August 02, 2012BERLIN - Church officials are estimating at least 1,200 people attended last week's Feast of St. Anne and pilgrimage honoring the patron saint of grandmothers. St Anne is the mother of Mary, grandmother of Jesus.
The Feast of St. Anne occurs each year on July 26, but this year Bishop Peter Libasci decided to hold a pilgrimage to Berlin to recognize and thank the city for the large number of vocations, that is priest and nuns, who have come from Berlin.
Deacon Andrew Nelson, who helped organize the event, said things went very well. "We were blessed in many ways. We had so many volunteers things seemed to go like clockwork,: he said. "Many expressed how pleased they were to come back and worship together."
And many did come back. There were five busloads of people, as well as many who drove themselves here. Many had once lived here or had ties to Berlin.
Father Jason Jalbert, who also helped organize the event, said they have had a very good response.
"The Bishop was thrilled and grateful for the support from Berlin and people who came from many other places," he said.
While rain dampened part of the day, in particular lunch at the Northern Forest Heritage Park, it didn't seem to dampen spirits. Everyone there seemed happy to be there and in a good mood. Most importantly the rain stopped in time for the procession.
"What happened in Berlin, that has never happened before. It's a first. That's why people were so excited, grateful, and renewed," Father Jason said. "We were so uplifted by the response of the people who came."
"Plans for the pilgrimage came out of several conversations. It wasn't the case that someone just said, 'let's have a pilgrimage to Berlin'. We had planned something smaller, but it grew," he said.
Father Jason noted that while pilgrimages to various places are often planned by parishes, he was not aware of anything like this happening in this state before. In fact, no one this writer spoke to could recall anything like this happening here, or elsewhere, in New Hampshire before.
The Berlin Historical Society has two large volumes of history on St. Anne's Church - news articles, pictures and pamphlets, and there is no indication that a Feast of St. Anne was ever held before on this scale.
But there is a lot of history there, and history was a part of the day, with tour guides pointing out various features of the church and what they meant.
On the outside, guides noted the brickwork was done in such a way to represent the stairs of heaven. Inside the statute of Jesus was in the orginal St. Anne's Church.
Inside today's church there is a sculpture of the Last Supper, made by Berlin resident Larry Richard and installed in 1998. The 10 pillars in the church represent the 10 commandments. In front of the stained glass windows, which were donated by parishioners, are carvings representing the Stations of the Cross.
There are over 400 angels in the church. They represent in Revelations John seeing angels. The three alters in the church represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At one time, the tour guide said, there used to be more than one Mass going on at once. It was felt more souls could be saved that way and each priest was responsible for at least one Mass a day.
The organ, installed 80 years ago, has 1,763 pipes.
On Thursday, 350 roses graced the back of the alter, representing the priests and nuns who had come from Berlin.
Brief history of the church
Before the Civil War there was only 25 Catholics in Berlin. They were served by the priest from the Holy Family Church in Gorham and met in Eagle Hall, which once stood where the parking lot for Northway Bank is today.
But the Catholic populations grew and in 1880 land was purchased at the existing site for $280 and the first St. Anne Church was built. In 1885 the first resident pastor, Rev. Narcisse Courmoyer, came. Feeling a religious education was needed, the church bought the Cascade House, a hotel next door, for $5,600 and in September 1889 St. Regis Academy was opened. A new St. Regis Academy was built in 1911. At its height it held 1,300 students at a time. It closed in 1973.
Just 15 years from when it was built, the orginal church became too small and was moved to the convent grounds, where it served various purpose, including a school for boys and a parish hall, until it was torndown in 1962 to make room for the current parish hall.
The present church was completed in 1909. It was in many ways a community effort. Information in the historial society says children would carry bricks to the site during recess, lunch and after school. Two of the stained glass windows were donated by school children in 1906, and children also paid for the Tabernacle by donating two pennies a week.