La Salette’s Foundation in North America

Editor: Bp. Macaluso delivered this homily at a special Mass for the delegates to the General Chapter of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette together with the membership of the Hartford House on April 21, 2012. 
It is my particular pleasure to be with you today and to celebrate Mass for the success of your deliberations at your 2012 General Chapter being held in Willimantic, CT for the next few weeks. Part of the pleasure is that, as a youngster, my parents several times each year, would take leave of our regular parish and bring my sister and me to Our Lady of Sorrows Church for Mass, ministered by the La Salette Missionaries. We looked forward to it. 
 
We knew that it would mean a stirring homily and after Mass, if we had behaved, cupcakes from Michelson's Bakery around the corner. We loved and admired the La Salettes and got to know a few of them over the years but we didn't know much about the Congregation. I have learned much more about it in the past several weeks as I did research for this homily.
 
The first thing I have learned is that this is where it all started for your North American foundation. It is a wonderful story that I would like to repeat for you in abbreviated form. Much of it I discovered in an old commemorative booklet celebrating the Seminary's fiftieth anniversary.
Fr. Pierre Pajot, M.S. (1860-1928)
First of two La Salettes to come
to North America 
The story begins in the final decades of the nineteenth century. Political conditions in Europe, especially in France, were in upheaval, and many of the new laws passed negatively targeted the priesthood and religious life. Impeded by such restrictions, the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette, founded in La Salette, France, in 1852, looked to the New World as a safe haven for your work. Here you could freely recruit students for the priesthood, establish seminaries and preach the message of Our Lady, unhindered by governmental interference.
 
In 1892 the Superior General of the Congregation asked two of his priests, Frs. Pierre Pajot and Joseph Vignon, to travel to North America. These priests were asked to contact Bishops in Canada and in the United States for admission into their dioceses, to locate a suitable place in which to found a Seminary and to establish the first house of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette in America. They left La Salette in June of 1892 and, after a voyage of two weeks, disembarked at Montreal.
 
Fr. Joseph Vignon, M.S. (1861-1912)
Second of Two La Salettes to
come to North America
They were cordially received in Canada but sadly they found no opening for a new Religious community there. On July 6th, 1892, they entered the United States and travelled through New York State. They visited several Bishops but were unable to find a diocese that could provide sufficient support.

Most Rev. Lawrence McMahon,
Bishop of Hartford: 1879-1893
The two Missionaries were discouraged at their lack of success and decided to return to Canada. In July of 1892, on their way back to Montreal, they stopped off here in Hartford. They registered at a modest hotel, ate supper at the common table with the other guests and then retired to their room. The next morning, they asked where they could say Mass and were directed to St. Joseph's Cathedral not far from the hotel. They were hospitably received by the Rector who, when he heard them tell the story of their wanderings, arranged a meeting for them with the Bishop of the Diocese, Most Rev. Lawrence McMahon (bishop: 1879-1893). Neither of the two La Salette Fathers could have known that Divine Providence was bringing their prolonged search to a close.
 
Bishop McMahon, of Irish ancestry, was born in New Brunswick but was brought to Boston as a child. At the age of sixteen he entered Montreal College. Later he was sent to France where he studied at the Seminary at Aix. One of his classmates at this Seminary, Father Silvain-Marie Giraud, would later become the third Superior General of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette.
 
First house for La Salettes in North
America: Collins Street, Hartford, CT
When the two priests were presented to Bishop McMahon, he not only could speak with them in their own language but his friendship with Father Giraud was an added bond of understanding. He assured them of his interest in their project and promised to make whatever arrangements were necessary for their entrance into the Hartford diocese. Meanwhile the two Missionaries returned to Canada to await further developments.
 
In August of 1892, the Bishop's Council in Hartford voted favorably upon the acceptance of the Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette into the diocese. The Bishop granted to the Community the use of the former episcopal residence at the corner of Woodland and Collins Streets, and after some minor repairs Mass was celebrated there for the first time in September of 1892.
 
Most Rev. Michael Tierney,
Bishop of Hartford: 1894-1908
The happy news of the new foundation was sent to the Superior General of the La Salettes, Rev. Fr. Auguste Chapuy, M.S., and immediately plans were made to send several priests and students to America. They arrived in Hartford in October. As their numbers grew, the Community began preparations for a larger and more permanent home. Land was purchased right here on New Park Avenue in the Parkville section of Hartford, and in 1894 the cornerstone was blessed by Bishop Michael Tierney, successor to Bishop McMahon (bishop: 1894-1908).
 
The construction of the five-story brick building which was to be the Mother House and the first Preparatory Seminary of the La Salette Community in America proceeded and the priests and seminarians were able to move into the house in 1895. Forty-nine years after the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin on the Mountain of La Salette, the new Seminary was blessed by Bishop Tierney.
 
La Salette College in early 1900’s
before the two wings were added
For the next three years the Missionaries prepared for the work ahead of them and made themselves available to the diocese by offering Sunday ministry in various parishes throughout the state. In 1895 they were entrusted with the care of two parishes in Connecticut: Our Lady of Sorrows in Hartford and Saint James in Danielson. 
 
Though the first group of students was small, it was the forerunner of many groups of boys who were to attend the school. In 1901 sixty seminarians were registered and each year the number of aspirants to the priesthood and the life of the Missionaries of Our Lady increased.
 
The past 120 years have been productive ones for the Missionaries of La Salette, the fulfillment of the dreams of the two French priests who happened by chance to stop off at Hartford to offer Mass in 1892. With God's Grace and Mary's intercession you can afford, my brothers, to look forward to many more years of fruitful ministry in the apostolate of souls.
 
The sixty seminarians of the Class of 1901
This is how it all started; this is actually where it all started. What a moving story of trust in the providence of God, the mysterious ways of the Holy Spirit and the power of Mary's intercession! Zeal and perseverance and faith marked your beginnings. 
 
I wish all of you this same spirit as you meet for your General Chapter. You and your work are needed just as much now as it was in 1892.
 
Finally, I thank God for all that He and your predecessors accomplished in the past. I thank God and you for all that is now and for all the help and inspiration you have been to the Archdiocese of Hartford. And I thank God and all who will follow you, for what is to come. And may all who look back on the accomplishments of your 2012 General Chapter remark on your continued zeal, faith and perseverance.
 
 



left: La Salettes at Mass in Hartford Chapel, on April 21, 2012; right: Seminarians in Hartford Chapel in 1908