From its earliest occupation by the white man, the territory now known as the State of Vermont had been placed under the protection of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Mother. As early as 1666, the French erected a Fort and Chapel on Isle La Motte as their southernmost fort against hostile Indian attacks on the settlements in Montreal and Quebec. This was dedicated under the invocation of “la bonne Sainte Anne”. It was here that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered for the first known time in the Northeast, and here too that the first Episcopal visit took place when in 1668, the Bishop of Quebec journeyed by canoe to Fort St. Anne to confirm a number of Indian converts. Although the Fort was abandoned within a few years, the ruins remained a mute witness to the devotion of its builders, which would be reawakened with the establishment of Vermont as a Diocese.
In 1853, the Very Rev. Louis de Goesbriand, Vicar General of the Diocese of Cleveland, became the first Bishop of Vermont. A Breton by birth, where devotion to St. Anne has always been exceptionally fervent, the young Bishop soon began to foster devotion to Her among his people. On June 5, 1859, the cornerstone of the new Church of St. Anne in Milton was blessed and dedicated….a mere 200 years from the date of construction of the French Fort in Isle La Motte! In 1886 a new Parish was formed consisting of Alburg, Isle La Motte, and North Hero.
The Parishes were entrusted to one of the Bishop’s priests, Rev. Joseph Kerlidou. A scholarly man, he was directed to do as much research as he could on the nearly obliterated Fort. His notes were published a few years later as encouragement for raising funds to purchase the land on which the Fort stood. The first parcel, containing the part of the Fort in which the Chapel had been located, was acquired in 1892. By the Feast of St. Anne the following year, ground had been cleared and a small chapel erected. A large statue of St. Anne was purchased in Montreal and donated as a gift from the Breton Clergy of the Diocese. This same statue still graces the present Chapel at the Shrine. 1893 saw the blessing of the Chapel and the first organized pilgrimage to the new Shrine. Nearly 2,000 people attended from Vermont, NY State, and Canada. Many came by steamboats chartered for the occasion.
It became a regular custom in the summer months to have a day-long excursion culminating with Mass and Devotions at the Shrine. The chronicle of St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington annually record the great enthusiasm and enjoyment of the large numbers of children and Sisters who would make the pilgrimage, often as guests of the Bishop, on such boats as the Maquam, the Reindeer and the well-known, Ticonderoga. These steamer excursions were forced to stop because of the shortage of coal during the First World War and for economic reasons, were not resumed. For many years thereafter, devotion to St. Anne was centered principally on the parish level, in the many confraternities and sodalities dedicated in Her name.
A resurgence of devotional activity began under the Most Rev. Edward F. Ryan following his consecration as fifth Bishop of Burlington in 1945. He presided annually at the solemnities at the Shrine and encouraged the organization of Pilgrimages. The direction of St. Anne’s Shrine was entrusted to the Society of St. Edmund Fathers in 1904 and in the Spring of 1909 a new and large Chapel and pavilion were erected. The Edmundite Fathers purchased St. Anne’s Shrine from the Diocese in 1921 and since that time, have made extensive physical improvements providing the capability to handle large numbers of people with ease. During the Diocesan Bicentennial Celebration in 1976, an estimated 7,000 persons participated in the 3-day observance at the Shrine.
An early photo of pilgrims visiting the Shrine.
Tercentenary celebration 1909
The Ticonderoga dropping off pilgrims at the Shrine.