Father John Patrick Sullivan and the Upcoming Day for Ukraine

La Salette Shrine: Hope International Connection and Peace

Most Upper Valley folks are familiar with the La Salette Shrine Festival of Lights display in Enfield, NH during the holiday season, but the shrine is a busy place connected to the Upper Valley Community year-round. Speaking with Father John Patrick Sullivan, the director of the shrine and Roman Catholic priest, one can hear his passion for connecting with people in both his neighborhood, the greater Upper Valley, and the world community.

 La Salette has been a part of the Upper Valley for over 100 years after the Shaker society sold the land to the La Salette group in 1927. Also hosting a school/seminary and a summer camp on Lake Mascoma for a time, La Salette opened its shrine over 50 years ago. All are welcome at the shrine, Father Sullivan says, not just Roman Catholics. “My dream is that it be a center of reconciliation, a place of healing,” Father Sullivan has hosted speakers from a variety of faiths, welcoming friends from the Muslim religion, Native American leaders, Lutheran pastors, and a number of different cultures.

La Salette priests in Krzywy Róg, Ukraine distribute 600 loaves of bread a day to those in need

Father Sullivan grew up in Dorchester outside Boston in a “very Irish Catholic family,” he laughs, and had, even as a young person, a desire to join the seminary. He joined at age 16, and continued his work in theology at Catholic University outside Washington DC, graduating and becoming ordained in 1970. “That was right after Vatican II, which was a very exciting time in the Catholic Church,” Father Sullivan says.

Father Sullivan knew he wanted to explore the world and work with people in other countries, but was hesitant to start. “I didn’t know if I had the courage,” he says. But, after 15 years of work with local seminarians near the National La Salette Shrine in Attleboro, MA, Father Sullivan decided to go for it: “I went to South America, I learned Spanish in Bolivia, and I spent about 18 years in Argentina.”

Father Sullivan was deeply impacted by his time in Argentina. “It became my home after I learned Spanish in Bolivia – I could write a book about my mistakes in Spanish,” he laughs, “But I grew to love the people.” He worked in a few different areas in the country which he all enjoyed, but he is particularly touched by his time with small communities in the campo, or countryside, region. Speaking with emotion in his voice, Father Sullivan said, “They were the friendships that I think of most. To see how they really supported one another, they had a lot to teach us about community.”

Father Sullivan came back to the States in 2003 and, after 11 years serving at the National La Salette Shrine, found his way to the Upper Valley. Father Sullivan brought with him the impact his time spent in another culture has had on him. He gives Mass in Spanish regularly not only at the Shrine in Enfield but in Nashua and Manchester, continuing to keep him connected to his time in South America. “It’s good for Americans,” he says, “that we can see our country from outside our own culture, and to see how they can teach us and we can teach them.”

Fr. John in Mexico with the fire department in Puebla sporting fire turn-out gear donated by the Lebanon Fire Dept.

Father Sullivan’s dedication to multiculturalism in his work is manifesting in a new project the shrine is participating in – a Day for Ukraine on June 11th.

The first seeds of the project were sown after a Peace Walk and Candlelight Vigil for Ukraine took place in downtown Enfield on March 6th. Around one hundred residents took part in the walk and vigil hosted by town residents and selectmen. Olga Sobko, a nurse at DHMC whose parents emigrated from Ukraine, sang and spoke at the event. “I just felt very, very struck by hearing the cries of the people suffering in Ukraine,” Father Sullivan says. So he asked the familiar old questions: “What can we do?” and he and a group of eight individuals, including Sobko, came up with the possibility of hosting a fundraiser at La Salette and began planning.

The day is going to feature something for everyone, including children’s crafts with a Ukrainian theme – such as bracelet making and Ukrainian story book reading – and an exposition of Pysanky, or egg “writing,” by local artist Shannon Wallis. Ukrainian artists around New England such as singer-musician Marko Boroda, Ilya Demba Band, and musicians on supilka and bandura, traditional Ukrainian instruments, will be sharing the music throughout the day.

Sobko was once a Ukrainian dancer herself and says,“It felt for me that a Day for Ukraine is not complete without Ukrainian dancers,” so event attendees will also be treated to a performance of Ukrainian folk dance by the Kalyon’ka Dance Ensemble from Stamford, CT. 

A silent auction will be hosted by Dolores Struckhoff with donations from around the area including items made by Ukrainians here in New Hampshire from Kateryna Woodworks. And, of course, all through the day there will be food – a pancake breakfast, a bake sale, a barbeque hosted by the Knights of Columbus and a number of Ukraine dishes including varenyky, holubchis, borscht, and other sweets. “I would just encourage people to come and to enjoy! We’re going to have a variety of options to make the day beautiful,” Father Sullivan says.

Businesses and individuals across the Upper Valley have come together to make this happen, including some from Lebanon such as the Golub Corporation/Price Chopper Supermarkets and the Lebanon’s Lion’s Club. Father Sullivan was also sure to note individuals from Enfield that have dedicated their time and effort to make this day happen such as John Markowitz, Ed McLaughlin, and Rich Smith – in addition to Sobko and Struckhoff.

In the morning an interfaith service will be hosted by Father Sullivan. Michael Caduto, an award winning author from Vermont, will be sharing his song for children of Ukraine at the start of the service. The event will conclude in the evening with a Catholic Mass in the chapel led by both Father Sullivan and Ukrainian priest, Father Jim Morris. “The act of praying for peace and an end to the violence will be a good way to end the day. We want to really push for diplomacy and reconciliation,” Father Sullivan says.

Candlelight Vigil for Ukraine held in Enfield on
March 6, 2022

The proceeds from the event will be going to humanitarian aid in Ukraine, split between the long-standing and well-known UCCA (Ukrainian Congress Committee of America) and the La Salette community working in Ukraine. Father Sullivan speaks of the 11 priests they have stationed there in parishes in both the East and West, some near areas such as Mariupol. “Some are in very dangerous areas and they want to stay with their people, so we’re trying to send support for medical purposes and reconstruction,” Father Sullivan says. Many of the La Salette priests working in Ukraine are from neighboring Poland and are helping people find refuge, coordinating evacuations, and distributing food; in Krzywy Rog in southeast Ukraine, the group is giving out 600 loaves of bread a day.

“The focus of the event is to raise the money to support the people of Ukraine,” Father Sullivan says, “but also to educate people on the beauty of the culture of Ukrainian people and what we can do. Everyone is a peacemaker. We don’t just talk about it; we have to make peace by the way we relate to one another.”

Father Sullivan continues to build community here in the Upper Valley not only through his work at the Shrine, but also by giving Mass in surrounding communities such as Sacred Heart church in Lebanon and volunteering as an on-call priest for Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. He also is on the by-way commission looking to create a by-way on Route 4 along Mascoma Lake, passing by La Salette and the Shaker museum. “We’re grateful to be here. We want to make our property available for any way we can help the town.”

Father Sullivan wants folks to know that anybody is always welcome to come and walk the property of La Salette Shrine. He sums up his passion for connecting across cultures: “I want to just say as clearly as I can that nobody is all alone. We’re not isolated. We have got to break down the fear of connecting with one another. We’re in this together,” he says, “We are a family.”

He wants to remind people to be hopeful and not to be discouraged: “It’s always a choice between fear and love. I go for love every time.”

Father Sullivan spent 18 years in Argentina. “… [the villagers] had a lot to teach us about community.”

The Day for Ukraine will take place on June 11th  beginning at 7:30 AM at La Salette Shrine at 410 NH Route 4A in Enfield. More information on both the event and the La Salette work in Ukraine can be found on the their website at www.lasaletteofenfield.org.