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Msgr. Lavalley's special devotion

A few days before Msgr. Richard G. Lavalley was ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Burlington in 1964, his spiritual director and confessor went to his seminary room and gave him a five-by-seven-inch picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. He told the Rutland native he hoped on the day of his ordination he would consecrate his priesthood to Our Lady under this title.
 
He did.
 
And his devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help continues.
 
Now pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Winooski, he begins each day standing in his room in front of an icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help; he recites a special prayer, asking for her help to do his priestly work.
 
The icon depicts Jesus as a child, in the arms of his mother, with one small hand in her hand. Symbolically Msgr. Lavalley places his hand between theirs.
 
The Byzantine icon is believed to have its origin in the 13th-15th Century.
 
Above the mother and child are the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, hovering in the upper corners. They hold the instruments of the Passion: St. Michael holds the spear, the wine-soaked sponge and the crown of thorns. St. Gabriel holds the cross and the nails.
 
The Child Jesus is depicted as contemplating the vision of His future Passion: Frightened by the vision, he had run to his mother for consolation, not stopping to fasten his sandal. “She is His perpetual help,” Msgr. Lavalley said, explaining, “Whatever God has in store for us – sometimes laughter sometimes tears, sometimes Good Friday, sometimes Easter Sunday – it is God’s will. Our Lady stands with you.”
 
He continued, “If we give ourselves to Our Lady, she will be there” at all the events of life.
 
Msgr. Lavalley attended Christ the King School in Rutland where his first-grade teacher, the late Sister Bridget Moroney, a Sister of St. Joseph, had a profound influence on his life and became a lifelong friend. He sent her a dozen red roses each Christmas until she died to thank her for a wonderful first grade.
 
The Lavalley family moved to Burlington when he was beginning sixth grade, a decision that troubled him because he wanted to attend Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland for high school. Little did he know, that after his ordination he would spend 18 years at the school.
 
Instead of MSJ, he graduated from Cathedral High School in 1955 then attended seminary in Arkansas and Pennsylvania. He began his priestly ministry at St. Peter Church in Rutland and years later served as pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Northfield. A former vocations director for the Diocese of Burlington, he has served as a teacher at Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, was a teacher and the principal at Mount St. Joseph Academy and was a chaplain at Norwich University in Northfield and chaplain to the Sisters of Mercy in Burlington.
 
Now 80 and the oldest pastor in the diocese, Msgr. Lavalley often preaches about Our Lady and relates his appreciation of the Annunciation. “She gives us the key to holiness. It’s one word: Yes,” he said. “Every time we say ‘yes’ to God, we are imitating Our Lady. Every time we say ‘yes’ to God, Jesus happens again in us.”
 
After the Annunciation, the angel left Mary, and “she let God be in charge; she had trust in Him,” he said.
 
People are called to be saints, he emphasized, and Our Lady can help by interceding through her prayer. “We do not worship her. We worship only God. We honor her; we honor the saints.”
 
As he looks to the future, Msgr. Lavalley keeps Our Lady close. “I don’t want to retire. I love what I do,” he said. “We desperately need priests…and that’s what I am, a priest.”
 
He loves being a priest because of the sacramental life of the Church and because of his community. “I love the people. I love this parish,” he said. “And for the most part, they love me. I know that, and I feel that.”
 
So, he said, “If Our Lady gives me some time, (I) will use it…for just being a parish priest.”
 
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