Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Last of the LaSallettes

In New Hampshire. I made a youth retreat at the now closed school in the early 1970's, even then it was in decline--in some way I was surprised to hear that they still exist at all.

From The Concord Monitor:

The order was started after the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared before two young shepherds, a teenage boy and girl, in the tiny alpine village of La Salette, France, on Sept. 19, 1846. Mary, according to believers, came to the children weeping and lamenting that Christians had strayed from the word of God. She implored them to spread the message that believers had to return to the basic tenets and practices of Christianity, including daily prayer and worshipping on Sundays. After speaking to them, she walked up a narrow path and ascended to heaven.

After several years of investigation, the Catholic Church deemed the shepherds' claims to be true and in 1852 a bishop founded the order based on the message delivered to them. La Salette missionaries first arrived in the United States in 1892, settling in Hartford, Conn. In 1898, the order established a college seminary and, within a decade, had to build two additions to the Connecticut school.

In 1924, a center was opened in Altamont, N.Y., and three years later the order purchased Shaker land and buildings in Enfield. The shrine, a replica of the meeting between the shepherds and Mary, was built in 1951.

There are several centers and shrines across the country and many more around the world, including in Africa, India and Latin America, where the order continues to grow.

Father Leo Maxfield, who is 77 and came to the seminary high school in Enfield from Leominster, Mass., said that at one time there were about 100 boys enrolled in the high school and living in its dorm. There were about 15 priests who served as teachers and an additional 12 to 15 brothers - who take similar vows as priests but do not perform church rites and rituals - who worked on the order's farm and ran the household.

He said that shortly after he arrived in 1944, there were only two priests buried in the Enfield order's cemetery. There are now more than 80 La Salettes, as the members are known, buried at the site. He says he loves the Enfield shrine, which is bordered by Mascoma Lake on one side and thick forests on the other and is saddened by thoughts of its future.