Associate director relies on artistic eye
to draw people to La Salette retreats

By Kenneth J. Souza
Anchor Staff

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Just mention the name “La Salette Shrine” to anyone who grew up within a stone’s throw of the iconic Attleboro site, and they’ll most likely identify it with Christmas and the annual Festival of Lights.

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But one of the best-known pilgrimage destinations within the Fall River Diocese offers events and programs year-round and is “much more than just the lights at Christmas,” according to Father Bernard Baris, M.S., director of the La Salette Retreat Center.

“There’s a lot of potential here and a lot of things people can participate in,” Father Baris said. “Some people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. During Lent we heard over 3,000 Confessions. Some people, for whatever reason, don’t want to go to their own parish priests, but they come here. I think it’s the anonymity.”

Since becoming director last year after serving at the actual apparition site in France for two years, Father Baris has made it his mission to get more people to come to La Salette between January and November. 

And so he turned to his old friend and associate director, Father Flavio Gillio, M.S. for help.

In his capacity as associate director, Father Gillio has been honing his computer skills and using his natural artistic talents to create in-house promotional materials and eye-catching “digital art” to call attention to the 36 new programs they’ve launched at the retreat house this year.

Utilizing Adobe software like Photoshop and After Effects and an Apple computer, Father Gillio has gradually taught himself how to create compelling images to be used on postcards, flyers, programs and websites detailing upcoming retreats and workshops.

“The idea behind it was that people taking the card or the flyer should be taking with them something beautiful and they should be attracted by something beautiful,” Father Gillio told The Anchor. “What I noticed in going to a Church or Catholic website is that we are kind of behind the train in terms of beauty. So I wanted to create something really beautiful that can draw people, raise their curiosity and eventually get them to read the content and something more about the event.”

“That’s the idea of it, I think as people pick it up and take a look, the eye catches it, then they start reading what is it all about,” Father Baris said. “But it’s something that has to catch the eye.”

Done in a minimalist style that is trending at the moment, Father Gillio said he still sees them as “something beautiful.”

“I always loved art, especially visual art, so it’s also kind of easy for me,” he said. “It has been easy to learn and I’m still learning — but it’s something that really has given me a lot of fulfillment, too.”

In addition to designing and creating the various promotional materials — all of which he prints in-house — Father Gillio also recently revamped the La Salette Retreat Center website.

“We have completely rebranded and reshaped the website, to try to keep consistency with this style,” he said. “The website plays a lot with the same colors and a minimalistic style.”

Given his background, it’s not surprising that Father Gillio would have an appreciation and talent for art.

A native of Turin, Italy — home to the iconic Shroud of Turin — Father Gillio studied in Paris and Italy, and was ordained a Jesuit priest in 2001 in Rome.

“I was studying at the Pontifical Biblical Institute at that time, and then from there I went to the Hebrew University to finish my studies,” he said. “At the same time I did a master’s degree in Jewish studies at the Catholic Institute of Paris.”

Before coming to the U.S. four years ago, Father Gillio also served as a tour guide in the Holy Land.

“I was teaching Biblical languages and Biblical archaeology in Israel and in Italy while I lived there for 10 years,” he said. “While I was there, when I was not teaching, I was a tour guide for the groups that came through and were doing a pilgrimage through the Holy Land. That was really awesome!”

It was also fortuitous as this was the first time Father Gillio met Father Baris.

“I was on a sabbatical for a month and he was one of my teachers, one of the professors,” Father Baris said. “I had to twist his arm — he refused me a couple of times. But when I was at Our Lady of the Cape Parish, I told him to come during the summer to give a series of conferences. And he did, for a couple of years in a row.”

Father Gillio finally decided to stay and began serving at La Salette Shrine the same year that Father Baris headed to France. Thankfully, the two were reunited last year and have been working together ever since.

“This is going to be my fourth year serving at the shrine and the retreat house,” Father Gillio said. “And I love it because your only limit is your pastoral imagination and creativity. I mean with the compound we have here, the potential is really great.”

Father Gillio’s move to the United States also coincided with a move from Jesuit Spirituality to the La Salette charism, which led to his becoming a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette.

“He’s really marrying the two Spiritualities,” Father Baris said.

To that end, as retreat facilitator, it makes sense that many of the programs Father Gillio is promoting draw upon the Marian devotion of the Missionaries (“Walking in Mary’s Footsteps,” May 5; “Mary: Wonder Woman,” October 20) and the Jesuit teachings of St. Ignatius (“Introduction to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Daily Life,” August 11; “At the Feet of the Master: Keys to Well-Being, Spiritual Growth and Discipleship,” August 18).

“The whole idea is taken from a verse in the Gospel of St. John, when Jesus says: ‘I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly,’” Father Gillio said of the August 18 series. “When we profess that Jesus is true God and true Man, we mean that in Him we see humanity in its fullness. And so we thought we would try to run a program that tries to pull together the Biblical perspective and (an individual’s) well-being that complement each other.

“So for example, you have the first session that is personality type and Spirituality. When we talk about Spirituality, we have to take into account the wholeness of the person — the physical, psychological, and Spiritual dimensions — and how there is a continuity between your human background, so to speak, and the Spirituality in which you feel comfortable.”

Just as parishes throughout the diocese have had to deal with changing demographics in recent years, the La Salette Retreat Center has had to make similar adjustments, Father Baris said.

“When I came here as a deacon before ordination in 1969, it was very different,” he said. “From Monday through Friday, different high schools from all over New England would come in for two nights. Another bus would come in on Wednesday and drop off another load of kids. And on weekends we’d have retreats like Cursillo. Now there are very few Catholic high schools and they don’t tend to have overnights with the kids for many reasons. But we still have weekend retreats and the weekends are usually full.”

Father Baris said he and Father Gillio are looking to draw more ethnic groups — especially the Hispanic community — and youth to the retreat center.

“They say in a few years, up to 50 percent of the Catholics in the United States are going to be Hispanic or of Hispanic heritage,” Father Baris said. “And I think that’s certainly true even in just the Attleboro area. The Church is the center of their life (and) the Spanish (people) are very devoted.”

Father Gillio added they have launched two new youth programs — Reversed, where the participants provide the direction for their own retreat, and Ignite, for teens in grades six through 12.

“The whole idea of Reversed is to engage more with the youth rather than having a retreat where the facilitator talks and the youth just listen,” he said. “That is kind of a replica of what Religious Education is all about, so we have tried to build up a package that engages them in a more interactive way. And then for the coming year, we are launching Ignite, which is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It’s going to be something new that we’re going to start next September.”

While the number of parish youth groups continues to dwindle, Father Gillio estimates they are reaching “an average close to 1,000 youth every year, maybe even more” with their programs.

“But we really would like to outreach more and to serve the local communities more so in this perspective, that’s why we added these options and hopefully it will be well-received,” he said.

As a teacher and scholar fluent in five languages, at the end of the day Father Gillio said he still has to rely on his artistic sense to first capture people’s attention and get the message across that La Salette has a lot more to offer “beyond the lights.”

“This year we started 36 new programs with 16 different speakers,” Father Gillio said. “Some of them were already part of the team, and others just joined the team. So it is going to be a very rich year for the people who can benefit from the retreat house.”

For more information about the La Salette Retreat Center and its upcoming programs, visit the new website at

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