BURRILLVILLE – A quiet nun clad in spotless white habit, head-to-toe, on a 90 degree sunny day welcomes visitors to a world where saints reside in the woods, or at least, a garden filled with life-sized statues of them.
Smiling and soft-spoken Sister Grace Coffey exudes serenity, as does the Roman Catholic spiritual sanctuary located amid fields and trees far from, “the madding crowd,” as great author Thomas Hardy deemed cities.
The Shrine of the Little Flower in Nasonville serves as a sanctuary for spiritual seekers. Sister Grace shares with visitors the story of the life of the saint. She also tells stories of “received favors” – answered prayers – of believers and others who pray to the saint or asks for her intercession with God.
In fact, the “first shrine to St. Theresa in the world,” is said to be a place of miracles.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was born in France and died in 1924, “..is considered to be a powerful intercessor, constantly praying for the world to know that Jesus is alive and working on behalf of believers,” explained Parish Secretary N. Peter Lamoria of Our lady of Good Help Parish & Saint Theresa Sanctuary.
According to accounts from the faithful, she has answered many pleas.
She also offers us a, “Little Way of leading our lives as followers of Christ,” said Lamoria.
It’s said a sign from the saint is the scent of flowers, or the presence of roses. Lamoria knows people, “who have had definite spiritual vision-like answers to their prayers.” For example, he says, “A lady who’s loved one had just passed, and was feeling tremendous loss, and when she prayed she smelled and saw a bouquet of roses which had stems connecting directly to the beads of a Rosary.”
The shrine to Saint Theresa is open to everyone. This day in August, the peaceful shrine is near-deserted, and quiet.
It’s “small enough to be intimate, but large enough to contain a wide variety of opportunities to enhance prayer. Not nearly as large an area as most shrines, it is easily accessible, especially if one wants to stop by for just a moment or two,” Lamoria said.
A visit to the shrine “engenders transcendence,” says a believer.
“I feel like I’ve gone into another world,” said Eileen McDuffie, a Burrillville resident who notes she has visited the shrine before. “I’ve brought many people here, and they’re just amazed. What a beautiful, wonderful place,”
The shrine is “a powerful spiritual atmosphere that encourages prayer,” says Lamoria, with, “a history of strong testimony to the power of prayer to influence our lives in a real way.”
The stories from believers of the power of the saint range from pleasant, to astonishing and inexplicable, such as the answered prayer for a very sick baby who miraculously recovered through the intercession of the saint, according to the parents.
Sister Grace tells of a prayer said to have been miraculously answered in the affirmative by Saint Theresa almost one hundred years ago, not at the shrine, which had not yet been created, but in a nearby village.
In 1923 a new Roman Catholic parish was created to minister to the Burrillville villages of Mohegan, Mount Pleasant, Tarklin, and Nasonville. Florilda Faford, who lived in a house on Route 7 in Mohegan, was suffering from a chronic illness for eight years and had been diagnosed as incurable, with no chance of recovery. She was an invalid barely able to open her eyes, the story goes.
Rev. A. P. Desrochers, the pastor of the new church, turned to Saint Theresa for divine intervention on behalf of Faford. Desrochers, Faford, and some nuns prayed.
The next day, the patient was astonishingly well, healthy enough to converse and receive communion.
Later that day, alone in her bed, Faford said she felt an unseen force shove her to her feet. She got up and walked into the kitchen, astounding a nun who was caring for her.
Amazed doctors declared Faford’s recovery miraculous.
Soon after, busloads of the faithful journeyed to her home and a grateful Faford stood outside telling visitors about her miraculous cure from Saint Theresa.
The healed woman went door-to-door taking up a collection to purchase a statue of the saint.
Eventually the shrine came together not so much by plan, but from people who prayed to the saint and received favors, according to Sister Grace – all “acts of thanksgiving for her intercession,” or “in honor of loved ones.”
Although the shrine is outdoors and has a spacious covered area to hold masses, this year’s annual anniversary celebration was canceled over fears of COVID-19.
Regardless, the shrine still stands testament to the spiritual, maybe the miraculous, and Sister Grace continues to spread sunshine and the spiritual message of Saint Theresa. Her feast day is in October.
Perhaps by a miracle, Rhode Island will be allowed to re-open fully by then, and once again a crowd can celebrate.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that St, Therese was born in Avila in Spain. We apologize for the error.