THE MISSIONARIES OF OUR LADY OF LA SALETTE IN BRAZIL
December 18, 1902 marks the date of the arrival of the first La Salette Missionary in Brazil, Fr. Clément Henri Moussier, authorized by a General Council decision (Superior General Fr. Joseph Perin), made at the meeting of 16-18 April, 1902. Over the years, other French priests (Léon Perroche, Eugène Beaup, François Burdin, Paul Charton, Paul Ravier, Jean Helme, Augustin Poncet, Henri Mao, Paul André Duguet, Paul Simon Baccelli, Adolphe Philibert, Pascal Rochedreux, Célestin Crozet) and brothers (Alfred Villard, Raphael Rozec, Jean Creff, Edmond Bettaz, Raymond Babotin) arrived. Later, there were Swiss priests (Alphonse Bovier, Albert Allaman, Franz Xavier Hoegger, Fidelis Willi, Etienne Graven, Edouard Summermater, Joseph Raschele, Joseph Graff, Leo Sarbach, Erwin Kauffmann), North American priests, (Francis Paul Allard, Francis Amos Connor, Theodore Brandley, John Bric) and scholastic brother Thadeus Wizikowki. Italian, Fr. Giuseppe Nuzzo. Polish, Frs. Arthur Dudziak, Robert Janowski.
Fr. Moussier and other La Salettes who arrived over the years began their ministry in the interior of the State of São Paulo as chaplains to the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambéry, in Itú, Jaú, Campinas, and as pastors of Sacred Heart parish in Santa Cruz das Palmeiras (1907). By 1904 they moved to the capital, São Paulo, where Fr. Moussier was named (August24, 1904) pastor of Saint Anne parish and chaplain to the secondary school of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambéry, in the Santana quarter. With the arrival of two other missionaries (Alphonse Bovier and Jean Helme), the first La Salette community in Brazil was established. Frs. Moussier and Bovier exercised their ministry in the capital, São Paulo, and Fr. Helme in the interior, in the little town of Jaú.
At the heart of Fr. Moussier's missionary zeal lay a great dream: to create a solid base for the Congregation and erect a Shrine dedicated to the Virgin of La Salette in the federal capital, Rio de Janeiro, political and administrative center of the country. In the second half of 1911 Fr. Fidelis Willi spent three or four months in Rio de Janeiro as chaplain to the Sisters of the Holy Angels, to explore the possibilities.
On July 16, 1913 the Missionaries of La Salette bought land in the poor Catumbi quarter, to establish a residence and build a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of La Salette. In April 1915, the local La Salette community decided to take up a collection to build a large parish church. On January 20, Cardinal Joaquim Arcoverde blessed the cornerstone of the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette. On November 13, 1927 Cardinal Sebastião Leme presided at the solemn inauguration of the new Shrine.
* The idea of founding a minor seminary was considered as early as 1911, but the war (1914-1918) and other problems postponed its realization for another 17 years, 26 years after the arrival of the first La Salette Missionary in Brazil. The search for a location for the seminary led to Rio Grande do Sul where the missionaries were welcomed gladly by the bishop of Santa Maria, Ático Eusébio da Rocha, who created a parish for them in Marcelino Ramos, naming as the first pastor Fr. Augustin Poncet. The bishop also authorized the construction of a seminary on parish land, March 12, 1923. Fr. Louis Sorrel, delegate of Fr. General (Fr. Célestin Crozet), accompanied by Fr. Fidelis Willi and Fr. André Duguet, officially opened the seminary on July 2, 1928, in a small wooden house. The first seminarians arrived the same day. Construction of a more adequate seminary began in 1930 using plans designed by Fr. Picard, General Treasurer, who came to Brazil to oversee the work. On March 23, 1931, the delighted seminarians moved into the new house which still had no doors or windows. The first profession of Brazilian La Salettes took place in 1933, and the first priestly ordination (Fr. João Neukirchen), en 1938.
The Region of Brazil was erected as the "Immaculate Conception" Province in 1934, during the mandate of the Superior General Fr. Etienne-Xavier Cruveiller. First Provincial Superior: Fr. Simon Baccelli.
* Three members of the Province exercise their pastoral ministry in Germany, in the region of the Rottenburg-Stuttgart diocese. They are assigned specifically to minister to Portuguese speaking people. They regularly serve many communities scattered in the towns and villages.
* In this continent-country, the message of Our Lady of La Salette, is well known. Dozens of small chapels, parishes and shrines are dedicated to her. Six shrines are served directly by the La Salette Missionaries: Rio de Janeiro (in the State of Rio de Janeiro), Marcelino Ramos (Rio Grande do Sul), São Paulo (São Paulo), Curitiba (Paraná), Caldas Novas (Goiás), Várzea Grande (Mato Grosso).
* 1. Joint novitiate: For many years the novices for the Region of Argentina and the Province of Brazil have made their novitiate together. Depending on circumstances, an agreement is reached to decide whether it will be in Brazil or Bolivia.
2. Vocation promotion: the Province of Brazil has two centers, one in the south: União da Vitória (Paraná), and one in the northeast: Salvador (Bahia). Initial formation for seminarians and religious is provided in six houses: União da Vitória, Curitiba, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Salvador (2).
3. Parish Missions: Since 1963 the La Salette Missionaries have had wonderful experiences evangelizing the people through grassroots missions. But it was in 1980 that these were given official standing with the creation of the "La Salette Mission Band," composed of missionaries and laity. After thirty years it is still extremely dynamic, bringing the Gospel and the message of La Salette to hundreds of parishes and communities.
4. "Salette" magazine: founded in 1917 and published ever since, it is almost 100 years old, with thousands of subscribers in the north and south of Brazil.
* In 1966 Immaculate Conception Province experienced a resurgence with the creation of the "Mission of Bahia," based in the city of Valença while providing ministry in other parishes. Today we can be proud of our presence in this northeastern state, from which a good number of priests and seminarians in the Province have come.
Cujubim: Amazonia: The missionary spirit continues to meet new challenges without being discouraged. The Province responded (2008) to the missionary call to go to far-off Amazonia to serve the parish of Cujubim in the diocese of Porto Velho, in the State of Rondonia.
Alagoinhas: Taizé spirituality: Listening to the Spirit has once again presented a highly unusual challenge, in partnership with the Brothers of Taizé, at the Spirituality Center in Alagoinhas in the State of Bahia.
Bolívar Hauck, MS