Shrine Mass launches SSE 175th year as history marches on

August 16, 2017

View a photo gallery from the August 15 Shrine Mass here>>

The past Sunday’s Gospel story about the apostles in a boat on a stormy Sea of Galilee is essentially the story of a French religious order’s early decades after its founding 175 years ago – or for that matter, of those founders’ spiritual heirs at a Vermont Catholic college in 2017, suggested the homilist for a historically significant Holy Day celebration at St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle LaMotte Tuesday.

“Men of great faith invited by Jesus to come across turbulent waters” is how Very Rev. Stephen Hornat, SSE ’72, the Society of St. Edmund’s superior general, put it during the well-attended late-morning Feast of the Assumption Mass at the Shrine on August 15.

The liturgy officially began a year of events to note the 175th anniversary of the Edmundites’ 1843 founding at a humble and ruined former Cistercian Abbey in Pontigny, France, by Fathers Jean Baptiste Muard and Pierre Boyer, French diocesan priests who, as Hornat described, dedicated their lives to evangelism, the caretaking of holy shrines and, most significantly on this Marian Feast, to the intercessory protection and aid of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

A parishioner at Winooski’s St. Stephen’s church had asked him why not have the Mass at the Edmundite-founded Saint Michael’s College rather than the Edmundite-administered Shrine, Hornat said in his homily. “When I thought about it, the longest running ministry that Edmundites had during our 175-year history, wasn’t education, wasn’t retreat work, wasn’t administering parishes, but rather, caretakers of Shrines (including also Mont St. Michel in France and St. Anne’s in Vermont).”

Yet all those vital pieces of the Edmundites’ history and present mission were represented at Tuesday’s Mass. Most of the Saint Michael’s-based Edmundite community concelebrated, numbering a dozen or more priests and brothers, including those who administer nearby diocesan parishes. Present also were many current and former administrators of Saint Michael’s College and other faculty, staff and alumni; also, Chad McEachern ’91 and Joseph Quinn II from the Selma, Alabama-based Edmundite Southern Missions, who traveled north just for the occasion.

Fr. Hornat’s homily shed light on the order’s name and mission from its history: How St. Edmund is buried over the main altar at Pontigny Abbey where Muard and Boyer first gathered; that originally, the Edmundites were called the Oblates of the Sacred Hearts; that Pontigny Abbey happened to be named in honor of St. Mary of the Assumption, “by coincidence or Divine intervention,” making the day’s feast most significant to the group; or that the group didn’t become officially recognized as a church religious order (rather than just a diocesan group) until 1876, and they didn’t become “Fathers of St. Edmund” until 1907.

Another guest for the day was a scholar of the history and legacy of St. Edmund who also is Anglican chaplain of St. Edmund Hall, Oxford – Rev. Will Donaldson, who at a reception and light lunch following Mass said he is traveling to sites related to the 12th/13th Century namesake of the place where he is chaplain. As to his interest in Edmund given his present position, he said, “I was thinking I need to find out about him … and the more I look, the more I like it … I want to find out everything I can about him; so I’m over here in Vermont really to chat to people, meet the Edmundites, and particularly ask the question, ‘what is it about the life of St. Edmund that continues to inspire you today?’” He said he and his wife “are having a wonderful time” as they tour North America as part of research for what he expects to be about a 10,000-word short book on Edmund in three sections: first, a brief historical survey of Edmund’s life and ministry; second, a look at his character through the lens of the Beatitudes, “because I think he hits the Beatitudes on every point – the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the pure in heart, those who are persecuted, these kinds of things are his characteristics” – and third, a look at how St. Edmund continues to influence Christian communities today, including in Vermont.

Another site he plans to visit is Selma, AL, where the Edmundite influence finds expression at the most basic human level. The Southern Missions face great challenges but also are moving forward robustly, said Chad McEachern ’91, who is the first lay director of the Missions. “We’ve started several new programs to help people living in the poverty of the Deep South,” he said, including an apprenticeship program to help build life skills for clients. Also, “we have a real crisis going on with our food stamp program in Alabama – if you’re an able-bodied person you must now work and are no longer eligible for food stamps; the problem is, there’s no work. So our numbers at our Bosco Nutrition Center are going through the roof – we’re already over 200,000 meals served.” He considers the Edmundites “family” after 30 years of close association, he said, and is honored to be entrusted with such a key ministry, adding, “It’s great to be home.”

Music for Tuesday’s Mass was by St. Michael’s Campus Music Minister Jerome Monachino ’91 and his small group of musicians, including his son Dominic Monachino on bass, Erin Guzowski ’03 on flute and Steve Karcher, the SSE’s CFO, on keys. Readings were by Sister Mary Ann Gour, FCSCJ, a longtime Shrine volunteer and devotee who lives nearby; Edmundite Brother Frank Hagerty, and Deacon Michael Carter, who will be ordained in September. Edmundite Fr. Brian Cummings, SSE’86, administrator of the Shrine, offered the welcome.

Other events relating to the Edmundite 175th anniversary in the coming year will include:

  • November 15, 2017: St. Edmund’s Lecture and Reception at Saint Michael’s College.
  • November 16, 2017: Mass at the Chapel of Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Michael’s College. (Feast of St. Edmund).
  • May 13-21, 2018: Heritage Trip to France, led by Edmundite Fr. Marcel Rainville ’67.
  • July 3, 2018: Celebration marking Frs. Muard and Bravard moving into the Cistercian Abbey in Pontigny. Mass and picnic at Holy Family Church, Essex Junction.
  • August 15, 2018: Closing of the Anniversary Year. Mass and reception at St. Anne’s Shrine, Isle La Motte, VT.

A theme in Fr. Hornat’s homily was that from the start, the Edmundites regularly have been about rebuilding that which “lay in ruin,” from the Pontigny Abbey to the French church in the mid-1800s or the lives of those who come to their missions; and that “God has led us to these holy and sacred places to live out this mission of building God’s kingdom. First and foremost, evangelization is our Edmundite gift to the Church.”

“This anniversary year provides an opportunity for those of us in the Edmundite Community to renew our devotion to Mary,” Fr. Hornat said. “As we Edmundites journey through this anniversary year, with all of its many challenge that we face in this secular culture, I hope that we will find strength and comfort under the mantel of Our Lady.” He closed quoting St. Bernard’s “Memorare” prayer: “Never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help and sought thy intercession, was left unaided.”

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