town business forum Thursday night, eliciting “gasps” and “oh no’s.”
“It’s not the greatest news you want to hear because for a lot of folks it’s been there for a long as they’ve been here in town,” Schneider said.
Although the shrine attracts many tourists, Schneider said he’s not sure if they have a significant financial benefit to the town. However, he said if the closing is approved by religious superiors in Rome, the town will lose a cherished piece of history and important community members.
“Certainly the (Christmas) lights, from Thanksgiving to right after the new year, it is a tradition. It’s the thing that you do, you go and see the lights, at least once,” he said. “Historically ... they are wonderful residents. They do great things for the community. There’s not a bad thing that you can really say.”
Rev. Francis Belanger, pastor at St. Denis Catholic Church in Hanover, said that although he is not a member of the La Salette order he is familiar with the fact their numbers are declining, which he called a “general trend” but “not universal” among many Catholic religious orders.
“In a certain sense, although it’s sad, it’s not entirely surprising that they feel their numbers don’t allow them to continue to serve a place like that,” said Belanger, who is part of the Dominican religious order.
At the La Salette shrine on Friday, Kathy O’Connor, of Danbury, N.H., was reflecting on her 12-year-old dog, who recently had to be put down. She walked around the hillside, amongst the many statues of Mary and Jesus and spent some time sitting in a pavilion, where she collected her thoughts on a note pad.
O’Connor, 60, said she started visiting the shrine with her mother when her mother was receiving cancer treatment at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital in the 1960s. It became a special place to her, and she now makes the 45-minute drive every few months or so, she said, especially in times of grief.
“This is where you can find peace,” she said. “It’s a peaceful place.”
There’s “absolutely not” anywhere else in the world like this for her, she said. If it were to close, she would be devastated.
“I’ll have to say some extra special prayers,” she said, “to try to keep this going.”
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3220.