|Fr. Gerry Comeau, M.S.,
longtime minister in Spain
At the end of her message, Our Lady of La Salette asked the two children to make her message known. Later Bishop de Bruillard extended this mandate to all who hear Mary’s message, her wonderful message eventually did reach the four corners of the world. I’d like to share with you, in particular, how it reached the Church in Spain, my place of ministry for these past fifty years.
La Salette Devotion Reaches Spain
Once the Church approved the Apparition of Our Lady at La Salette, France, the devotion quickly spread through all of Spain. The most important apostles of Our Lady were Count Narciso de Peñalver, Catalán, from Northeast Spain (who became Maximin’s very good friend and paid for the nine bronze statues depicting the Apparition on the Holy Mountain) and Don Florencio Sanz from Pamplona in north central Spain. In 1863 the latter published a Spanish translation of Canon Rousselot’s book on the “Truth of the Apparition”. Both men heartily supported and propagated the devotion and the response was immediate.
La Salettes Come to Spain
|Tableau in wall of Basilica in La Salette,
France, describing that the hearts of
Maximin Giraud and his Spanish
benefactor, Count Narciso de Peñalver,
are contained in the wall
The first La Salette community officially arrived in Madrid in 1957. Father Ladislao Pykosz, a Polish La Salette Missionary, had been there since 1955, arriving from Argentina. He came in contact with the Congregation of the “Sisters Slaves of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who had a house on 75 Arturio Soria Street in Madrid and were willing to sell it. Father Joseph Imhof was then Superior General.
After getting the necessary permissions, Father Pykosz left for the United States to find money to buy the house. Thanks to important donations from a priest benefactor and the La Salette Province in the United States, the house was bought in 1957. Father Pykosz arranged for the necessary repairs and got everything ready for the arrival of other La Salettes.
Father Antonio Martínez from the French Province joined Father Pykosz as soon as he could. Later on Father Antonio Nichelle came from Brazil and Father Elmeric Dubois from the States. Father Dubois was named Superior of the house and later on also became Master of Novices for Brother Juan Magro Andres, our international artist who passed away here in Siador October 11, 2008.
|Fr. Alfonse Dutil, M.S., LA Salette
Superior General, supported the
La Salette ministry in Spain
On Christmas 1961, Rev. Father Alphonse Dutil, then our Superior General, visited Spain. He saw a big house the Dominican Fathers had in Santa María de Nieva (Segovia), liked it and made a trade: the house in Madrid for that big one in Santa Maria. It was to become an Apostolic School, looking forward to future Spanish vocations for Spain and for Argentina.
On September 23, 1962 Father Dubois came back from a vacation in the United States and brought with him myself, Father Gerard Comeau, whom Father Dutil had recruited in Rome. Fathers Henry Dauphinais, Leo Maxfield and Gerald Biron quickly followed.
Fifteen years later, in 1978, the Community sold the house to the Education Board and moved on to Valladolid where Father Maxfield had been taking care of the older students since 1969. Fathers Amador Marugan and Heliodoro Santiago did their Philosophy and Theology there with the Dominican Fathers. In 1977 Father Maxfield left for Rome to pursue studies in Sacred Scripture and I replaced him as the new Superior of the Community and Director of the Residence.
Our ministry in Valladolid consisted in helping out in the big parish where we lived – about 12,000 parishioners – and also working with the disabled in the city, with the Legion of Mary, teaching in schools, shepherding the Charismatic Movement, etc.
The Missionaries Move
In 1983 the Community discerned that it had to move out of Valladolid because there was really no offer there to work freely and independently as La Salettes. We therefore began a series of contacts with the Bishop of Lugo, a diocese in Galicia, Northwest Spain, where the first La Salette Shrine in Spain was located. Some decided to go back to our roots in Spain and put themselves in the hands of the Blessed Mother and others decided to return to the United States – Fathers Dauphinais and Maxfield.
|The first La Salette Residence
in Siador, Spain
The Bishop accepted the proposition and Father Gerard Comeau, accompanied by Brother Juan Magro Andres arrived in Siador-Silleda, Province of Pontevedra, Diocese of Lugo, on the 4th of March, 1984. A small house was offered. However the repairs took many months since it had no running water or heat except a kitchen stove, and needed a lot of work to make it a relatively decent place in which to live. I soon moved in with Brother Juan.
Father Amador arrived with Brother Jaime the following year. Father Roman Wcislo, a young Polish priest, joined us in 1991. Fortunately Our Lady touched the hearts of members of another family and a second house was offered to us; the two houses became our home.
A New House of Spirituality
|Main entrance to the La Salette House of
Spirituality and actual La Salette Residence
Some land was bought, other land was generously given, a camping area was built to accommodate young people and finally the first stone of a new and big residence was completed on the 20th of May, 1994. The house was officially blessed and opened the 2nd of September, 1995, as a “La Salette Residence and House of Spirituality”.
At first we only took care of the Shrine and Parish (the same church building). We also helped out in Silleda, the largest town around us – about 2,500 people— did ministry in other parishes when invited, such as preaching, preparation for First Communion and Confirmation, etc.
Nowadays Fathers Amador, José Catanga from Angola, and myself are Pastors of ten small parishes and help out in Silleda for Masses and Religious Education. Brother Jaime gives music classes in accordion and takes care of the house and property. We are now working on making these parishes of ours fall in love with our charism.
|Fr. Comeau (2nd from right) with
others of the Community and a friend
The La Salettes also take care of a Center of Pilgrimages in Santiago de Compostela on the “Mount of Joy”. Fathers Roman Wcislo is there with Father Alfonse Jamba, another Angolan. We’ve been taking care of that Center since 1999. The Fathers there also minister in three nearby parishes.
Finally, we are now working together trying to form a group of young La Salette Associates – youth and teenagers. There are older La Salette Associates like the La Salette Fraternity and the La Salette Foundation but they haven’t really received a full La Salette formation. We have therefore decided to focus on and especially invest in the future.
May the Beautiful Lady attract and conquer the hearts of more young people so that the future La Salette presence here in Spain can be assured by the presence of many Spanish vocations. Our Lady of La Salette, pray for us.
Some La Salettes who worked in Spain (Top L to Bottom R): Antonio Nichelle, Elmeric Dubois, Bro. Juan Magro Andres, Henry Dauphinais, Leo Maxfield, Gerald R. Biron, Amador Marugán Patiño, Heliodoro Santiago, and Roman Wcislo
Map of Spain indicating some places where La Salette devotion spread over the years