La Salette in Enfield, New Hampshire – The First Years



Editor: This article was written with the use of “Memoirs” of Father Elméric Dubois, M.S.,
 
01(from left) Fr. Zotique Chouinard, M.S. (1883-1964); Fr. Elméric Dubois, M.S. (1899-1979)
The following is a translation, and in some places, an adaptation of passages selected from the fascinating Memoirs of Father Elméric Dubois as well as from the notes of Father Wilfrid Boulanger, M.S., dealing with Enfield foundation. Fr. Dubois has established several events about it, but he is interested in personalities, especially that of Father Zotique Chouinard, M.S. Father Dubois does not present himself as an historian but he seems to have an historian’s talent and predisposition. With as much objectivity as possible, he describes the people, relates the facts, recalls the events, specifies the details and is able to distinguish between the essential and the secondary.
An Impressive La Salette Cross
Within his splendid memoirs, Father Dubois, at some point, cites this passage from another historian for us to enjoy life a little segment taken from life of Enfield in 1928.
 
"Allow me here a little digression to tell you some details taken from memories of Fr. Boulanger:
 
We have said that - above the roof rose a steeple topped with a bell which the Shakers were using to announce the completion of their those who worked in the surrounding fields. This same bell could also serve to remind the future Coadjutor Brothers who would come to swell our ranks and, in addition, would sound to the glory of Mary, announcing the Angelus three times a day. And to remind everyone that this property had become a Catholic institution, it would show at the top of the steeple a La Salette cross with its hammer and pincers.
 
These were the thoughts that went through the mind of the Father Chouinard. They were realized later, after the purchase of the property. In fact, when Mr. Herménégilde Chouinard, Father Chouinard's brother, came to Enfield as a guardian and carpenter, he fashioned a large cross which he took care of lovingly, so to speak.

Of course, this cross was in proportion to the height to which it was to be placed, which gave it considerable dimensions. When the time came to mount this huge cross in place, it was first necessary to build a scaffolding around the top of the belfry, then to open the cover and provide for the establishment of this blessed sign of our Redemption. When Madame Chouinard spied her husband (a man in his sixties) perched so high, she could not help but become frightened and thereupon scold the fathers for taking advantage of the good will of her husband.
 
02The (Shrine) North House
And a strange thing happened! After opening the bell tower cover, Mr. Chouinard noticed that the rafters of the frame were not connected to each other and that there was between their respective ends a space that corresponded almost exactly to the dimensions of the base of the cross that was to be deposited there. For three quarters of a century this space was fully expected to be filled by the great honor of containing the cross of Christ, a beautiful cross atop of the Seminary building, the purpose of which was to remind the seers and passers-by of the seriousness of this religious institution.
 
From the Notes from Father Boulanger, we hear that the New Englanders of the neighborhood were in their own way a little materialistic. One of them, seeing for the first time this immense cross with its hammer and pincers, exclaimed: ''These fellows mean business." And it was true.
An Unexpectedly Quick Sale
On December 1, 1927, Father Chouinard was resting at St Joseph's Rectory in Fitchburg, MA, when he received a phone-call. The Elder Shaker was announcing that he was at the railway station and expressed the desire to meet with Father Chouinard.

03Painting of Our Lady of La Salette in Shrine Chapel in Enfield, NH
Since that first meeting, the Shakers had requested the sum of thirty thousand dollars for the Enfield property. Very reasonable price, to count everything, but the Father had only twenty-one thousand dollars. Here, then, the venerated Shaker, the Elder Bruce, arrives at the presbytery and the two men go to Father Chouinard's room. We do not have the record of the discussion they may have had, but the Father later revealed that the Elder had told him, "My Father," only a few weeks ago you had only twenty-five thousand dollars to offer us. Today you are still offering us the same amount. Well, here, the property belongs to you!"
 
The two men left the rectory and went to Concord to the Shakers' lawyer. Father Chouinard deposited the sum of a thousand dollars to secure the purchase, a quick sum borrowed from a friend, a certain Monsieur Jean Lavoie. On the first day of December, 1927, Father Chouinard and the Elder Bruce signed the contract-document, and the property became ours."
 
His heart overflowing with joy, Father Chouinard went back to Fitchburg, but he could not resist the urge to stop at the Episcopal Chancellery of Manchester, NH, to share this good news with Bishop Guertin, the Ordinary of the Diocese, which, a short time before, had accepted the Missionaries in his diocese.
An Overseer and Carpenter for Their New Property
It was getting late when Father Chouinard returned to Fitchburg. The task of finding a guardian for Enfield's vast acres gave him no rest. The need was urgent because he had committed to preach a two-week parish mission in Springvale, Maine, which began the following Sunday.
 
Ruminating on the problem, he was surprised to learn that his brother, Herménégilde, and his wife had just arrived from Canada. Everything indicated that the scattered pieces of the puzzle were falling under the hand of God’s amiable Providence.
 
04Present-day overview of (from far right) Mary Keane Chapel and two Shaker sheds
Father Chouinard hastened to his brother's house to offer him the job of guardian. Hermenegilde, as we have seen, was a carpenter by trade. By offering him the post of guardian, he had covered two pressing needs, since the property would also need the services of a good carpenter-carpenter. There were a thousand and one things to redo or repair before the arrival of the first class of students.
 
The next day, Friday, December 2, the Father and his brother took the train to Enfield. At White River they rented a taxi which took them to Enfield. Half an hour later, the two travelers set foot on the ground which seemed to them that of a promised land.
 
"Seized with curiosity, moreover very legitimate, our two pioneers began to browse with oil lanterns, in the nearest houses. (At that time, what might be called the central part of the property was dotted with houses, large and small, all in the severe cold and Shaker style. There was a good fifteen” (Memoirs by Fr. Elméric Dubois).
 
The night was short because the two brothers went to bed late. The next day, Father Chouinard walked to the Church of Enfield to celebrate Mass. The pastor, Father Geisel, was affable. He was surely happy to learn that there would soon be several priests in the area.
 
Back after the Mass, Father Chouinard was still preparing to leave, to go to Springvale, Maine, for the parish mission. Father Wilfrid Boulanger, M.S., was leaving Fitchburg to work on this same mission.
The First Mass in Enfield
05Fr. Chouinard celebrating Mass for his 50th anniversary of priesthood
Before leaving Enfield, Father Chouinard asked his brother to build an altar and install it in one of the rooms of the house they called the "brick house", a house that was to become the novitiate, and which today houses the Shrine staff. Father Chouinard spent the week before Christmas preparing to leave for Enfield and live there permanently. Meanwhile, Father Boulanger received an appointment which named him to Enfield.

Their new home was a white house in front of the large building now called Shaker Hall. The small farmhouse where the very first arrived no longer exists, but it is there that the Shakers had had the foresight to arrange for the welfare and comfort of the new owners.

On Saturday morning, Christmas Eve, Father Chouinard left Fitchburg and headed back to Enfield, his new home. Arriving in the afternoon, he prepared with his brother the celebration of the first Mass offered on this little corner of the earth. It was the Mass of Midnight, December 25, 1927. Herménégilde and his wife Florida were the only assistants. The first Mass was offered in the building that serves as the Shrine residence today, called the North House. (The role and purpose of the famous "Brick House" has changed since Father Dubois wrote his memoirs. The room he is referring to is now an office. The current chapel is on the same floor but further to the back of the house.)
Present-day view from lake of Enfield Shrine



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