LA ROCCHETTA LERMA, N. Italy (C.M. Paul) – The Project Mornese English language group of Sisters went on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Graces shrine at La Rocchetta Lerma after lunch, 26 June. A group of 12 Sisters went by foot in the blazing sun on an 8 km route by road with Sr Edna Mary Mac Donald. While a second group of 12 Sisters went by bus covering 6 kms with Sr Maire O’Byrne. Four senior Sisters were given a drop by car to the hill-top shrine where Maria Mazzarello would take her girls and Sisters for outings. The last bit of the hill-cart road to the shrine is rather steep climb which takes about 25 minutes.
The main Sanctuary “Our Lady of Rocchetta“, built in 1290 is on one side of the river Piota. It depended on the monastery of Cistercian Nuns of Santa Maria di Banno. Beside the church is a building, originally used as a hospice for people travelling through the area.
In 1619, Agostino and Cecilia Spinola were Marquises of Lerma. They vowed to restore the shrine and place there a painting which they had in their castle if they were blessed with son. They were blessed with the birth of twins and a canvas of the children with their parents was placed above the main altar. The painting of Our Lady was inserted into the centre of this painting. Since then devotion to Our Lady of Rocchetta has grown among the inhabitants of Lerma and the surrounding areas. The shrine today is in a poor state of repair as it is seldom used. The valuables once housed there have been transferred to Lerma parish church.
The FMA Cronistoria records that in July 1876 “the day finished with a pleasant walk to the sanctuary of the Rocchetta, honoured by the company of the parish priest and the marquis and marchioness d’Oria of Mornese (II, 197).
It was here too that while the Sisters were on a pilgrimage-picnic to celebrate the feast of Mary Help of Christians, Mary [Mazzarello] made address for a little girl, who was in rags, from the petticoat of one of the Sisters (II, 249-250).
“When the assistant reported that we had been exceptionally good, Mother would arrange an outing to the sanctuary of Rocchetta. The picnic supplies would be sent ahead with a man who had a wagon. As you can imagine, the whole day was a real treat for us.” (Maccono I, 332).
On August 3rd 1976, a plaque was unveiled and blessed to commemorate Mary Mazzarello’s visits to the shrine. It is reported that Salesian Archbishop Stephen Ferrando of Shillong-Guwahati, founder of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians blessed the plaque. In early 1969, when the Government of India declared that foreign missionaries must be recalled and replaced by locals, Archbishop Ferrando resigned and retired to Italy, where he died June 21, 1978. He was born in Rossiglione N. Italy bordering Ovada close to Mornese, September 28, 1895. The Diocesan Inquest of Servant of God Stephan Ferrando opened on 8th October 2003 and concluded on 3rd August 2006.