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First Sunday pilgrimage in 1952, gathering
in prayer around the façade of the castle.

The years 2013-2014 are anniversary years for the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, MA. We are celebrating sixty years of our Shrine Ministry – and the Christmas Festival of Lights – as well as the fiftieth anniversary of our Retreat Center Ministry.

A Truly Grand Opening

Of course, our Christmas Festival of Lights had its fledgling beginnings on Tuesday, December 8, 1953, the official opening of the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro. This coincided with the beginning of the Marian Year promulgated by Pope Pius XII to mark the centenary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception (declared on Dec. 8, 1854 by Pope Pius IX). On this occasion, there was the first Christmas light display – some 5,000 Christmas lights – along with a splendid fireworks display, and outdoor nativity scene. About 5,000 people were present to witness this grand opening.

Fr. Pat – Sing, Sing, Sing!

When Fr. André Patenaude, M.S., – known to many as Fr. Pat – was Shrine Director, he realized that at Christmas time the buses that carried senior groups and those that came from afar generally arrived early. Since the lights did not go on until 5:00 PM, he decided that something should be provided for our visitors. Fr. Pat took out his guitar and began strumming. That was in 1982.

 

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Fr. Pat (Fr. André Patenaude, M.S.) hosted
Concerts from 1982 during the
Christmas Festival of Lights

Times do not change, they evolve. Since that time, the Christmas Concert with Father Pat has become a standard part of the Festival of Lights in Attleboro. In the past, depending on the year, this could mean as many as 70 concerts over 40 days — two per day.

In recent years, the concerts have been the prime means whereby the annual Christmas theme was explored and presented to the cheerful visitors of all ages. Father Pat has graciously responded with new recordings each year for the Festival of Lights.

Concerning the themes for the Festival of Lights, some were more singable than others. The longest theme over was: "Then and Now, the True Gifts of Christmas: Peace, Hope, Love and Joy." The shortest might have been, "Light Our Way" which occurred the following year.

Among the stranger comments overheard at Christmas time was the man who thanked us for all the work we did for burned children. He had obviously was referring to the "Shriners", but not of the Shrine to Our Lady of La Salette.

Welcome to the La Salette Shrine!

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Many years ago, Brother Ron Taylor,
M.S., welcomed as many as 100
busses an evening during
the Festival of Lights.

Concerning the number of buses that visited the Shrine in Attleboro over the years, there have been as many as 1,000 in an average year. With that many busses, the ministry of hospitality took on a special meaning especially during the Festival of Lights which begins each year on Thanksgiving Day. Groups come in all shapes and sizes. The greeters can never be sure, from bus to bus, what questions they might encounter.

One afternoon, a Yankee bus pulled in from Boston empty. "Where are your passengers?" the greeter inquired. The driver apparently thought he was to pick up his passengers here her at the Shrine! This was at 1:15 PM. They were actually due to arrive from Cambridge, MA, at 3:00 PM. With his prompt response, the group of Seniors did arrive on time although Cambridge was nearly an hour away. When queried about the mixup, the bus driver simply said, "Don't ask."

At times, some people got confused. "Where are your mountains," one Canadian lady asked, thinking she had arrived at the Enfield Shrine.

At another time, two lady friends found themselves upset and impatient after having missed the departure of their bus. One of the ladies was overheard confronting the other, saying, "We could have made that bus if you had not insisted on choosing this particular day to confess your entire life story!" Fortunately one of their bus party soon came to fetch them.

This Year’s Festival of Lights

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A Shrine Christmas Card from 1943
picturing the La Salette Seminarians in cassocks
walking in the winter snow
up to the Castle, the Provincial House.

With the celebration of our anniversaries, we are grateful that we have nearly completed our several-year project of transitioning from incandescent to LED lights, which significantly helps to defray the cost of electricity since our display has grown to approximately 400,000 lights. As we welcome almost 250,000 visitors for our Festival of Lights, we have put together a special Christmas Light Show which is offered several times each evening.

Our theme for this year’s festival is “Sixty Years of Serving God’s People.” We know that some families have been participating in this beautiful Christmas Festival from its very beginning in December of 1953 and we sincerely wish to thank them!

Each year we offer the Festival of Lights to renew again in our visitors their belief in our generous God who gives us everything we have and are. We pray that each of our visitors may receive the gifts of peace and reconciliation that only God can give.

 

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(left) Fr. Rene Sauvé, M.S., who oversaw the building of the Enfield and
Attleboro Shrines and their Christmas Light Displays; (right) Christmas lights
around the Holy Stairs in the Attleboro Shrine’s early years.