This article appeared in the online magazine Késsinnimek - Roots - Racines for the February 2007 issue, written by Norm Léveillée
Several years ago, a friend, who knew my dedication to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, asked me if I were aware that there was a chapel dedicated to my cousin Kateri. I was not aware of that. So, I ventured to find Exeter Road across from the Veteran Cemetery entrance. When I arrived there, I went into the chapel and was happy to find a beautiful statue of Tekakwitha, an altar, chairs and kneelers. As I found out later, the little chapel had been built by a small group of parishioners, some of whom I knew. I prayed to her as I had been for several years to watch over my family - her cousins (very distant, but still related).
As I was leaving, a priest emerged from the farmhouse. And to my surprise, I recognized Fr. Gerard O. Sabourin, a classmate of my days in the seminary back in the 1950's. We spent time comparing what we knew and what we did for Kateri. He invited me to attend mass there in the chapel on Saturday evening. My wife and I did so and I was asked to be a lector. That was an honor for me. Unfortunately, we returned only a couple more times, since we are greatly involved in our parish of St. Joseph of Hope Valley.
Father Gerry explained to me that the late Bishop McVinney, Bishop of Providence, had purchased the Albert Dairy farm on Exeter Road, in the 1950's, with the plan to build a major seminary there for his diocese. However, the plan never realized. In 1962, two years after Fr. Gerry's ordination, he was assigned as Chaplain at the Ladd School. He travelled from Exeter to Woonsocket where he lived. Upon learning that the farmhouse was not being used, Fr. Gerry asked the Bishop if he could live there. He moved and settled in the farmhouse. In 1972, when the Ladd School was closing down, Fr. Sabourin then moved some of the patients to Providence. However, in 1981, he and a Sister of Jesus and Mary opened the second group home on Exeter Road. The story follows below.
In December 2006, one of our parishioners gave me a copy of the South County section of the December 7, 2006 edition of the Providence Journal. The main article read
It was written by Dave McCarthy, Journal writer. I wrote to Dave seeking his permission to quote from the article. *
EXETER - Kateri Tekakwitha, already beatified with the title blessed, will become a full-fledged saint in the Catholic Church as soon as the Vatican confirms at least two of the many miralces attributed to the "Lily of the Mohawks."
The Vatican might do well, however, if it added to that list an easily confirmable miracle that's taken place here on Exeter Road in the name of the Blessed Kateri.
"The Miracle of Exeter Road" dates to 1972, when the state began emptying the Ladd School of the mentally disabled and putting them into community-bsed group homes.
The Rev. Gerard O. Sabourin, a former Catholic chaplain at the Ladd School, took 18 patients from there to a group home he founded in Providence.
In late 1981, Father Sabourin, along with Sister Antoinette Jacques of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, opened a second group home --- this one in the farmhouse on the old Albert dairy farm on Exeter Road, behind what was then the Exeter Mall on Route 2.
Father Sabourin began saying Mass in the farmhouse's living room for the four adults with developmental disabilities that he and the nun watched over and for anyone who stopped by -- family members of his clients or townspeople.
"Because I was here, I told people I would be glad to celebrate Mass, and that's how we all began," Father Sabourin said. "We had our first Mass on Feb. 28, 1982, in the house."
It wasn't long before word spread in Exeter, which didn't have a Catholic Church, that Father Sabourin was saying Mass. Soon, a parish was formed by five families. The parish was still centered in the living room, however, which became more and more crowded every Sunday.
So, needing more room, members of the parish worked together to convert a four-stall garage behind the farmhouse into a chapel. The chapel served the needs of the Kateri parish for more 20 years.
Then, in 2000, with the parish at 200 registered families, including 100 who regularly attended Mass, Father Sabourin and his parishioners decided it was time to have a church. They built one, and they built it themselves. And they did it without going into debt.
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"The men in the parish built the church," Father Sabourin said. "We did it. It's the men, and the women, and we came together and put this thing together. This has been a poeple thing. It's their church."
If you haven't noticed it by now, Father Sabourin uses the "we" word a lot. You can do that with a small congration... It's also why there's only one Mass -- at 10 a.m. -- on Sundays at Blessed Kateri...
On Sundays, the parishioners meet before Mass in the old garage, now the community room, which is connected to the church. They form a procession, with Father Sabourin leading them into the church. After church, it's back to the community room for hot dogs and popcorn, and foosball and computer games for the kids --- and once a month, a full meal, which is always in celebration of someone's birthday, anniversay or similar milestone. ...
The (name) Blessed Kateri (Tekakwitha), who is going through the canonization process to sainthood, was chosen by the parishioners in Exeter for their church's name because of the Indian connection with South County. "The name is down the road, the Narragansetts and the Great Swamp," Father Sabourin said, "Everything around here is Indian."
Blessed Kateri is the patroness of the environment and ecology. Father Sabourin and his parishioners followed her teachings in building the new church, which is a mixture of the new and the old.
The "new" includes a control room that flashes photos onto two plasma TVs, one on each side of the altar, to reinforce Father Sabourin's sermons.
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The old represents the recycling of goods from churches that have closed or been remodeled: the pews came from Our Lady of Victory in Woonsocket, the altar from St. Charles, in Providence, the organ and piano from a convent in New Hampshire, the Stations of the Cross from Holy Name, in Pawtucket, the Christ figure over the altar from Precious Blood, in Woonsocket, and the two stained-glass windows behind the altar came from a former Rhode Island College professor who bought them from a church that was closing in New Hampshire and donated them.
The windows that circle the church on high near the ceiling came from an unlikely construction site -- the new home of the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass....
The new church cost the parish $250,000. "It was 'pay as we go'," Father Sabourin said. "At the end, it was all paid for." The church was completed in time to have its first Mass on Christmas 2003.
Father Sabourin, 73, a native of Woonsocket who was ordained in 1960, is overseeing the 25th anniversary celebration of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church, which includes several special Masses, the next on Feb. 25 in honor of that first mass in the living room 25 years ago... *
I visited the new church and I took the photographs that appear in this article. There are several small teaching rooms, as well as a Tabernacle sanctuary and a Confessional. Since I visited during the Christmas season, the Creche was still there to remind us that God sent His only Son to us as Mary's baby.
I feel a kinship to this church since I consider Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha a cousin -- very distant yet related -- through my Alongonquin ancestor Marie Mite8ameg8k8e Couc. Kateri's mother was a Catholic Algonquin in the same clan as Mite8ameg8k8e. I also have another cousin who was a Religious of Jesus and Mary, Blessed Dina Bélanger. The nun that assisted Father Sabourin was a Religious of Jesus and Mary.
There are connections which attract me to this church: a seminary classmate, an Algonquin ancestor and cousin, and a cousin of the R.J.M order.
Since I promised Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, during a pilgrimage in 2000 to her shrines in New York and Quebec, that I would spread knowledge of and devotion to her, this article along with the photographs is one of my ways in keeping this promise to my blessed cousin.
EXETER - The Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church, on Exeter Road, has several events planned in honor of its 25th anniversary. The schedule follows. All Masses are at 10 a.m.
In its 25 years, the church is celebrating these milestones:
Photographs by Norm Léveillée © 2007
for additional information and numerous articles about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
for a story that I wrote about my Algonquin 8th great-grandmother Mite8ameg8k8e on my website.
for the genealogy of Blessed Dina Bélanger.