Recounting a 1975 visit to Ste. Anne de Beaupre, Quebec
By Bishop Raymond W. Lessard
NOTE: Bishop Lessard grew up on a farm near Oakwood, North Dakota, educated at the Catholic school in the Oakwood community. His ancestry includes Collette’s on both sides of the family tree. He is retired Bishop of Savannah, GA. This account was written by him "to all members of the Lessard family" very shortly after his visit to Ste. Anne de Beaupre, after he had been installed as Bishop of Savannah.
"When I returned earlier this month from a brief trip to Quebec City, I decided that I simply had to share with you my joy and impressions from this first visit to the land of our origins on the North American continent. I arrived in Quebec the evening of Thursday, August 28 . Since the business meetings I came to attend did not begin until Saturday, I could count on a good part of Friday, August 29, to tour through some of the old city of Quebec, dramatically situated as it is on the sharp banks of the majestic St. Lawrence River and on the edge of the history-filled Plains of Abraham. That afternoon, in the company of Cardinal John Dearden, of Detroit, and Bishop James Rausch, General Secretary of our National Conference of Catholic Bishops, I had the good fortune of driving the 20-mile stretch northeasterly along the St. Lawrence River to the little town of Ste. Anne de Beaupre, where the first Lessard, Etienne by name, settled back in 1633 when he arrived from Normandy in France.
This historical fact would be sufficient to make a visit to Beaupre worthwhile. Yet, the hamlet, with its world famous shrine to "la bonne Sainte Anne", nestled between the rolling Laurentian hills on one side and the banks of the big river on the other, holds for the Lessard family a most particular significance. In the year 1638, Mr. Etienne de Lessard donated a piece of land for the building of a chapel in honor of Saint Anne. Today, a magnificent basilica rises from this spot, proclaiming to the world the faith of our forefather Etienne and the fervent devotion which he and his people had to the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus.
You can well imagine my excitement in visiting this holy spot and recalling with pride the virtues of our first ancestors in the New World. The thrilling high point of the experience was when I noticed the stained-glass window in the basilica commemorating the name and gift of Etienne de Lessard. My enthusiasm was shared by those who were with me, Cardinal Dearden and Bishop Rausch, as well as the good Redemptorist Fathers who care for the shrine and were graciously showing us around. As one of them said, "You've come home!"
The visit to the shrine was climaxed by the celebration of Mass at the shrine altar containing a major relic of Saine Anne. It was a pleasure and joy to offer that Holy Eucharist for the intentions of all the Lessards, living and dead, who as a family began here more than three hundred years ago. I thought of the courage of these first pioneers who left home and possessions to start anew on this continent, bringing with them little more than the faith that was theirs in Catholic France. I thought of the Lessards who later left Quebec for the west, landing somewhere along the Red River of the North in the Dakota Territory. I thought of Grandpa and Grandma Lessard, who retained so many ties of memory and devotion with this past. And I thought of us now in our generation, perhaps unmindful and unconcerned about those who came before us and, more sad to say, maybe estranged and removed from the faith that was such a part of our family and our heritage down through the centuries. For all of us, I prayed.
With a closing good wish that "la bonne Sainte Anne" continue to intercede for us, I remain,
Affectionately yours in Christ
Bishop Raymond W. Lessard