Who is that man that looks like St. Nick? His first name starts with a "D." His second name starts with a "V." And he's probably got a reporter's notebook somewhere under his vestments.
Home, Sweet Home
600 Visitors Tour Marian Residence on Eden Hill
They came — by the hundreds. They saw — the Tudor-revival house and its magnificent handcrafted construction. They were conquered — by the atmosphere of love and welcome that moves throughout the beautiful building and grounds that provide for the Marian residence on Eden Hill.
According to Carol Scott-Mahoney, pilgrimage director at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., about 600 people attended the Marian open house as part of the annual Main Street in Stockbridge festivities celebrated once again Dec. 1 and 2 by the town. How does she know?
"We had 600 [plastic] booties for people to put over their shoes, to protect the floors," Carol said. "We ran out. We had to start reusing them."
The rooms were decorated in elegant, tastefully modest, but festive Christmas regalia. A large Christmas tree sported lights and angels in a theme of snowy white. Above the fireplace, a white birch log rested on a bed of evergreens, with nestled candlelights twinkling electric flickers. Below, the stone hearth roared with crackles, coloring that part of the room orange-yellow and emanating glowing waves of soothing warmth.
50 Years Suddenly Vanish
Main Street in Stockbridge centers on the recreation of artist Normal Rockwell's famous 1957 painting depicting the downtown of this historic New England village in all its '50s Christmas splendor. Rockwell lived in Stockbridge. Antique cars are driven in, the street is closed to vehicular traffic, and the painting comes to life with caroling, entertainment, food, and fun. The recreation of 1957 in this quaint township creates and sustains a credible illusion that 50 years have simply vanished — save for the fashions, the merchandise in the shop windows, and the ubiquitous cell phones.
The Marian open house — held on Saturday, Dec. 1 — was part of a self-directed walking tour inviting people to visit a number of historic Stockbridge residences. One of them was post-Victorian Revival-style house on Eden Hill, built in 1906 and home to the Marians of the Immaculate Conception since 1943.
Paul Ivory, grant writer and researcher for the Marians, led a team of volunteers in welcoming visitors as they toured the main rooms of the first-floor interior. They were also treated to generous supplies of homemade cookies, sweets, and hot apple cider.
Assistant Pilgrimage Director Fr. Victor Incardona, MIC; Br. Albin Milewski, MIC; Fr. Mariusz Jarzabek, MIC; Br. Michael Opalacz, MIC; Fr. Anthony Nockunas, MIC; Br. Ken Galisa, MIC, and Fr. Walter Gurgul, MIC, and Fr. Martin Rzeszutek, MIC, represented the Marians. Making a special visit was the Bishop of Myra, all the way from the fourth century A.D., St. Nicholas himself. Saint Nick regaled visitors, including children, with the story of the real Santa, passing out treats and posing for many pictures.
The residence itself, though, was the "star" of the show. You could see it in people's faces as they walked through the rooms.
'Generous, Decorated Spaces'
"These were rooms originally built to provide generous, decorated spaces to accommodate social obligations and entertaining," Paul Ivory said. "These activities were things like social calling, dinner parties, costume balls, teas, musicals, and recitals."
Paul, who has a background in historical preservation, noted that when the Marians purchased the property, they kept intact the major architectural elements of the house — for example, the large, ornate chimneys and small-leaded casement windows on the outside; the massive beams, dentil molding, and herringbone-pattern floors on the inside.
Visitors came from Boston and other towns in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and other locales to take part in the tour. People were impressed by the magnificence of the structure, but many also commented on the feeling of peace and tranquility they sensed on Eden Hill and inside the residence.
They enjoyed the Great Room, with its granite fireplace; the Library, with its Chippendale revival table, chairs, and cabinet built by Antonio Guerrieri, who also built the Shrine; the Billiard Room, with its tile fireplace and mantel, dark oak wood paneling, and staircase to the master bedroom (this room now serves as the Office of the Shrine Rector); the Dining Room, with pocket doors, its view of the south lawn, and its fireplace; and the front entrance, with Tiffany windows on the landing.
A Reflection of Spiritual Purpose
But more than bricks, wood, and stone, visitors commented on the atmosphere of calm and repose, no doubt a reflection of Eden Hill's spiritual purpose. Many continued their visit to Eden Hill by stopping in the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy. For more than a few, this marked their first visit. Some said it would not be their last.
Heard over and over was the comment along the lines of, "This is the best house on the tour," or "This is my favorite."
A woman from Fitchburg, Mass., said that she, her husband, and friends were delighted not only with the residence but also "with the sense of what goes on here. It's spiritual work, and you can feel it. At least I can." Her husband nodded in agreement.
Another party of two couples traveled all the way from Ohio to take part in the Main Street Stockbridge festivities, finding in Eden Hill an unexpected bonus. This correspondent ran into them the day after, on Sunday at Elm Street Café in town. They were still talking about what they saw the day before on the Hill.
"We didn't realize exactly what Eden Hill was until we got here," one of the men said. "We came for the town festivities, which included the walking tour. When we got to [the Hill], it felt like an oasis. We loved it. We're Catholic, and it was great to learn about the Marians and about [Divine] Mercy. In fact, the four of us are talking about coming back in October."
The hundreds of tourists seemed almost equally divided among those who had an interest in architecture, those who wanted Christmas decorating ideas, and those who wanted to learn more about the Marians.
Assist Where the Need is Greatest
The Marians of the Immaculate Conception are a worldwide congregation of more than 500 priests and brothers organized into six provinces with more than 100 locations in 18 countries in North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Australia. Stockbridge is the national headquarters for the American Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province.
The Marians engage in a worldwide pastoral ministry, carrying out their mission to promote the glory of God, perform works of mercy, and assist where the need is greatest. That includes helping in needy parishes from Atok, Africa to nearby Great Barrington, Mass.
The Congregation's missionary programs carry out evangelical, health, and job-training programs for native populations decimated by moral and economic poverty and disease. They operate hospitals, alcohol and drug treatment centers, senior centers, and dental clinics and provide clothing, supplies, and medicines to missions all over the world.
The Marians also operate a publishing outreach, producing 14 million pieces annually in several languages and disturbing them worldwide. This work includes books, magazines, newsletter, prayercards, and online publishing.
"It was enjoyable to see the people coming here, to visit our home," said Fr. Anthony Nockunas. "We hope they come back to Eden Hill."
There's no doubt about it, Father.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marians of the Immaculate Conceptions, both print and online. He is the author of "Dan Valenti's" Journal for this website.