Each year hundreds of Catholic pilgrims converge on the Southern community of Pointe Michel on September 19th to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of La Salette, dubbed “the village feast.” The celebration is the culmination of a nine-day Novena which began with Mass presided over by our bishop and many concelebrating clergy, along with people from all over the island.
St. Luke’s Parish Church in Pointe Michel, Dominica, in the Caribbean Islands, was declared the National Shrine, and dedicated to Our Lady of La Salette by Bp. Arnold Boghaert in 1983. Having recently completed extensive renovations, it is a beautiful place of worship and a center of devotion and prayer to Our Lady of La Salette.
Small Beginnings – 1870s and 1880s
La Salette devotion in Dominica goes back to early February of 1872 when Fr. Desiré Clément Ardois returned from France with a beautiful statue of Our Lady as she appeared to the two little shepherd children, Maximin and Mélanie on September 19, 1846 in La Salette in France. As he was the parish priest of Pointe Michel, he had a small side chapel added to the parish church where he displayed the statue for veneration by the faithful.
This chapel was blessed together with the statue on December 12,1889. The Ecclesiastical Bulletin of Roseau reported that in 1873 and 1874 an immense number of faithful found their way to St. Luke’s from every quarter of Dominica and since then, year after year, the shrine has been visited by pious pilgrims on the La Salette Feast, September 19th.
Devotion Grows – 1920s
To illustrate the magnitude and vibrancy of the yearly La Salette Feast Day Pilgrimage to Pointe Michel in the past, we quote a contemporary description:
Tuesday, September 19, 1922: “The good people of Pointe Michel had vied with each other to make the village look joyful and festive for the unique occasion. Arches with inscriptions in honor of Our Lady of La Salette were erected from one end of the village to the other, whilst flags, buntings, flowers and evergreens were conspicuous all along the road and in front of nearly every house… the interior of the church, especially the Sanctuary, looked gorgeous and glittering. The chapel of Our Lady surpassed all the rest in splendor.”
“…at 3:30am, the first pilgrims arrived, soon to be followed by hundreds upon hundreds until the spacious church had become altogether too small to hold them all. The bulk of the Roseau pilgrims left the Cathedral at 5 am in procession and arrived at Pointe Michel at 6:15 am. On reaching the borders of the village they were received and cordially welcomed by the hospitable people of (St. Luke’s) Parish and conducted in procession to the church.”
The day long celebrations included a procession around the village in the afternoon: “…then began the procession which, but for the almost unbearable heat, was more splendid than ever… the statue of Our Lady of La Salette was carried by four young women and surrounded by a host of children, all dressed in immaculate white. His Excellency the Bishop and the clergy walked behind the statue, and then followed the interminable rows first of women, then of men. It was not until 4 pm that the procession was back in the church.”
In the following year, 1923, the bishop recorded more than 6,000 pilgrims. A temporary pavilion had to be erected to accommodate all the pilgrims. Those were glorious days.
Renovation and Renewal – 1970s until Today
In the Fall of 1979, Hurricane David hit the east coast of the United States as well as the island south of the mainland, including Dominica. It was the strongest storm to hit Dominica in the 20th century, and was the deadliest Dominican tropical cyclone since a hurricane killed over 200 people in September of 1834.
With the onset of a severely aging structure, renovations were announced and begun in August of 2014. The entire building was eventually repaired or rebuilt. It is once again a simple but elegantly intimate church, most conducive for prayer and the La Salette Feast Day Celebrations.
The ever-new message of La Salette continues to support and bring hope to the poor people of this island paradise. Mary as Israel's daughter continues to teach her people in Dominica to discover, through events and situations of life, the discreet presence of God who "works wonders" and "remembers his love for his people." And she intercedes to her Son for us, calling us to the ways and message of her Son.
(The recent Church Renovation Project, and summary material from the La Salette Brazil website )