New prayer space aims to return Little Rose artifacts to Woonsocket

New prayer space aims to return Little Rose artifacts to Woonsocket

David Ethier, right, president of the Little Rose Foundation, and Albert Beauparlant show the new temporary Little Rose prayer space at 339 Arnold St., Woonsocket. The foundation plans to open a permanent space on the property that will serve to honor the memory of Little Rose Ferron, the city figure regarded by many as a mystic and stigmatist. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – With the opening of a new prayer space on Arnold Street in Woonsocket, organizers say the remnants of the life of Little Rose Ferron, a prominent figure in the city’s history regarded by many as a mystic and stigmatist who received the wounds of Christ, will return home to Woonsocket once again.

David Ethier, president of the Little Rose Foundation, said the new space, located at the site of the former Jerry’s Cafe at 339 Arnold St., will house the mementos of Little Rose’s life, including the clothing and belongings that have been maintained by local family members and members of the organization since Ferron’s death in 1936. The site will also serve as a place where those devoted to Little Rose’s memory can come to pray and host retreats and other events.

“We’re preserving something, that history, and it’s tied to Rose,” he told The Valley Breeze during a tour of the space last week.

Little Rose Ferron was born in 1902 to a French-speaking Quebec family who immigrated to Fall River before moving to Woonsocket. As a young girl, Ferron was known by her family to have mystical experiences, and later began experiencing visions of St. Anthony and the child Jesus, according to those devoted to her memory. Bedridden and in ill health for much of her life, she experienced regular bleeding interpreted by many as the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, a suffering followers say she undertook voluntarily on behalf of the Catholic Church and the residents of the primarily Catholic city.

Among those who cared for Ferron during her suffering was Rose Myette, her cousin. Myette was 17 years old when Little Rose first instructed her to build a chapel in her home and gave specific directions on the artwork and furniture that should adorn the space. For close to 70 years, Myette worked in secret at her home in Glendale, creating a tribute to her cousin’s memory. It wasn’t until Ferron’s sister, Flora, died in 2002 that she unveiled it to the public and invited Ethier and his wife, Denise, whom she had met several years earlier, to see the space.

“She opened the door and it’s like we were in a wonderland,” Denise recalled. “We were immobilized, we couldn’t move for a while.”

After Myette died in 2013 at the age of 102, the artifacts and mementos were passed to the Ethiers and other devoted to Little Rose’s memory, who vowed to build a new prayer space in honor of Little Rose’s life. In 2015, they formed the Little Rose Foundation, and last September, they purchased the Arnold Street property for $91,000 with the intention of renovating it. It was around this time they met Albert Beauparlant, a city organizer with his own memories of visiting the home on Providence Street where Little Rose once lived who has since helped get the project off the ground.

The new location – organizers are referring to it as a “domestic chapel” since it has not been dedicated by a priest – currently consists of a temporary prayer space in the main building of the former restaurant that will open to the public in the summer, with plans to open a permanent space in the former billiards room next door within the next two years. The 2,000-square-foot space will house the mementos of Little Rose along with the artifacts from Myette’s original chapel and include an altar and stained glass donated by a benefactor. A number of local contractors, including Gary Fernandes, Michael Dubois, John Boucher, Adnan Fehric, Dan Peloquin and Leo Cote have committed to offering their services free of charge, but organizers are still hoping to raise $200,000 to complete the renovations.

“People now will have at least a place to come intimately and pray,” said Beauparlant.

For Ethier and Beauparlant, equally important to creating a space for those devoted to Little Rose to come and pray is building that space in Woonsocket, where Ferron spent much of her life and remains an important religious figure to many of the city’s French-Canadian descendants. Beauparlant thinks the return of Little Rose’s artifacts comes at an important time in city history, when the model of the family, on which Ferron was so dependent for her care, has in many respects reached a new low.

“Little Rose chose this moment, this time in the history of Woonsocket, a time that the opioid death (rate) is the highest in the state, a time that the abuse and neglect is the highest in the state and domestic violence is the highest in the state,” he said.

Ethier agrees that it is time for Little Rose’s memory to return to the city and hopes the new location will bring renewed interest to the cause for her potential sainthood. The Diocese of Providence previously opened and closed investigations into Little Rose’s life, currently leaving no path forward for her to be declared a saint, but Ethier is hopeful Woonsocket’s own religious figure might yet receive wider recognition.