February 26, 2020

Prayer focus of Blessed Sacrament sisters > Nation’s first American Indian bishop got his start as altar boy at Silver Street chapel

WATERVILLE — The welcome is lettered over the door of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel — “Venite Adoremus,” Latin for “Come, let us adore him.”

More than just a welcome, the phrase sums up the work of the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, praising God. Indeed, as a contemplative order, the sisters by definition focus on prayer and lead a more solitary life than sisters in “active orders,” who tend to have more visible ministries in places such as schools, hospitals and parishes.

The chapel and convent on Silver Street are home to one of three groups of Blessed Sacrament sisters, a couple of dozen women who are spread out among Waterville; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Pueblo, Colo.

The Blessed Sacrament sisters have been in the United States less than a half century. They were founded in France in 1858 by St. Pierre Julien Eymard two years after he began the men’s order, the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Blessed Sacrament priests have served in Waterville and also in other Maine communities such as Old Town and Portland.

The little chapel on Silver Street had a profound effect on the lives of some of those who worshiped there. In the late 1950s, Donald and Dana Pelotte, twins of Franco-American and Abnaki descent, were altar boys for Masses at the chapel.

At age 14, Donald wanted very much to attend a high school seminary, but his divorced mother couldn’t afford the cost. The Blessed Sacrament priests arranged for him to attend their seminary in Hyde Park, N.Y.

Donald was ordained a Blessed Sacrament priest in 1972, and went on to be elected to the national post of provincial superior of the order. In 1986, he became the first American Indian bishop in the United States, and is now the spiritual leader of the Diocese of Gallup in New Mexico.

Bishop Pelotte still returns to Waterville to spend time with family members.

According to the Rev. Michael Henchal, co-chancellor of the Diocese of Portland, Bishop Pelotte was a good friend of at least one of the nuns who died, and also knew the man accused of the attacks.

Blessed Sacrament is a familiar term to Roman Catholics. It is the religious term for the host, the unleavened wafer that has been consecrated by the priest during the Mass. It is a tenet of the Roman Catholic faith that during the eucharistic prayer, the “bread” or host is actually changed into the body of Christ, and the wine is changed into the blood of Christ.

Consecrated hosts, which are left over after the Mass, are kept apart in a special place in the church, the tabernacle. A lighted candle enclosed in red glass next to the tabernacle signfies that the Blessed Sacrament — Jesus — is present in the tabernacle.

Although only a priest may celebrate Mass, sisters and laypeople known as eucharistic ministers may remove the consecrated hosts for a communion service or for distribution to the sick and shut-ins.

According to the 1995 edition of the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” the religious order focuses on “the solemn and perpetual adoration of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Whereas most Catholic churches hold “exposition” of the Blessed Sacrament in an ornate holder called a monstrance only on special occasions, the Blessed Sacrament sisters would do so on a regular basis, often 24 hours a day. The convent also offers religious retreats.

The Waterville nuns are highly thought of among laypeople and other nuns around the state. Their spirituality will be their strength as they recover from this tragedy, pointed out one member of another contemplative group. She described the order as having “a strong sense of completely giving in sacrifice to God.”

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