Religious artifacts, housed in Burrillville for decades, headed to new home

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BURRILLVILLE – Rose Myette spent more than 90 years quietly building a domestic chapel in honor of her cousin Marie Rose Ferron inside her Glendale home.

Now, some four years after her death, Myette’s collection of religious artifacts and original artwork documenting the life of the well-known mystic stigmata will finally be moved to a permanent location.

The Little Rose Foundation of Rhode Island has purchased a property on Arnold Street in Woonsocket, and over the course of the next year, they’ll build a visitors center where Myette’s collection will be continually on display.

Proponents say the move will bring nothing short of a religious awakening to the city, at a time that it’s needed the most.

And while the effect of Ferron’s belongings on her home city may be tough to predict, what is certain is that books, shrines and ministries have been created across the globe in her honor, and the collection from the Burrillville home is bound to both bring in tourism, and allow locals to view the unique artifacts as never before.

The story of Little Rose began with her birth in St. Germain de Grantham, Quebec in the early 1900s. Ferron was the 10th of what would become a family of 15 children in a highly religious Catholic family that moved to Central Falls when she was 4, and in 1925, relocated to Woonsocket.

According to reports from the time, Ferron’s mother offered each child individually to God in honor of each of the 15 mysteries of the rosary. In Roman Catholic teaching, the mysteries commemorate events during Jesus Christ’s lifetime.

Rose’s life was destined to be dedicated to the 10th mystery – the crucifixion – and believers say she was a stigmata, suffering the wounds of Christ on her hands, feet, the sides of her body and her forehead, and bleeding constantly.

During the course of her life, countless people visited Ferron asking for intercession and prayers, and many testified of the young girl’s ability to answer them, healing the faithful of medical conditions. Some said that the scent of roses was manifested when encountering items that Ferron handled.

Ferron was bedridden and required 24-hour care, and cousin Myette was among her primary helpers. At the age of 17, Myette began building a chapel in her Glendale home, a task she said came under instruction from Ferron.

Myette was a seamstress by trade, operating the Little Rose Shop in Woonsocket, and also made all of Ferron’s clothes.

In 1930, she bought a Craftsman jigsaw to continue construction of the secret chapel, and for the next several decades she carved wood with the precision of a skilled craftsman. Myette hand-painted intricate thorn patterns on furniture items including tables, chairs and an alter, and sewed majestic hook rugs for the chapel.

Rose Myette’s chapel dedicated to Little Rose, before the items were disassembled and brought to storage.

Ferron died in 1936 at the age of 33, but Myette continued her work, also holding on to mementos of her cousin, from bedding and trinkets, to blood-stained clothing. But she kept the chapel to herself until 2002, when Ferron’s sister Flora died. At the time, Myette was 90.

Soon after, she opened her home to the public, and began holding prayer meetings at the chapel once a month, although the news was only spread by word of mouth. It was there that she met David Ethier, a North Smithfield man who, in time, would make it his mission to protect her artifacts, including piles of clothes and mementos from Ferron’s life, many of which have never been seen by the public.

“If you live in northern Rhode Island and you’re French Canadian, this belongs to you,” Ethier told NRI NOW of the items this week.

Ethier inherited the collection when Myette died at the age of 102 in 2014, and founded the Little Rose Foundation of Rhode Island in 2015. For the past three years, he’s served as its president, working to spread the word about Little Rose and to find a home for the relics, an undeniable piece of the region’s history.

In that time, others have come to him with items to add to the collection, including pictures of Ferron and pieces of her old casket, handed out after body was exhumed and placed in a new one in 1947. From Myette he received Ferron’s pillow and the first purse she owned, as well as original records from Father Boyer, Ferron’s spiritual adviser, who would go on to write a popular biography about the Woonsocket mystic titled “She Wears a Crown of Thorns.”

The items also included sworn and notarized testimony about Ferron from hundreds of believers recorded by Father John Baptist Palm.

Ferron was never beatified or canonized by the church. Three times the Diocese of Providence opened investigations into the Woonsocket woman’s life to see if her name should be added to the church’s official list of known stigmatists, but all three were denied.

Ethier bought the lot at 339 Arnold Street last September, and for the past several months has worked to clean up the property. Comprised of two unique structures built in 1934, the property once held Gerry’s Cafe, but has been vacant for several years.

As “The Castle of Little Rose,” the lot will hold offices and a gift shop in the front structure, and a private courtyard will allow visitors to access the larger, domestic chapel in back.

Contractors have already been secured, free of charge, for much of the rehabilitation work, and a fundraising effort set to kick off by the end of May will raise money for building supplies. Woonsocket-based architect Dan Peloquin has completed the design work.

“It will be beautiful property-wise,” Ethier said.

A smaller, temporary version of the chapel will open up on the property in June.

“People can have a place to visit,” said Ethier.

Supporter Albert Beauparlant said he believes the return of Rose’s artifacts has come at a symbolic time in Woonsocket’s history.

“She’s coming for battle to bring prayer back to the city at a time when Woonsocket has the four worst statistics in the state,” said Beauparlant, pointing to recent reports on child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, sexual abuse and opioid deaths. “We have hit the lowest point in city history.”

“At a time when everything is in question, Little Rose is returning,” Beauparlant said.

Ethier is anxious to get the project underway after storing the items in his garage for the past several years.

“We have to move forward,” he said. “If I don’t do something now, this stuff is going to rot here. I need to get it somewhere safe.”

If fundraising efforts are well supported, they say the completed chapel will be opened within a year, and will bring in tourism, particularly from Canada.

“It’s bringing faith back to the city,” Beauparlant said.

David Ethier, left, and Albert Beauparlant stand with a piece of the chapel taken from Myette’s Burrillville home after her death in 2014.