JUNEAU — Adding to the more than 70 national shrines in the United States, the St. Therese Shrine in Juneau was added by the U.S. bishops to the national list on her Oct. 1 feast day this year.
“We are pleased to have the Conference of Bishops recognize the Shrine of St. Therese as a National Shrine,” stated Juneau Bishop Edward Burns after the official announcement.
“The shrine is a place of tremendous spiritual and natural beauty for all who visit, and we are happy the bishops have confirmed what so many shrine visitors have felt in their hearts — that the National Shrine of St. Therese, Juneau, is a gift from God and a treasure to all who pilgrim to her shore,” he continued.
The shrine started in the 1930s from the inspiration of Jesuit priest Father William G. LeVasseur, who wanted to dedicate a holy place where individuals could grow in their devotion to God, while bringing people closer to “the true source of life.”
After approval from then-Bishop of Alaska Joseph Crimont, Father LeVasseur obtained land from the U.S. government, and in 1933, the retreat house at the shrine was under construction. In 1935 workers broke ground on the chapel, with the first Mass taking place in 1941.
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus became the namesake of the shrine because of Bishop Crimont’s devotion to the Little Flower, as well as his connections to some members of the saint’s family in France. Saint Therese is also the patron of Alaska and the Diocese of Juneau.
Bishop Burns made the announcement of the shrine’s new national designation at the Southeast Alaska Catholic Conference, after the entire diocese had prayed a novena to Saint Therese leading up to her feast day. Although the U.S. Bishops Conference approved the shrine’s national designation on Sept. 13, the official decree was dated Oct. 1 to honor Saint Therese.
In order to qualify for a national decree, shrines must align with the teachings of the Catholic Church and promote the advancement of the faith, while providing pilgrims a place of common prayer and pastoral care. They must be officially approved by a committee of the U.S. bishops, who believe that national designations “enhance the significance of shrines and their service in evangelization in the United States,” according to their conference website.
Over the years, the St. Therese shrine has been used as a center for pilgrimages, retreats and weddings, and continues to be under the care of the Juneau Diocese. Although the shrine does not belong to one particular parish, sacraments which are performed there are administered through St. Paul the Apostle Church in Juneau.
The shrine is located about 22 miles from downtown Juneau, and has been visited by thousands of pilgrims over the past 75 years. The grounds contain a chapel, outdoor Stations of the Cross, a rosary trail and a prayer labyrinth to promote spiritual experiences outdoors.
“I am profoundly grateful to so many who have given their time, talent and treasure over the past 75 years to make the National Shrine of Saint Therese in Juneau what it is today,” Bishop Burns stated.
“This is a place of spiritual refuge for people of all faiths and nations — a place where people hear the call of Jesus to ‘come with me by yourself to a quiet place and rest.’”