FALL RIVER, MASSACHUSETTS — It stands so tall, towering in the sky, a reflection of an era where church parishes were not small neighborhood buildings, but cathedrals that ran an entire block, looking majestic in style and extraordinarily beautiful and gothic.
St. Anne Church and Shrine, at 818 Middle St. at the corner of South Main Street in downtown Fall River, is one of the most historic churches in a city that dates back to 1803. A part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River, the complex includes the former rectory and the former Dominican Academy, constructed in 1894.
Designed by Canadian architect Napoléon Bourassa, construction on this building started in 1891, supervised by Fall River architect Louis G. Destremps. Work on the upper church began years later, on July 17, 1902.
The building, constructed of blue marble from Proctor, Vermont, measures 277 feet long by 122 wide, with steeples 160 feet high. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Today, the church continues to provide daily masses to the city’s large Catholic population. There are daily masses at 7:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., and confessional booths open Monday through Fridays from 11-11:30 a.m. The Sunday mass is at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
The church is presided over by Rev. Marc H. Bergeron, the pastor; Rev. Christopher Stanibula, and Rev. Roger J. Levesque. This morning, Rev. Stanibula — known simply as Father Chris to his parishioners — presided over the 11:30 a.m. mass.
As his parishioners said “Lord, you are merciful and gracious” repeatedly in prayer, Father Chris asked them if they truly understood the word’s of the Lord’s Prayer, which reads “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
It is one of many passages in the Gospels, Father Chris said, but while some may read it, not all can fully comprehend its meaning, or understand how to apply it to their daily lives.
“There are many gospel passages,” he said. “This repetition is a strong clue that there is something important here. The problem is we learn the Lord’s Prayer before we understand the words.”
That repetition, he said, often results in a situation where the words lose the full impact of their meaning on our daily lives.
“It takes a special effort to see it,” he said, adding that once Catholics do study those words, “For the first time, you see how important it really is.”
Because the prayer has a strong message, he said, which is “We are to be agents of the Lord,” and that “God’s passion for justice must be our focus, too. Understood correctly, it is a life-changing commitment. it is not an accident that the Lord’s Prayer is a part of every Eucharist liturgy. Let’s pray today that the Lord’s Prayer will make us stronger, will make us more loving.”
During the service, the church will send people into the pews to collect donations from the parishioners — donations that Father Chris said are critical to the church’s ongoing mission.
“Pray that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God,” he said.
The church remains active. It has a slot in the hallway where donations can be offered, with the funds used to help needy families in the city. Help us Help The Needy is the wording right below the metal slot.
The St. Anne’s Fund-Raising Committee will hold a fund-raiser on Sunday, Oct. 16, before and after the 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. masses, selling an assortment of medals, prayer cards, and other items.
A few days earlier, on Thursday, Oct. 13, the church will host a Healing Mass, a benediction and healing prayers after the mass, with rosary at 6 p.m.
Inside the cathedral, visitors continue to drop by, to walk through the cathedral and observe not just the historic gothic style of the building, but also the religious artifacts stored inside.
That includes the Pierre de Ste. Anne — or Stone from St. Anne Church in Jerusalem. The church of Ste. Anne in Bethesda, Jerusalem “is a crusader church built between 1131-1138 AD over the traditional site of the birthplace of Anne, the mother of Mary,” notes the title card located in front of the exhibit. “A great number of disabled — the blind, the lame, and the paralyzed — have been healed here. Right next to Ste. Anne Church is the Bethesda Pool, where Jesus healed a paralytic.”
Across the hall is the wax statute of Saint Concordo, and several artifacts about her from the Priscilla Catacomb in Rome, Italy. As the title cards note, “A pagan teenager baby-sat for a Christian family. She was impressed by their faithfulness and became a Christian. She died a martyr about 258 AD, flogged to death under Emperor Valeriar.”
The church also sells candles that can be lit during mass — $4 each for the large candles, and $1 each for the small ones.
The church is still recruiting new priests. La Salle Academy, a “Catholic and LaSallian school of excellence,” as its ads state, will have an open house on Sunday, Oct. 16.
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