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350th anniversary of first Mass in Vermont celebrated at St. Anne's Shrine

The wind was blowing and white caps on Lake Champlain were racing toward shore as scores of worshippers gathered under the shelter of the outdoor chapel at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte Sept. 11 for a Mass commemorating the 350th anniversary of the celebration of the first Mass in Vermont on that same island.
Just across the road from the chapel, not far from the beach, a sign acknowledges the importance of the site in Vermont history: “Site of French Fort Sainte Anne Vermont’s oldest settlement.”
On that shore was the site of the fort, built in 1666 by Captain Pierre LaMotte for defense against the Mohawks. The Jesuits celebrated the first Mass and erected the first chapel in Vermont on the site.
From that day to today, the celebration of the Eucharist “has been part of our lives in this great state” of Vermont, Burlington Bishop Christopher J. Coyne said at the opening of the Mass.
He acknowledged also the significance of the date on which he was the main celebrant of the Mass: Sept. 11. He asked members of the congregation to remember victims of all war and terrorism as the nation remembered and mourned the terror attacks on the United States 15 years earlier.
The Mass was a special votive Mass for peace.
Jesuit Father Michael Knox, director of Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, has said that the foundation of Fort Sainte Anne at Isle LaMotte occurred during a moment of the history of the Jesuits in Nouvelle-France that could be declared a proverbial renaissance for the mission:  “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.”
During his homily at the special Mass, Father Knox said the French explorers who brought Jesuit missionaries with them as they landed on the island saw not only new land but new hope, a new source of prosperity and a new opportunity to live out the Gospel message.
The French built the fort to “protect their vision,” said Father Knox, a lecturer at Regis College, University of Toronto, who wrote his doctoral thesis on “The Rhetoric of Martyrdom in the Jesuit Relations, 1632-1650.”
That first Mass, he said, was an acknowledgement of God’s presence in all things and everywhere.
“Today we share in the same Mass that was said here 350 years ago,” Father Knox said. “We now share in an event they shared in then, and we share their hopes.”
Today’s St. Anne’s Shrine is a place where visitors can walk on sacred ground amidst images of Jesus and the saints, a place to be renewed by the Eucharist and in the sacrament of Reconciliation, he continued. “What a gift it was 350 years ago to have Christ come to us in this holy place.”
Anniversaries are reminders of 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.”
Sitting in her red Ford Fiesta parked just off the road next to the pews was Leona LaPiere of Chazy, N.Y. The 83-year-old has problems with her legs and finds it easier to sit in her car and listen to the outdoor Mass. A lifelong Catholic, she emphasized the importance of the Mass and said the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first Mass in Vermont was “beautiful.”
Nancy and David Dulude of St. Albans and Isle LaMotte also attended. The thought of Mass being said in the state for 350 years is humbling, she said, adding that the French had the vision to bring their faith to New France and to Vermont where the site of the first Mass is now “a place of love and peace” in the midst of a troubled world.
The shrine, she said, is a “treasure and a legacy too, and we need to take care of it to pass it on and have younger folks feel vested in it and pass it on for another 350 years.”
Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic content editor and staff writer.
  • Published in Diocesan
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