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June 24. 2014 8:06PM

Colebrook shrine known for 'Blessing of the Bikes' closing July 1


Snow covers the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace this past February. The shrine, which features more than 50 marble and granite sculptures, including scenes depicting the birth, life and crucifixion of Jesus, as well as one of praying motorcycle riders, is slated to close on July 1 due to decreased attendance and financial support. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

COLEBROOK — The Shrine of Our Lady of Grace — known as a place for quiet contemplation as well as the roar of motorcycles during its annual “Blessing of the Bikes” — will close at the end of the month due to a continued decrease in attendance and financial support.

Dedicated in 1948 by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI), the shrine of Our Lady of Grace is on 30-plus acres on both sides of Route 3 in Colebrook, just north of the Columbia town line. It features more than 50 marble and granite monuments, among them a granite sculpture of “Motorcyclists in Prayer.”

The sculpture is a tribute to the “Blessing of the Bikes,” the highlight of the annual, three-day Great North Woods Ride-In, which begins Friday at the shrine. A Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. this Sunday, followed by the “Blessing of the Bikes” at 1 p.m.

According to the Diocese of Manchester, the shrine will close July 1 with a Mass of Thanksgiving on July 13 at noon followed by a reception at which copies of “The Lady who GRACED New Hampshire's Great North Woods” will be available.

Brother Richard Cote, OMI, the director of Oblate Foreign Missions who is stationed in Lowell, Mass., said Tuesday the shrine began life in 1922 when the OMI acquired the former Hampshire Inn and operated it as a junior seminary until 1942. From then until 1968, the property served as Our Lady of Grace Novitiate.

A native of Manchester, Cote noted that on Oct. 10, 1948, the Most Rev. Matthew Francis Brady, the then-bishop of the Diocese of Manchester, dedicated the shrine and also inaugurated the perpetual novena to Our Lady of Grace.

Although popular for many years, Cote said the shrine has seen a large drop in the number of pilgrims since 1999. He noted that some Canadian visitors have been deterred by the cost of having to acquire a passport for travel between their country and the U.S.

He said other factors leading to the OFM's decision to close the shrine are the lack of Francophone priests, a decreased membership in the Living Rosary and the economic downturn in the area, which has reduced local donations.

The OMI approached other religious organizations about buying the shrine, but none were interested. Cote said the shrine is being listed with a local real estate broker and that one party — whom he declined to name — was actively pursuing it.

Cote said the shrine will package the statues and store some of them while some will be sent to other places of worship.

State Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Dalton, and Wayne Frizzell, the chairman of the North Country Chamber of Commerce's board of directors, said the closing of the shrine is a sad thing for Colebrook and the region.

“It's going to be missed,” said Frizzell, adding that the Blessing of the Bikes, now in its 38th year, would bring “3,000-plus bikes and they would stop for gas and food and not just in Colebrook.”

Cote said the closing of the shrine shouldn't be viewed as an ending, but instead as a celebration of “92 years of grace-filled ministry in the Great North Woods.”

jkoziol@newstote.com


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