By Becky Aubut
ENFIELD, N.H. — After spending 11 years at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette in Attleboro, Father John Patrick Sullivan, M.S., is settling into his new role as shrine director at the La Salette Shrine in Enfield, N.H.
“They were wonderful years,” said Father Sullivan as he reminisced about his years at the Attleboro shrine. “This time of year, especially, I was so touched by so many families who come and see the shrine and tell me about how it’s a multigenerational activity [seeing the lights]. I just think it’s so beautiful to bring people an awareness of what Christmas is about in the religious context.”
Growing up in Boston, Father Sullivan’s time in Attleboro gave him the opportunity to visit his two married sisters and their children, and provided “something wonderful, [I had] both my La Salette family and biological family. But I got a call from Father René Butler, M.S., who is now our provincial of the whole La Salette community in the United States, and he had been director of the shrine in Enfield for the past few years. Now that he became provincial, he asked if I would take over being director of Enfield.”
Father Sullivan said he thought about it for a few days and “because I think very highly of him, and I think he’s going to be a very good provincial because he’s a man of prayer and vision, I couldn’t say no to him.”
He joked that at his new residence in Enfield, he needs a pair of boots and a cowboy hat, but he is happily settling into his routine.
“It’s definitely much more rural than Attleboro; we’re about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Attleboro, and we’re between Lebanon and Dartmouth, N.H. We do have a festival of lights,” said Father Sullivan, who put up some of the lights himself. “They start on the weekend of Thanksgiving and continue to the end of December. They’re not as spectacular as Attleboro, in the sense it’s not as many lights seen by thousands of people, but there’s something beautiful about it. You can see all the lights as soon as you drive on the property because it’s on a hillside, so you see them all in one glance. It’s very attractive.
“It’s a mixture of feelings. I was sad to leave because I made some good friendships in Attleboro, and it was hard to say goodbye. I do feel that God is calling me here. I feel God’s blessing, and I have a lot of hope.”
Inside the chapel at Enfield there are 500 crèches from 50 countries on display, which “is very nice to stand in there to see the different crèches. They’re very nicely displayed. The children can write a little birthday wish to Jesus in the chapel,” said Father Sullivan.
Enfield may not be as big as the shrine in Attleboro or see as many visitors “but we do OK. We have our volunteers” but because it’s done on a smaller scale “it’s approachable. You can talk to the people, spend time with them, and ask them where they’re from. It’s prayerful, like Attleboro.”
Enfield was the first shrine to have lights with Attleboro following suit, said Father Sullivan. As the only priest at Enfield, he will be spending Christmas at the shrine, celebrating Mass on Christmas Eve. He may not have the opportunity to see his family “but that’s OK. They can see my gratitude in what I experience, and so I feel that I have a lot of experience to bring to Enfield.”
Father Sullivan said he appreciates that he still has his health at 72 years old, and looks forward to taking advantage of what New Hampshire has to offer: “It’s a beautiful place. I can look out my window and see Lake Mascoma and the hills all around. I look forward to skiing after Christmas and hiking and swimming in the summertime.”
He is excited to introduce some new initiatives to Enfield, and he hopes to do some of the same things that he did at Attleboro, like working with inter-faith groups. He also hopes to continue Pope Francis’ message.
“With the Year of Divine Mercy, I hope to encourage more people to go to Confession and bring in more programs on how to celebrate God’s forgiveness,” said Father Sullivan.
Always active in the Hispanic ministry in Attleboro, Father Sullivan is also trying to reach out to the Spanish-speaking population in Enfield. Though the Hispanic population may not be as large as in Attleboro, Father Sullivan hopes that his friend in Manchester, Deacon Ramon Andrade, who is from Puerto Rico, will be a good resource.
“I hope to make it more ethnically diverse,” said Father Sullivan. “I don’t want to take away from what they have in Attleboro, but I think I’ll be able to do things in my own way. There’s a lot of poverty up here, and I want to hear the voice of the poor, and doing what we can to educate people. I love the Holy Father and he keeps telling us to take care of the poor.”
“I just want to extend to all those who are reading The Anchor a wonderful Christmas and hope in the new year they can take the challenge of Pope Francis and be more forgiving and letting go of resentments that might be blocking us from celebrating our faith every day,” said Father Sullivan, adding he hopes everyone embraces the new year with an “attitude of gratitude.”