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Enfield’s La Salette Shrine likely to be sold

  • 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. Valley News / Report For America photographs— Alex Driehaus

  • Wendy Trott, of East Andover, N.H., prays during a daily Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. Trott works at the Upper Valley Aquatic Center and comes to Mass before her shift starts almost every day. (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. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Sharon Markowitz, right, of Enfield, N.H., talks to her granddaughters Greta, left, and Sophia Mancini, both 13 and of Hanover, N.H., while they sort donated baked goods to sell in the cafeteria during the festival of light display at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, N.H., on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022. Markowitz is a member of the La Salette Covenant Community of Associates and helps to coordinate events and other day to day operations at the shrine. (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

  • Father John Sullivan, left, and Father Jeremy Morais say a closing prayer during a daily Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Enfield, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. Father Morais has been a missionary in Madagascar for 35 years and has been staying at La Salette while he recovers from a health issue. (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

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2022 10:05:04 PM
Modified: 12/2/2022 10:05:14 PM

ENFIELD — For nearly a century, La Salette Missionaries has had a presence in Enfield.

But that presence on Route 4A is likely coming to an end as La Salette’s North American Provincial Council, which oversees all La Salette parishes, shrines and other communities in the region, voted at its national assembly to consolidate its ministries.

Among those recommendations is to have only one shrine ministry and focus efforts on the National La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, Mass., according to a statement from the Very Rev. William V. Kaliyadan, the Provincial Superior for the North American Province. The La Salettes also will keep only eight parishes, with the rest going back to area dioceses.

“The reason for the hard decision is the diminishing number of priests and brothers serving in the area,” Kaliyadan wrote in the statement. “Let us pray for a peaceful transfer of La Salette of Enfield at an appropriate time.”

The La Salettes own around 28 acres of land on Route 4A in Enfield. That includes the shrine — best known for its annual Christmas lights display which draws thousands of people to the site each year — and other buildings. Most of that land is the hillside shrine, which backs up over 1,000 acres of conserved land.

There are currently two priests who live at La Salette: the Rev. John Sullivan, who has served as the shrine’s director for seven years, and the Rev. Joseph Gosselin, the shrine’s superior and treasurer, who has been there for four years. They are currently joined by a visiting priest.

Sullivan stressed that a firm decision has not yet been made and that there is no timeline set up for the shrine’s closure.

“I don’t want to say we’re closing; we’re still in the planning stages,” he said during an interview at La Salette earlier this week. “Maybe another branch of La Salette would take it over, but I don’t want to build people’s hopes up.”

He noted that La Salette is an international community and there could be interest in the shrine from La Salettes who live elsewhere.

While the La Salettes are Catholics, people of many religious backgrounds have found peace at the shrine. Sullivan regularly invited people who practice different religions to Enfield. Mass is held every day and one day a month Sullivan conducts Mass in Spanish.

“I like to call it a center of reconciliation,” Sullivan said. “We’re trying to reconcile people with God and one another.”

Earlier this year, the shrine held a fundraiser to help Ukrainians that brought in more than $30,000. Another event is planned for Dec. 11.

It is not the first time La Salette has been faced with closing: In 2014, the shrine’s superiors in Hartford, Conn., announced it was slated to close in 2015, only for the decision to be reversed in April 2015.

The four properties are collectively valued at more than $2.3 million, according to Julie Huntley, the town’s assessing administrator. The La Salettes do not pay taxes because they are a religious organization.

After the Enfield shrine came close to closing in 2015, the neighboring Enfield Shaker Museum received a “right of first refusal,” on the property, said Carolyn Smith, acting director of the Enfield Shaker Museum and current president of the board of trustees. That means that, if the land goes up for sale, the museum will be first in line to purchase the land if it chooses.

“The museum feels really strongly that the Shaker heritage is a huge part of the Upper Valley and Enfield’s history and it’s our mission, I suppose you can say, to protect that property and the property that the La Salettes own now is part of that original property,” Smith said. “We feel very strongly that it has to stay as local public land and not developed.”

A long history

The La Salettes’ history in Enfield dates back to 1927, when the religious order purchased over 1,500 acres from another religious group — the Shakers, Smith said.

“Because the Shakers were interested in keeping the property ‘in the hands of God’ they sold it to the La Salettes for $25,000,” Smith said.

The Shakers sold the land due to a declining membership; their remaining adherents moved to a Shaker settlement in Canterbury, N.H. While a New York-based hunting and fishing club offered the Shakers $100,000 for the property, they decided to sell it to the La Salettes for a quarter of the price, said John Markowitz, a member of La Salette’s Covenant Community of Associates.

For a time, the La Salettes thrived. The shrine itself opened in 1951 and the annual Christmas lights display began the year after. There was an apostolic high school for boys and a seminary. There was a retreat and conference center. In 1980, Markowitz, his wife, Sharon, and their two children moved to the area from Wolfeboro, N.H., so that he could work for the shrine. Among his responsibilities was overseeing the Father Dan Charette Shaker Visitor Center at La Salette.

In many ways, Charette planted the seeds of what years later became the Enfield Shaker Museum. Charette was a priest at La Salette who taught at the La Salette Prep Seminary.

“He found some of our best history of our early years of the Enfield Shakers in a wall in the nook in the attic of the Great Stone Dwelling,” said Mary Ann Haagen, a Shaker scholar who is a volunteer and past board member of the Shaker Museum.

Charette later went on to earn a master’s degree in history from Boston College. His studies focused on the Shakers.

“He became so interested in the history ... that he awakened the entire community into the history that had been there all along,” Haagen said.

Charette died of cancer at age 36 in 1970, according to an obituary published in the Valley News. The Shaker Visitor Center opened after his death.

“We carried the mantle forward,” Markowitz said.

Each year, Markowitz travels the area to drop off posters about the annual light display.

“Every place you go it’s a joy,” Markowitz said — people share stories about how generations of their families have gone to see the lights, how it is an annual tradition. “You just see so many instances here, how La Salette has touched the lives of so many people in the region.”

In the 1980s, the La Salettes were facing financial troubles and the property — among many others owned by La Salette — was put up for sale. A group of developers bought it in 1985.

“When the partnership bought the property in ‘85, they thought they were going to go,” Markowitz said. Then, the partnership deeded back the acreage La Salette still owns today.

The Shaker Museum was founded in 1986 and they began purchasing Shaker buildings from the developers, Smith said.

“The whole time that the museum has been operating, La Salette has been there and we’ve had a very good working relationship with them,” Smith said.

If the Shaker Museum were to purchase the land from La Salette, leadership would also highlight the history of the La Salettes in Enfield.

“We as a museum feel a tremendous obligation here to not let the part that they have held onto to become whatever it might become by developers,” Haagen said. “We have a strong feeling of obligation to that history.”

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


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