|A rosary hangs near the chapel's altar.|
Having grown up in Boonton, New Jersey—a working-class town—I always thought of nearby Mountain Lakes as being the place where the rich people lived. What I didn’t know was that it was also the site of St. Thérèse of the Little Flower shrine—a little-known pocket of peace hidden down at the end of a sleepy dead-end lane.
I’m not Catholic, so why bother visiting such a place? Curiosity. It was the site of a local miracle and I wanted to see the place for myself.
The Story of Achille Arci
The small shrine represents a promise kept by Achille Arci back in the 1920s.
Arci became very sick and was told by physicians bereft of bedside manner that he was incurable. Arci didn’t want to accept that prognosis, so he prayed fervently to St. Thérèse for help. He promised her that if he was cured, he would build a shrine in her honor and visit her home in France to pay his respects. Apparently, St. Thérèse liked that idea, because after a five-year battle with his illness, Arci was suddenly and miraculously cured.
|Stained-glass windows grace the two side walls of the shrine.|
Keeping his promise would require the help of friends. He formed a small society of devout Catholics to build a modest shrine to St. Thérèse. The group solicited donations and volunteered labor to make the small shrine a reality. In 1933, it was erected on what was then Arci’s property.
In October 1952, Arci traveled to Lisieux, France to visit St. Thérèse’s home. When he returned, he continued tending to the shrine until his death in 1957.
|A halo of bricks encircle the front door.|
The shrine property ownership was eventually transferred to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Boonton. Arci’s family continues to maintain the grounds in loving memory of their father and out of their devotion to St. Thérèse.
Who Was St. Thérèse?
Not being Catholic, I had to do some research to find out about the woman behind the saint. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was born in 1873, the same year a cigar-chomping President Ulyesses S. Grant was presiding over a post-Civil War United States.
Born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, she was a French Carmelite nun. Perhaps due to her sense of religious commitment at an early age, she is also known as “The Little Flower of Jesus.” In 1888, at the age of 15, she became a nun and joined two of her older sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy.
During her nine years as a Carmelite nun, she wrote The Story of a Soul, a collection of autobiographical manuscripts. In 1897, she died of tuberculosis at age 24, at which time her writings were printed and distributed. They quickly spread, making her one of the most popular saints of the Twentieth Century. She was beatified in 1923, and canonized in 1925.
The Shrine in Mountain Lakes
|St. Thérèse smiles down on everyone who enters.|
Thanks to Google Maps, my friend, Zoë, and I were able to find Rock Lane, a small side road off of the main Boulevard in Mountain Lakes. At the entrance to Rock Lane is a modest sign for the shrine. We drove up a hill through a residential area and at the end of the road sat a small white chapel with a halo of bricks encircling the front doors.
Inside, were five or so rows of folding chairs facing an altar. And in one corner of the room was a large statue of St. Thérèse, holding a bouquet of roses and smiling down at us. A donation of 50 cents was suggested to help maintain the shrine. I lit a candle for my deceased relatives. Then I used the suggested prayer to ask for personal favors. Since I prayed for four people—asked for four favors—I left four donations.
Zoë and I sat there for about a half hour, enjoying the peace of this local, out-of-the-way gem. The names of families I had grown up with in nearby Boonton were listed at the bottom of the stained-glass windows on both sides of the chapel.
I guess it might not be the type of sight that would be listed in the entertainment section of the local newspaper, but it was a serene diversion for one humid, summer afternoon in the ritzy wilds of Northern New Jersey.