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Society of St. Edmund opens anniversary celebration

The Gospel story about the apostles in a boat on a stormy Sea of Galilee is essentially the story of a French religious order’s early decades after its founding 175 years ago – or, for that matter, of those founders’ spiritual heirs at a Vermont Catholic college in 2017, suggested the homilist for a historically significant Holy Day celebration at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte Aug. 15.
 
“Men of great faith invited by Jesus to come across turbulent waters” is how Edmundite Father Stephen Hornat, the Society of St. Edmund’s superior general, put it during the well-attended, late-morning Feast of the Assumption Mass at the shrine.
 
The liturgy officially began a year of events to note the 175th anniversary of the Edmundites’ 1843 founding at a humble and ruined former Cistercian Abbey in Pontigny, France, by Fathers Jean Baptiste Muard and Pierre Boyer, French diocesan priests who, as Fathr Hornat described, dedicated their lives to evangelism, the caretaking of holy shrines and, most significantly on this Marian Feast, to the intercessory protection and aid of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
 
A parishioner at Winooski’s St. Stephen Church had asked him why not have the Mass at the Edmundite-founded St. Michael’s College rather than the Edmundite-administered shrine, Father Hornat said in his homily. “When I thought about it, the longest running ministry that Edmundites had during our 175-year history, wasn’t education, wasn’t retreat work, wasn’t administering parishes, but rather, caretakers of shrines (including Mont St. Michel in France and St. Anne’s in Vermont).”
 
Yet all those vital pieces of the Edmundites’ history and present mission were represented at the Mass. Most of the St. Michael’s College-based Edmundite community concelebrated, numbering a dozen or more priests and brothers, including those who administer nearby parishes. Present also were many current and former administrators of St. Michael’s College and other faculty, staff and alumni.
 
Father Hornat’s homily shed light on the order’s name and mission from its history: How St. Edmund is buried over the main altar at Pontigny Abbey where Fathers Muard and Boyer first gathered; that originally, the Edmundites were called the Oblates of the Sacred Heart; that Pontigny Abbey happened to be named in honor of St. Mary of the Assumption, “by coincidence or divine intervention,” making the day’s feast most significant to the group; or that the group didn’t become officially recognized as a Church religious order (rather than just a diocesan group) until 1876, and they didn’t become “Fathers of St. Edmund” until 1907.
 
Another guest for the day was a scholar of the history and legacy of St. Edmund who also is Anglican chaplain of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford – Rev. Will Donaldson, who at a reception and light lunch following Mass said he is traveling to sites related to the 12th/13th-century namesake of the place where he is chaplain.
 
As to his interest in Edmund given his present position, he said, “I was thinking I need to find out about him … and the more I look, the more I like it … I want to find out everything I can about him; so I’m over here in Vermont really to chat to people, meet the Edmundites, and particularly ask the question, ‘What is it about the life of St. Edmund that continues to inspire you today?’”
 
He said he and his wife are touring North America as part of research for what he expects to be about a 10,000-word short book on Edmund in three sections: first, a brief historical survey of Edmund’s life and ministry; second, a look at his character through the lens of the Beatitudes, “because I think he hits the Beatitudes on every point – the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the pure in heart, those who are persecuted, these kinds of things are his characteristics;” – and third, a look at how St. Edmund continues to influence Christian communities today, including in Vermont.
 
Other events relating to the Edmundite 175th anniversary in the coming year will include:
 
Nov. 15: St. Edmund’s Lecture and Reception at St. Michael's College.
Nov. 16: Mass at the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Michael's College (Feast of St. Edmund).
May 13-21, 2018: Heritage Trip to France, led by Edmundite Father Marcel Rainville.
July 3, 2018: Celebration marking Fathers Muard and Bravard moving into the Cistercian Abbey in Pontigny. Mass and picnic at Holy Family Church, Essex Junction.
Aug. 15, 2018: Closing of the Anniversary Year; Mass and reception at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte.
 

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

40 Miles closer to God

The Year of Mercy celebration, a pilgrimage, an opportunity to pass through the Holy Door at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington and a visit to the site of the first Mass in Vermont celebrated 350 years ago were all rolled into one as parishioners of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Springfield walked 40 miles from St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte to the co-cathedral.

“We are called to deepen our relationship with God, so we felt that in this Year of Mercy, we would do it in a very traditional way, through pilgrimage,” said Father Peter Williams, pastor. “As we walked such a great distance we realized how powerless we are before God and hopefully learned to trust Him more.”

Six of the original 12 walkers completed the 40-mile walk July 30-31.

“After about 15 miles I had some blisters and could feel my body start to shut down, and then I thought of our Lord who was beaten and then had to carry His cross to His death,” said participant Paul Kendall. “It sure made walking the rest of the way seem pretty easy. What a wonderfully spiritual journey it was.”

The walk’s step off was preceded by a 7 a.m. Mass at the shrine and a blessing by Father Williams. Along the way the pilgrims observed an hour of silence and prayed a group rosary. After about seven hours everyone had arrived at a campground in Grand Isle, most able to finish the first 20 miles. The day concluded with evening prayer and planning for the second day of the pilgrimage.

Morning prayer was at 7:30 a.m. the next day. “Everyone had arrived at St. Joseph’s (Co-Cathedral) by 3 p.m., and as we prepared for Mass and walked through the Holy Door there was a shared feeling of reverence and accomplishment,” said Eileen Kendall, the parish’s religious education director. “All came away with a profound feeling of gratitude for such an amazing faith experience.”

She was reluctant to go on a 40-mile walk with camping in between, but it turned out to be a fulfilling experience for her. “I spent the weekend with people I don’t usually spend time with, and we all talked about our faith, our faith experience and those times we saw God in the people and the world around us,” she said. “It was more rewarding than I had expected to complete the pilgrimage, and when we walked through the door and knelt to pray it was powerful.”

 On June 26, 40 people took a chartered bus from the Springfield parish to St. Joseph Co-Cathedral to walk though the Holy Door.

According to the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, anyone who passes through the Holy Door will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope. The doors are symbols of God’s mercy, open to welcome everyone into the compassion of God’s love that Christ proclaimed.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,
Vermont Catholic content editor/staff writer.
  • Published in Parish

First Mass in Vermont to be commemorated

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.

Jubilee for Families

More than 300 people celebrated family and faith July 17 at the Year of Mercy Jubilee for Families at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle La Motte. Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne celebrated Mass, which was followed by a procession. Afterward, families enjoyed a barbecue and fun-packed day filled with sunshine, lawn games and swimming in Lake Champlain. The Society of St. Edmund co-hosted the event.  Next year’s Family Day Mass and picnic will be at St. Anne’s Shrine  on July 16.
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