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First Mass in Vermont to be commemorated

First Mass in Vermont to be commemorated Photo By Cori Fugere Urban
Early Jesuit missionaries to New France believed that it was in their daily offering of self to God and to the people whom they served — even to the shedding of their blood — that the seeds of a new faith might flourish.

According to Jesuit Father Michael Knox, director of Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, early Jesuit authors of the “Jesuit Relations” (chronicles of the Jesuit missions in New France) were rooted in an experience the Spiritual Exercises of Society of Jesus founder St. Ignatius Loyola that emphasized Christ crucified -— turning, in their minds, New France into a “mystical landscape of the Cross.”

Father Knox, a lecturer at Regis College, University of Toronto, wrote his doctoral thesis on “The Rhetoric of Martyrdom in the Jesuit Relations, 1632-1650.”

He will be the homilist at a special 10:30 a.m. Mass celebrated by Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne on Sept. 11 at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte commemorating the 350th anniversary of the first Catholic Mass celebrated there in 1666.

“Anniversaries remind us of our history, and we should pause to reflect from where we have come and to where we have arrived,” commented Edmundite Father Brian J. Cummings, the shrine’s spiritual director. “The shrine is one of the most important religious and historical sites in Vermont, and it is good for our Catholic community to remind ourselves of the role faith played in the settlement of our country.”

French explorers brought Jesuit missionaries with them as they landed on Isle LaMotte, an island named after French soldier Pierre LaMotte who built a military outpost on the island in 1666.

“The foundation of Fort Sainte Anne at the Isle of LaMotte occurred during a moment of the history of the Jesuits in Nouvelle-France that could be declared a proverbial ‘renaissance’ for the mission,” Father Knox said. “Inspired by the still-recent deaths of St. Jean de Brébeuf and his companions, welcoming an ever-increasing number of French to the region and set to ever-expand their apostolic efforts among the Iroquois people, it is no surprise that one of the Fathers would accompany Pierre de St. Paul, Sieur de la Motte, in its establishment.”

Considered one of the most exposed and dangerous outposts in New France at the time and erected to defend the French and their allies from the onslaught of further Iroquois attacks, the fort would have been considered the perfect assignment by any Jesuit, all of whom holding firmly to the belief that the greater the level of self-offering in any mission, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the divine reward might be for all, Father Knox explained.

 Naming the fort after St. Anne is an indication of how the spirituality and religious experience of the French were shaping their perspective. In 1658, a shrine was erected only miles from Quebec City, dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of Mary, and at that site, a miracle had already been reported when one of the builders is said to have been cured from rheumatism while handling the “miraculous” statue of St. Anne to be kept in the new church. 

“From that point on, St. Anne began to figure into the religious imagination of Catholics in Nouvelle-France; and in establishing the fort [in Isle LaMotte], who better to consider as its patron?” he added.

 The 350th anniversary celebration at the shrine is a Mass honoring the anniversary of a Mass and will be preached in the light of the Gospel reading for that given Sunday, said Father Knox, a former member of the faculty of history at Oxford University. 

People come to the shrine for a variety of reasons: For some it is Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation; for others it is to unload burdens and seek healing; and for others it is a place to see God revealed in the beauty of creation.

“The shrine is a special place in Vermont. It has a unique history and its religious significance reminds us of the role that Jesuit missionaries played in bringing the Catholic faith to our land,” Father Cummings said. “The peacefulness of the grounds allows us to encounter the risen Lord in an intimate and beautiful setting. We are blessed to have such a place to visit, and we in the Society of St. Edmund are grateful to have been serving here since 1904.”

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,
Vermont Catholic content editor/staff writer.
Last modified onMonday, 29 August 2016 12:12
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