Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lead On, Joseph

It may be only superstition—the skeptic would say so—but my path to Montreal is being mapped by St. Joseph.

I can prove this by what happened today.

As you know, I am walking to the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal in May 2015 to honor the saint whose name I took at confirmation and Brother André, who inspired the Oratory.

Last Saturday, I made a preliminary scouting trip of the Massachusetts–New Hampshire border and ended the day in doubt about what route to take. Today, the doubt was dispelled by St. Joseph.

My first destination has been decided for several weeks: Salisbury and Amesbury, Mass., where a friend of mine serves as parochial vicar. My question has been what direction to take from Amesbury.

Last Saturday I struck off northwest from Amesbury through a featureless stretch of New Hampshire that seems to consist of nothing but strip malls and Harleys. I concluded that it might be more interesting to follow the Merrimack River upstream from Amesbury. This would mean passing west by southwest through Haverhill, Methuen, Lawrence, and Lowell, Massachusetts before “course-correcting” and heading north along the river toward Manchester and Concord, New Hampshire.

The close reader of this blog will note that I have been reading Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers to help with my reflections.

Today, I learned that the correct course is indeed through Lowell. No question about it.

First, I entered the Shrine of St. Joseph the Worker in downtown Lowell, of which I had never heard before today. Founded by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), the shrine (left) is a heart-thumper, but what moved me more were two coincidences.

One, I nearly ran bodily into the pastor, Fr. Terrence O’Connell, as he exited a confessional. I had an opportunity to introduce myself, tell him about my pilgrimage, and ask if I might visit at that time. He was very hospitable.

Two, I climbed to the OMI Museum two flights of narrow stairs about the shrine. I found a pristine set of displays, exhibiting the Oblates’ missionary work around the world (just about every country, it looked like) and explaining how the Lowell community was founded and by whom.

That’s the museum.

On hand was the exceptionally able and friendly tour guide, Fr. Mike Lauzé, originally of Lewiston, Maine, a French-Canadian by ancestry. When I mentioned St. André Bessette, Father Mike said, Oh yes. He himself had been the pastor in Plattsburg, New York, at a time when everyone still referred to him as Brother André. Then he told me some amazing stories with the trace of a French-Canadian accent.

I knew I was on course.

After leaving the shrine in Lowell about noontime, I looked at my GPS and the invaluable app created by Moving north now and possibly following the Merrimack to its source, I saw that my next major destination was Nashua, New Hampshire.

But what church to head for? (One of my goals for the pilgrimage is to attend mass every day.) Let’s see . . . In Nashua we have: St. John the Evangelist, Blessed John XXIII, St. Christopher, St. Stanislaus, and . . . St. Joseph the Worker.

Guess where I headed? I arrived at St. Joseph the Worker in west Nashua to find a rip-roaring Christmas fair in progress and a remarkable statue of the St. Joseph the Worker in front of the church (pictured at the top of this post). I also learned that the pastor is none other than auxiliary bishop Francis Christian.

I don’t know about you, but I have a good feeling about that name. Francis. Christian.

I will be following up with the auxiliary bishop and with Father O’Connell too in the days ahead, and I will write a big thank-you to Father Mike at the museum.

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