By Kenneth J. Souza
ATTLEBORO, Mass. — The Thanksgiving holiday generally conjures images of family and friends gathered around a big table to celebrate with a homemade turkey dinner.
And in the Fall River Diocese, the subsequent Christmas holiday almost certainly brings to mind evening jaunts to La Salette Shrine in Attleboro to witness the annual Festival of Lights.
So it somehow made sense that one of the shrine’s most iconic figures — Father André Patenaude, better known to most as simply “Father Pat” — would debut his latest collection of Christmas music on Thanksgiving.
“Thanksgiving night is a surprisingly busy night at La Salette, even though some of the buildings and the gift shop are not open,” Father Pat said. “But people come to see the lights and maybe to walk around and get the turkey off their stomachs.”
On that inaugural evening of the 2015 Festival of Lights, Father Pat performed songs from his newest CD, entitled “Noël,” after the 5:30 p.m. Mass in the shrine church.
“I’ll be performing pretty much every day after that, except for Mondays,” Father Pat told The Anchor. “I’ll be performing at 3 p.m. and then again at 7 p.m. every day through January 3.”
Copies of Father Pat’s newest release, “Noël,” will be available for sale at all performances and also in the shrine gift shop.
Father Pat has been performing and recording music as part of his ministry for years and he has released more than 16 albums.
His most recent work appeared on a collection entitled “La Salette Throughout the World,” which contained 18 songs in different languages representing all of the countries where the La Salette Missionaries are working.
“I didn’t sing on all the songs — it’s a compilation of songs from different countries where we serve as missionaries,” he said. “But I did four songs myself.”
With nearly 20 recording sessions under his belt, you can imagine this isn’t his first take on a Christmas album — he previously released a CD called “Simply Christmas” — but he said he’s very proud of the work he’s done on “Noël.”
“I thought it over and I wanted to record songs people always enjoy hearing during the season — songs like ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Silver Bells,’” Father Pat said. “Another one is ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ Some of the songs are secular, but they’re not overboard, if you know what I mean.
“Then I decided to do some more traditional songs that are very familiar to people — songs like ‘Adeste Fidelis’ and ‘O, Holy Night’ — and then there are a few original songs. One of the new ones is called ‘Let Bells Ring Out.’”
Father Pat even tackled the Nat King Cole classic “The Christmas Song,” better known by its refrain “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire,” on this latest recording.
“I’m very happy with it and I think it will go over well,” he said.
Recorded and arranged by well-known Liturgical composer, producer and musician Tom Kendzia in his Rhode Island-based home studio known as Top Floor Productions, Father Pat gives a great deal of credit to Kendzia for the way “Noël” turned out.
“Tom has done an excellent job putting them together and making them sound different,” Father Pat said. “He’s been arranging my music for the last 10 years. He’s done a wonderful job on this new CD. I’m very happy with it and usually I notice things and nitpick, but I’m very happy and I’m looking forward to being able to sing them (live).”
In addition to Father Pat performing all the vocals and playing his trademark guitar on the session, Kendzia utilized some of his regular choir singers and musicians to complement the well-known “singing priest.”
“We used his choir of about five or six members, they’re all professional singers, so that helps,” Father Pat said. “Then we had some of the musicians he knows help us record, but basically I performed the songs live in the studio and I had to sing some of the songs from scratch, if you will, with a very simple backing track. Then I had to come in again to record the guitar and everything gets mixed. It does take a lot of time to get things perfect.”
Father Pat said the most arduous part of the process was mixing the final recording to make sure everything sounds just right.
“We spent a lot of time listening to the different mixes and deciding what needs to be added or toned down — so it takes a lot of time,” he said. “But it’s enjoyable to me.”
Boasting a simple cover image of an evergreen branch covered with snow, Father Pat said he resisted suggestions that he appear on the cover.
“They kept asking me: ‘Why don’t you put your picture on the front?’ I said, no it’s fine to have my picture on the back,” he said.
The front artwork is also appropriate given that the CD has been dedicated to Father Pat’s own appreciation for God’s natural world, keeping in line with what Pope Francis has been saying in ‘Laudato Sí.’”
In fact, Father Pat has a lot to be thankful for these days — especially after a serious health scare two years ago that could have been fatal. The priest contracted acute pancreatitis while visiting the original site of the La Salette apparitions in Grenoble, France, which resulted in multiple surgeries and having to be placed in an induced coma that lasted for weeks.
“It was very serious, but I’ve had no problems since then, thank God,” Father Pat said. “Everyone has been calling me the ‘miracle man,’ and I think there’s some truth to that because doctors told me they weren’t sure if I would have made it. So I think that’s a testament to the power of prayer. I look at it as I’ve been given a new lease on life, if you wish.”
In addition to the prayers, he’s also thankful for all the cards and letters of support he received from people here in the Fall River Diocese — much of which he credited to the news of his illness being reported in The Anchor.
“I remember being in the hospital and seeing that I was on the front page of The Anchor and I thought to myself: ‘Who the heck did this?’ Some friends of mine had sent copies of the newspaper to me in France,” he said. “But I am very appreciative of all the prayers and support I received during that time. After an experience like that, if you don’t believe in the power of prayer, you better rethink it.”
Father Pat is looking forward to this Advent season with great anticipation and he is hopeful that his new CD and concerts at La Salette Shrine will help get everyone in the Christmas spirit.
“I love this season of Advent — it’s a time where you can really reach and touch the people in a special way at La Salette Shrine,” he said. “And, of course, the shrine has been designated (by the bishop) as one of the sites for the Year of Mercy, so this will really give me an occasion to minister to the Word as well.”
For many who have grown up in and around the Fall River Diocese for the past 30 years, the images of Christmas lights at La Salette Shrine and Father Pat have become inextricably linked.
“I’m glad my head is not too high up in the air, I need to keep it grounded down here on earth,” he said, laughing.
And with an estimated 300,000 people expected to make the annual pilgrimage to the Attleboro shrine between Thanksgiving and January 3 to witness the spectacular Festival of Lights, it’s good to know that Father Pat will still be there to provide the soundtrack to the season.