Promises Kept

In November 1941, three newly ordained La Salette priests boarded the S.S. President Grant in San Francisco, California, to sail to the La Salette Missions in Burma. On December 8, Pearl Harbor was bombed and America was at war with Japan. The passengers of the ship were ordered to disembark and sleep on the shore. At night, the ship slipped away with all the passengers' luggage to Australia.

Untitled 1On their way to Burma, in fall of 1941, they were captured in Manila: (from left) La Salette Frs. Frederick Julien, John Doherty, and Joseph Decoteau.
Manila was occupied by the Japanese who placed all foreigners under house arrest. The three La Salette priests: Joseph Decoteau, John Doherty and Fred Julien sought and found refuge with the Jesuits. In 1944, Fathers Decoteau and Julien were moved to Los Banos, in the hill country about 40 miles from Manila. There they joined other internees, including two bishops, 243 priests, nuns and brothers plus 2,000 Protestant Missionaries and their families. Father Doherty remained in Manila.

Having discovered the Japanese plan to execute the internees, General Douglas MacArthur mapped out a daring rescue. In the early morning of February 23, 1945, while the Japanese were doing their calisthenics, some 200 U.S. paratroopers dropped from the heavens and separated the Japanese from their guns. As the first paratrooper touched the ground, the Filipino guerilla scouts, hidden in the nearby mountain, surrounded the camp and began their attack.

A Battle Around Us

"A fierce battle took place," said Father Julien. "Bullets flew over our heads. We all lay flat on the ground praying the rosary. I was convinced some of us would die. Trembling from head to foot and unable to control my head pounding on the ground, I promised Our Lady of La Salette to erect a Shrine in her honor in the Philippines should she help me survive."

Amphibian tanks broke through the fences and the internees were herded on even as the Japanese continued shelling from the hills. Miraculously, not even one internee was killed. The camp went up in flames.

Soon the three La Salettes were reunited and deported to the United States where they petitioned the Seven Dolor Province to allow them to return to the Philippines. Back in Los Banos in 1944, Bishop Constance Jurgens invited Fathers Descoteau and Julien to come to Isabela, a province up north, to help when the war was over.

Patiently Seeking Permission to Fulfill His Promise

A postulatum, therefore, petitioning to accept the Philippine mission and signed by all the La Salettes in Texas and Louisiana was presented in the Provincial Chapter in 1948. But the decision was to maintain Burma. Henceforth, all ensuing correspondences were addressed to Father Elmeric Dubois, the Provincial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Province, eventually paving the way to the acceptance of the Philippine mission.

Untitled 2Bp. Constant Jurgens, I.H.M., Bishop of Tuguegareo (left) was visited by Fr. Elmeric Dubois, M.S., Provincial, as La Salettes began to minister in his diocese.
Each succeeding year, Father Julien would seek permission to return to the Philippines. Each time he was refused. In desperation, he traveled to Lisieux, France, to ask Mother Celine, the 97-year old blood sister of St. Theresa, for her prayers to "soften the hearts of his Superiors so he could fulfill his promise." Mother Celine promised to pray.

Purpose – to Build a La Salette Shrine

After seventeen years, Fr. Alphonse Dutil, the Superior General, allowed Father Julien to return to the Philippines. In 1962, he was FEATI University Chaplain in Manila and in 1964, Fr. Paul Douillard, MS, the Vice-Provincial told him: "You may go to Silang to fulfill your promise but we can give you neither money nor help."

Sixteen hectares (almost 40m acres) of land in Silang had been purchased in 1961. Here, Brothers Armand Fredette and Andrew Mahen grew vegetables and fruit trees. They also raised chickens and pigs. Fr. Julien moved in with the brothers and hired Maximo Luna to help plan the Shrine.

Finding Income and Support for Shrine Project

Money had to be raised. A plant nursery was an inexpensive way to generate funds. A rose grower became interested in the project and donated 100 potted roses. From there, thousands were propagated. The sale of plants and flowers was brisk. Soon the income allowed the hiring of two more helpers.

Untitled 3Brother Armand Fredette, M.S., visiting his people by boat.In 1965, Father Julien celebrated his 25th anniversary as a priest and visited the United States. During his six months visit, he was able to raise a good amount of money for his projects in the Shrine, from his anniversary gifts, rummage sales, card games and other ways and means that his friends and relatives did to help.

The First Building

Finally this enabled Fr. Julien to raise enough money to build a multipurpose, one-story building. The building, consisted of a chapel, a gift shop, a storage room, Father's bedroom and a Cooperative Store owned and managed by six employees. The gift shop, on the other hand, had become popular with tourists, allowing the hiring of more employees for the many other ongoing projects.

A Statue of Our Weeping Mother

Two men from Manila were hired to build a life-size statue of Our Weeping Mother as part of the Shrine of La Salette. Using holy pictures as a guide, the men finished a beautiful statue on September 10, 1968. The Novena to Mary, Queen of La Salette started on September 11.

In 1968, Father Julien borrowed the equivalent of $25,000.00 and purchased a large shipment of woodcarvings to be sold in parishes in the United States. Father and Maximo sold all the carvings, realizing enough to pay the loan and keep a profit of $27,000.00.

Untitled 4(from left) Memorial to Fr. Fred Julien, M.S. at the Philippine Shrine; close-up of his headstone.
The exact measurements of the Shrine in La Salette, France, were obtained and work began. Large pieces of granite were brought from the stone cutters in Manila to the site in Silang. Many hours spent under the hot sun breaking the large chunks into smaller pieces. Marcelino Sicat, an excellent carpenter and mason built all the shrine walls and did the rest of the masonry.

The blessing of the shrine took place on September 19, 1968. Over 500 people processed, sang and prayed. It was a day not to be forgotten. A 97-year old woman was given the honor of cutting the ribbon. The residents played their guitars and sung during the celebration.

Welcoming Overnight Retreatants

It was now necessary to provide sleeping quarters for retreatants wishing to spend a few days. St. Joseph's Dormitory was constructed with sixteen bedrooms, four people to a room.

Untitled 5Fr. Lionel Lacasse, M.S. (left) in his younger days and Fr. Alphonse Larochelle, M.S. more recently.A second visit to the States to sell woodcarvings was made by Father Julien and Teodoro Samilin, an employee. The trip earned enough to enable to add a second story to the multi-purpose building. The expanded building now contained a conference room, four bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. With these facilities many more retreatants came. For a time, Fr. Lionel Lacasse and then Fr. Alphonse Larochelle preached the retreats.

Building the Shrine Church

The number of retreatants and tourists increased weekly. It was time to build a Shrine Church and turn the old chapel into a larger gift shop. The combined income from retreats, nursery, flowers and appeal letters sent to local and foreign benefactors made it possible to start the project.

Deeply interested in the Shrine project from the beginning, Bro. Armand Fredette was appointed Treasurer of the Shrine in 1979. Through his tireless efforts, he obtained furniture and other materials from the U.S. AID. Meantime, the Fredette family in the United States raised thousands of dollars for the Shrine.

Anton Kho, owner of ACF Construction Company and close friend of La Salettes, slightly modified the plan and assigned one foreman to supervise the construction. All the labor was done by regular employees of La Salette. Under the able direction of Fr. Santiago L. Ner, Director of the Scholastics, each seminarian dug a part of the foundation.

Untitled 6Message in the La Salette Burial plot at the La Salette Shrine in Silang, Cavite, Philippines.The adobe ground was difficult to dig. It took time, patience, and plenty of determination to carry on the work. The new Shrine Church was finally blessed on September 19, 1977.

Upon reaching the age of 70, Father Julien turned over the Shrine to Fr. Santiago Ner and returned to the United States on July 31, 1979, seventeen years from the day he returned to the Philippines to fulfill his promise to Our Lady of La Salette.

Please enjoy this virtual tour of the La Salette Shrine in the Philippines (below):

(Jack, Could you please put an automatic slideshow of the 22 visuals at the end of this article? I have collected the visuals in the folder entitled, “__Virtual Tour of the Shrine”)


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