Enfield Shaker Museum to purchase La Salette Shrine, plans to continue holiday lights

Father John Sullivan lights a candle on the Advent wreath as he prepares for daily Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. La Salette’s North American Provincial Council is considering closing the shrine due to a dwindling number of priests. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Father John Sullivan lights a candle on the Advent wreath as he prepares for daily Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. La Salette’s North American Provincial Council is considering closing the shrine due to a dwindling number of priests. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Visitors enter the festival of light display at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, N.H., on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. The annual light display begins on Thanksgiving and is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday during the holiday season. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Visitors enter the festival of light display at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, N.H., on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. The annual light display begins on Thanksgiving and is open to the public from Wednesday through Sunday during the holiday season. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-13-2023 10:29 AM

ENFIELD — The Enfield Shaker Museum will purchase the La Salette Shrine.

The museum and the religious order that operates the site agreed on a purchase price for the roughly 28 acres and buildings Tuesday, said Carolyn Smith, acting director and board president at the museum. Smith declined to disclose the price but said the nonprofit organization is launching a $3 million capital campaign to complete the sale, which is scheduled to close the last week of September.

In May, the Very Rev. William V. Kaliyadan, the provincial superior for the North American Province, announced that the shrine would close Oct. 1, in part due to the declining number of Roman Catholic priests entering the order.

“We need to raise the money as quickly as we can … but we don’t necessarily have to raise the full $3 million by the closing,” Smith said. The majority of the shrine’s property is located across the street from the Shaker Museum on Route 4A. “There definitely has been a groundswell of support for the museum acquiring the property.”

That includes from the La Salettes themselves.

“I’m grateful that they’re stepping up to make that offer, because I believe it’s a beautiful time for both the Shaker community and La Salette community to work together for the common good of the town of Enfield,” the Rev. John Sullivan, who has served as the shrine’s director for about eight years, said in a phone interview Wednesday.

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Smith said that the museum will work with the members of the La Salette laity — community members who are associated with the Shrine but are not Catholic priests — to continue popular events at the Shrine, including the Christmas lights display.

“If the volunteer group ... can put together a group that wants to  mount the lights and continue the tradition to the degree that it can, the museum will facilitate that effort,” Smith said. “We’re going to do what we can to help that tradition continue.”

Sullivan described the Shaker community as respectful of La Salette’s traditions, including the holiday display, which is known as the Festival of Lights.

“They want to keep the statues and to make it a place of welcome for people who want to come here even though the La Salette priests will be leaving here at the end of September,” Sullivan said. “They want to make it still be place of prayer for people to walk and rejoice in the beauty of nature.”

For tax purposes, the properties are valued at around $2.37 million, according to Enfield town assessing administrator Julie Huntley. The La Salettes have not paid taxes because they receive a religious exemption.

In some ways, the purchase has been years in the making. The Enfield Shaker Museum had a “right of first refusal” on the land, which means if the land was to go up for sale, the museum would be first in line to negotiate a purchase price. That agreement was reached after the shrine came close to closing in 2015.

“I’m really excited,” said Dolores Struckhoff, who served as executive director of the Shaker Museum from around 2011 to 2018. “It’s such a win-win for the museum, for La Salette and for the town of Enfield.”

The sale also represents the relationship between the two religious orders coming full circle: In 1927, the La Salettes purchased the land from the Shakers, also a religious group, who sold it to them at a discounted rate of $25,000, Smith recalled last fall after the La Salettes announced the shrine would likely be closing. At the time, the Shakers owned 1,500 acres of land and wanted to see the property stay “in the hands of God.” In the 1980s, the La Salettes sold off portions of the property to developers because they were facing financial difficulties, John Markowitz, a member of La Salette’s Covenant Community of Associates, said last fall. After the Shaker Museum was founded in 1986, the nonprofit began purchasing properties and buildings back.

“It’s as if the La Salettes had it on loan for 100 years,” Markowitz said in a Wednesday phone interview. He noted that the Shakers left the property in 1923 and will be returning a century later. “The beauty of the fact is that it’s going to remain with the La Salette history as part of the total package.”

Markowitz was among the Enfield residents who were excited about the museum’s purchase. Longtime Selectboard member John Kluge said called it a “wonderful thing” and “the best possible use of the property” in Enfield.

“I’m hoping the Shaker Museum will focus very much on the historical preservation, they may not be able to support every single piece that’s there, but certainly there were some core buildings that were built by the Shakers that need to be carefully attended to,” Kluge said during a Wednesday phone interview. He also noted the land would be nice to use for recreational activities, including walking.

Throughout the years, the Shaker Museum and La Salette Shrine have held joint events celebrating their shared history, Struckhoff said. Often, visitors to the museum will also visit La Salette and the two organizations have had a good relationship for decades. When Struckhoff heard the shrine was closing she — like others in the community — feared the land would be developed.

While La Salette is a Catholic organization, Markowitz said he often hears from people of all faiths who have fond memories of visiting the shrine.

“I just think it’s so good for the Upper Valley and hopefully we can all work together to keep the spirit of La Salette alive alongside the spirit of the Shakers,” he said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.