On Friday 22 July 2016 shortly after 8 pm a fire was detected in the church at Pointe Michel, dedicated to our Lady of La Salette; Dominica’s National Shrine
This week cleaning efforts were started as shown below :
The History of Our Lady of La Salette National Shrine in pointe Michel
Part 2 by Bernard Lauwyck
In August 2014 part 1 of the history of Dominica’s National Shrine was published in OUR CATHOLIC COMMUNITY . Today I want to write about the recent history of the National Shrine in Dominica.
The renovation works on the Pointe Michel church were initiated by monsignor Reginald LaFleur in 2009. His aim was to upgrade the church to be a worthy and outstanding place of worship, which would encourage prayer and pilgrimages.
Monsignor Reginald La Fleur was of the opinion that fundraising for the renovation of the church was bogged down as people did not see anything happening after many years of raising funds. He felt that the roof renovation works should be preceded by some smaller works of enhancement and beauty which could be completed in a very short time. These small achievements would then re-energize the fundraising for the roof replacement.
While this seemed to many at the time to put the cart in front of the horse, this strategy and vision bore fruits as we will see below.
But before any construction work on a church is started much work needs to be done with the “LIVING STONES OF THE CHURCH” : the parishioners need to be sensitized, consulted and motivated. They need to be able to visualize in their minds what improvements are proposed and understand the liturgical reasons why these are proposed.
In March 2009, I presented to the church committee a PowerPoint plan of action . This presentation was based on the latest liturgical guidelines and aimed to inspire and open minds to beautiful, yet meaningful and religious symbolic improvements. It was very much inspired by Pope Benedict’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation which stressed “the profound connection between beauty and liturgy”.
The proposal was to concentrate on the beautification of the sanctuary and shrine. This could be achieved by installing new floor tiles and beautiful wall panelling . Also by designing and manufacturing beautiful furnishings such as a new AMBO, which should be a dignified place to proclaim the Word of God and a celebrant’s CHAIR as he represents Christ presiding over the liturgy.
The proposal included the highlighting of the shrine of Our Lady of La Salette by colouring the statues .
The presentation was also displayed on plywood boards at the back of the church for everybody to see.
Norms regarding a National Shrine state that the shrine should be accessible for all. This meant that a wheel chair ramp had to be constructed.
Following the acceptance of these proposals came the choice and procurement of materials. It took quite some time to find the right tiles for the sanctuary. Parishioners got the Forestry Division to provide them with local Red Cedar boards, which had to dry for about six months.
My design of the cedar panelling and ambo included several quatrefoils, a religious symbol representing the four evangelists.
The placing of the floor tiles and preparing and installation of the varnished Red Cedar panelling started in July 2010. After these were completed the sanctuary was repainted and new light fixtures installed. The final touch was a beautiful new Ambo. All this was completed before the September 2010 La Salette Feast.
When Fr. Peter Wamutitu became parish priest in 2011, he vowed to continue the renovation works. He had the support of a committed parish council and fundraising committee . Engineer Kendell Johnson, a parishioner, prepared an estimate for the roof and ceiling replacement on September 24, 2011 with a total estimate of EC $ 458,600.00 . While this seemed beyond the means of the parish, a fund raising drive started in earnest. People had faith !
In the meantime, small achievable steps were taken towards the completion of the project: additional Red Cedar paneling and altars were installed in 2011 in the La Salette Shrine and the Sacred Heart alcove by Marshall Cuffy.
Next was the removal of the ceiling, which contained asbestos fibre-cement panels. With the experience gained from similar works at the Roseau Cathedral, this was done professionally and environmentally friendly in August 2012.
Fundraising, both local and overseas, continued unabated under the leadership of Ms. Carol Activille. This was done in so many small ways. For example Mrs. Frances Casimir told me that she and a few friends have been selling coffee after Sunday Mass for the last eight years to raise funds for the project. Parishioners contributed in any way possible, small or big. There were also substantial donations from individuals and organisations: Propagation of the Faith, one of the five Pontifical Mission Societies in Rome, and German Catholics through Adveniat in Germany provided substantial funds .
The roof removal and replacement works were put to tender and three contractors responded. Stevo Construction was the lowest bidder and got the job.
The roof renovation works were started in January 2014 and were completed by May 2014.
Stevenson Joseph and his team also constructed the new ceiling based on a design by Kendall Johnson. The painting works were done by Germaine Etienne. The electrical installation by Adams Hidges. The artful painting such as the imitation stonework on the pillars was executed by Caesar Catin.
All this was completed just in time for the La Salette Feast in September 2014.
The most recent works were the tiling of the nave, made possible by a donation of tiles by FOOD FOR THE POOR (USA). The work was done by Francis Daisy and his team in July/August 2015. Beautiful brass chandeliers were also installed.
Guidelines tell us that a National Shrine should be a worthy and exemplary space for Liturgy, a place of beauty. I think that Dominica’s National Shrine already fits this description although some more work has to be done.
THE HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL SHRINE in POINTE MICHEL
Text and photograph by Bernard Lauwyck
The renovation was initiated by Monsignor Reginald Lafleur in 2009 with the upgrading of the sanctuary and the enhancing of the shrine of Our Lady. I was proud to be involved in the conception, planning and execution of this project which was completed in 2010. Additional Red Cedar panelling was done in 2012. The roof and ceiling renovation works were started this January by present Parish Priest Fr. Peter Wamutitu .
The St. Luke’s church in Pointe Michel was declared The National Shrine, dedicated to our Lady of La Salette, by Bishop Arnold Boghaert in 1983. A National Shrine should be a worthy and exemplary space of worship and a centre of devotion and prayer of genuine religious intensity.
The devotion to Our Lady of La Salette in Dominica goes back to early February 1872, when Rev. 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 exposed the statue to the veneration of 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 19th September.
After the pilgrimage in 1875, Fr. Ardois was so exhausted that he suddenly collapsed and died a few days later. He was buried at the foot of the Altar of Our Lady of La Salette in the Pointe Michel church (see memorial plaque in wall).
To illustrate the magnitude and vibrancy of the pilgrimage to Pointe Michel in the past, I am quoting some testimony:
“Seldom has been witnesses in Dominica as wonderful a manifestation of faith as the feast of our Lady of La Salette, celebrated on Wednesday , the 19th of September ” 1923.
“From 3 am large crowds of faithful flocked from all parts of the island to the shrine of Pointe Michel, to pay homage to Our Heavenly Queen.”
Tuesday September 19, 1922: “The good people of Pointe Michel had vied with each other to make the village look gay and festive for the unique occasion. Arches with inscription in honour 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 splendour”.
“at 3.30 in the morning, 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. On reaching the borders of the village they were received and cordially welcomed by the hospitable people of that parish and conducted in procession to the church.”
The day long celebrations included a procession around the village in the afternoon : “ then started 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 maidens and surrounded by a host of children, all dressed in immaculate white. His Lordship the Bishop and the clergy walked behind the statue, and then followed the interminable rows first of women, then men. It was not until 4 pm that the procession was back in the church.”
One year (1923) the bishop recorded more than 6000 pilgrims. A temporary pavilion had to be erected to accommodate all the pilgrims.
Those were glorious days.
One of my projects which I enjoyed very much doing was the upgrading of the liturgical space at the National Shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of LA SALETTE, in Pointe Michel.
It posed unique challenges among others the preparing of a concept and design, planning the proposed works in different manageable phases , and promoting the project.
Monsignor Reginald La Fleur, the parish priest, was of the opinion that fundraising for the renovation of the church was bogged down as people did not see anything happening after many years of raising money. He felt that the roof renovation works should be preceded by some works of enhancement and beauty which would re-energize the fundraising for the necessary roof works. Today, three years later, his vision bore fruits as the roof renovation works are about to start.
Step 1: working with the “LIVING STONES OF THE CHURCH”:
The parishioners had to be consulted and motivated. They had to “seen” in their minds what was proposed and understand why it was proposed.
I started off with a PowerPoint presentation in March 2009 to provide a visual guideline for the proposed renovation works. The presentation was based on the latest liturgical guidelines and aimed to inspire and open minds to beautiful, yet meaningful and religious symbolic improvements.
The following points were presented in the PowerPoint presentation:
A new ALTAR : ONE CHRIST, ONE CHURCH, ONE ALTAR
The AMBO: the Place of the Word: a dignified place to proclaim the Word of God.
The presider’s or celebrant’s CHAIR as he represents Christ presiding over the liturgy
The Reservation or Tabernacle should have a special place in this church
Highlighting the shrine of Our Lady of La Salette by colouring the statues of
Our Lady and the two children.
The congregation decided to start with the Sanctuary: local timber panelling and ceramic floor tiles.
Step 2: design and choice of materials
To find the right tiles for the sanctuary I had to make three trips to Guadeloupe, where the choice of ceramic tiles is enormous. I finally settle on a tile 20” x 20” looking like white marble but not expensive as marble.
Parishioners got the Forestry Division to provide them with local Red Cedar boards. These were still wet and had to be dried for at least 6 months before they could use.
In the mean time a layout for the floor tiles was designed by my office and the religious symbol in the Red Cedar panelling: the quatrefoil.
Step 3 : the construction work started
With the installation of the conduits and cement screed for the floor tiles, placing of the floor tiles, preparing and installation of the varnished Red Cedar panelling.
Bishop Gabriel Malzaire celebrated the feast of Our Lady of La Salette in the newly renovated sanctuary.