This is the second in a summer series on family day trips to holy places. Intern Jessica Valera, who starts her sophomore year at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the fall, is visiting and writing about shrines in the area that are appropriate for family visits.
By Jessica Valera
NASONVILLE, R.I. – Students from St. James Parish in South Grafton recently received a tour of what is said to be the first shrine to St. Theresa in the world – by a man who has been coming to it since he was 7-years-old.
Now, with 23 years of experience as shrine director, Jerry Finelli still has a connection to The Little Flower.
“I was brought up visiting the shrine,” Mr. Finelli said. “It’s great to be able to share the impact that the shrine has made in my life with other people.”
Some of those “other people” included the group of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students led by Martha L. Harris, religious education director of St. James, who organized the trip to the Shrine of the Little Flower on the ground’s of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish.
“We were studying the Church in our summer religious education classes, so the shrine fit well with the subject matter,” Mrs. Harris said. “I hoped they would gain the beginnings of an appreciation for quiet reflection and for the devotions of the Catholic faith by visiting the shrine.”
On the tour, Mr. Finelli showed the students the Garden of Saints, stone Stations of the Cross, the 15-decade outdoor rosary, an outdoor altar and pavilion for Mass and feast day celebrations, and the Scala Sancta.
“It seems that the Holy Stairs had the most impact. Many climbed them on their knees quietly praying,” Mrs. Harris said. “They had never prayed that way before or for such a long stretch; even those who did not climb on their knees walked slowly and quietly.They said they had a sense of God’s presence in the quiet.”
Kieran Croucher, 13, was one of the students who experienced the Holy Stairs.
“I was told that some people walked up the steps on their knees and asked for forgiveness. So, I tried doing the same and asked for forgiveness for my sins. I feel I got a lot out of doing that,” he said.
For Mrs. Harris, the trip to St. Theresa’s with the religious education students was one way of encouraging others to visit local shrines.
“Families need to be aware of this type of outing in the area,” she said. “It is something different to do during vacation time, with no expense, and it helps them to learn more about their faith.”
She also described such visits as a way of gaining a multi-sensory experience of faith, time for prayer in different forms, and peaceful reflection.
During his time as the shrine caretaker and director, Mr. Finelli has overseen many of the additions to the shrine that foster different types of prayer, including the 15-decade outdoor rosary, the Garden of Saints, and the Fatima Shrine.
The shrine itself dates back to August 1923, preceding both the National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church in Royal Oak, Michigan (May 1925), as well as The Basilica of St. Therese of Lisieux in France (September 1927).
St. Theresa of the Child Jesus Parish was founded on Aug. 23, 1923, for the Catholics in the Nasonville area, according to the shrine’s website, www.sainttheresashrine.com. Bishop William A. Hickey of the diocese of Providence had suggested that the new parish take the name of St. Theresa, who had been beatified earlier that year, since he believed she would be canonized, Mr. Finelli said.
Shortly after the parish’s founding, the first reported miracle took place, the website says. Florilda Faford, one of the parishioners, had been suffering from a medically incurable disease for eight years, and Boston specialists had abandoned hope of her recovery. The day after he was appointed pastor, Rev. A. P. Desrochers asked the sick woman to place herself in the hands of St. Theresa.
The following day, she received a small portion of the Eucharist, and was able to talk, get up from her bed, and eat a full meal, all of which she had been unable to do, the website says. Those who knew her, including doctors, deemed her recovery as a miracle.
Since then, the shrine has received many visitors.
“The shrine hosts approximately 80 personal visits each weekend, with additional larger groups scheduled to visit throughout the year,” Mr. Finelli said. “People come to light candles and pray, or even just to walk around. It really is a holy place.”
A special event takes place at the shrine on the third Sunday of August, giving people an additional reason to stop by.
“We have a celebration of St. Theresa in August to celebrate the anniversary of the forming of the church and shrine, as well as an early celebration of St. Theresa’s feast day, when the weather is better,” Mr. Finelli said. “There’s a beautiful outdoor Mass and concert on that day; it’s a wonderful celebration.” (Her feast day is Oct. 1).
The shrine’s observance on Aug. 19 begins at 10:30 a.m. and continues until approximately 4:30 in the afternoon. It also features Stations of the Cross, an outdoor living rosary, and a procession.
– For more information about the shrine and feast day celebration or directions contact Jerry Finelli at 401-568-0575 or visit the shrine’s website at www.sainttheresashrine.com.
St. Anne Shrine, Sturbridge, Massachusetts
By Jessica Valera
STURBRIDGE – “I consider this to be a very holy ground. It really is a place that touches people.”
That’s what Assumptionist Father Peter R. Precourt says about St. Anne’s Shrine. He is shrine director and pastor of St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish, which the Augustinians of the Assumption began staffing in 1955.
Father Precourt says the shrine, which has been a place of holiness, peacefulness and devotion for 125 years, will be celebrating this milestone with the parish throughout the year.
“Changes and additions have been made in the structure of the shrine, but the visitations and devotion to St. Anne have remained,” Father Precourt says. “Many people have come to the shrine for no reason besides that they feel something special here. They just see the sign for the shrine and drive right up.” He says the tranquility of the shrine, which is located near the Massachusetts Turnpike and Route 20, is a huge attraction to passersby.
He tells of a woman who recently visited the shrine, unsure of what had drawn her to the grounds.
“I told her she had come because God had called her to come. With that, she left knowing why she came,” Father Precourt said.
The shrine also has a strong appeal for families, who can enjoy the grounds and show the children a peaceful and holy environment, he says. There are also individuals who visit the shrine religiously to light a candle, fill out an intention card, or simply ask for the intercession of St. Anne on a regular basis.
“We have to replace the candles usually about three or four times a week, which adds up to be a few hundred candles each week,” Father Precourt says.
Many of the faithful leave rosaries and scapulars on the trees surrounding the crucifix at the top of the Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs) or on the crutches and braces left on either side of the St. Anne statue, serving as a reminder of the lives that have been touched there.
For some people, the shrine is part of a family tradition of devotions.
“My grandmother came here when I was little and she used to kneel on every step on the way up to the cross,” Anita Reid, of St. Joseph Parish in Charlton, said when visiting the shrine recently. “I have a great devotion to our Blessed Mother and there is a strong connection to St. Anne here.”
Many of those who have strong devotions to St. Anne are now choosing to visit St. Anne’s Shrine in Sturbridge as an alternative to St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, due to travel expenses and the need for passports, Father Precourt says.
For 125 years, the local shrine, which grew out of the parish, has provided people with a place to seek the intercession of St. Anne.
In 1883, St. Anne’s Church was built as a French mission of Notre Dame Parish in Southbridge. The same year, the St. Patrick’s mission for the Irish community, also in Sturbridge, was established from St. Mary Parish in Southbridge. Four years later, St. Anne’s and St. Patrick’s were merged into one parish.
The priest assigned to the newly founded parish was ill, Father Precourt says. He vowed that he would build a shrine in honor of St. Anne if he regained his health. Upon his recovery, he moved a statue of St. Anne into the church above the altar.
“In his mind there was no separation between the shrine and the church,” Father Precourt says.
Approaching that altar for Communion the Sunday after the feast of St. Anne in 1887, a Mrs. J.B. Houde was partially healed of dropsy, according to information on the parish website www.stannestpat.org. The next year, on the same Sunday and in similar circumstances, Mrs. Houde was completely healed. That year, she led a pilgrimage procession to St. Anne’s.
News spread of Mrs. Houde’s miracle and people began visiting the shrine in droves, as the devotion to St. Anne grew, Father Precourt says.
In 1893, an authentic relic was given to St. Anne’s Shrine by the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre. The relic now sits in front of the statue of St. Anne, which was moved from above the altar to a new room built on the side of the church. The crutches, testimonies of healing and some of the shrine’s many candles surround the statue.
Additional areas of devotion were added to the shrine over the years. The Hall of Saints, Angel of Hope memorial for bereaved parents, outdoor Stations of the Cross, meditative labyrinth and Scala Sancta are all featured on the grounds of the shrine, along with a pavilion for outdoor Mass and novena services. A gift shop and icon museum are also available for visiting. A booklet for the 125 anniversary and smaller booklets about various sites on the grounds are to be available to visitors in the coming year, Father Precourt says.
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