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Fraternite Notre-Dame opens church and store in rural Soldiers Grove
THE INTERIOR of the re-cently completed church on the Fraternite Notre-Dame property on Highway 131 in Clayton Township shows the beauty and craftsmanship that went into the construction of the building.

SOLDIERS GROVE - Many people may have missed it, but the Hermitage of the Heart of Jesus held an open house during Apple Fest weekend to introduce their newly constructed church and monastic store to the public.

On that warm weekend, Mother Mary Marta of the Fraternité Notre-Dame took time out of her busy schedule to discuss the new facility and the work of the religious order.

The order owns property on Highway 131 north of Gays Mills and south of North Crawford Schools on the east side of the road. It is the former Turfan II property, which was owned by Dick and Nancy Piehl.

The order bought the property including several houses and a pond from the Piehls six years ago to use as a sanctuary and hermitage.

Recently, the decision was made to build a church and small store on the property. There will be church services Friday, Saturday and Sunday, featuring masses in Latin. The Friday and Saturday masses will be held at 5:30 p.m. and the Sunday mass will by at 10:30 a.m. and includes praying the rosary. There will also be Eucharistic Adoration, according to Mother Mary Marta.

The religious order known as Fraternité Notre-Dame is a bit unusual, as it broke with mainstream Catholic Church in the late 1970s. The order was created by its founder Bishop Jean Marie Kozik in France.

 The Fraternité Notre-Dame is a Traditional Catholic order of priests and nuns, which is not in union with the Pope, according to Wikipedia-an online source. Like other Traditional Catholics, Fraternité Notre-Dame prefer the pre Vatican II Church, especially the Tridentine Mass in Latin as opposed to the Novus Ordo Mass in vernacular languages.

In the United States, the order operates at three facilities designed to help the poor. They are located in New York’s East Harlem, Chicago’s Westside and San Francisco’s Tenderloin. Members of the order move where their work is needed. The order operates soup kitchens, food pantries and after school programs.

“Our vocation is to help the poor,” Mother Mary Marta explained. “We are missionaries. We live where we serve.”

The order is dedicated to bringing education to children, the future of our society, the nun explains.

“We are located in the toughest neighborhood in Chicago. It’s probably the toughest neighborhood in the country,” Mother Mary Marta said. “The people we help are grateful. They are people who need help. It is hard to beg for food. It is hard to be judged by other people. Our bishop teaches us to never judge anybody.”

The people who must beg for food are given rice and vegetables at a food pantry the order runs.

The members of the  Fraternité Notre-Dame have no personal salary and live traditional religious lives. The order’s bishop has dedicated the order to divine mercy.

For many in the order like Mother Mary Marta, French is their first language. The nun, dressed in a full black habit communicated in French with other members of the order working at the monastic store, during the Apple Fest open house. The store sells an eclectic variety of religious material, arts and crafts created by the members of the order, as well as bakery and food prepared in the kitchen attached to the store.

“The store has cake, cookies and spiritual gifts,” Mother Mary stated. Any money raised by the store goes to help the order’s mission to help the poor.

The new building itself is designed in a u-shape with the front of the store on the north end and the church on the south end.

The building appears to be well built with a lot of craftsmanship. Most was hand built by the members of the order. The store is handsome and clean in a straightforward manner.

The church is beautiful. It has stone floors and even stone-faced walls. Large handmade stained glass windows line the sides of the relatively narrow building. The pews are simple and made from light-colored wood.

“Everything is handmade,” Mother Mary Marta said as we stood in the church. “The stained glass windows are made using an old technique that dates to the 12th Century.”

The sanctuary at the front of the church has three stone steps with golden engraving of the phrase ‘JESUS I TRUST IN THEE’ on each step. In addition to English and French, the phrase is also written in Spanish on one of the steps.

At the rear of the church, a set of stairs leads to a loft and an organ.

A unique aspect of the order’s property here is that it is hermitage. Some of those living on the property at any given time may live as hermits isolating themselves from others in a search for God.

“The hermits live in silence and work a lot,” according to Mother Mary Marta. “They pray a lot and give everything for others.”

The property on Highway 131 is called the ‘Hermitage of the Heart of Jesus,’ while an apple orchard property on Del La Mater Road, which was purchased from the Kickapoo Orchard, is called the ‘Apple Orchard of St. Francis Hermitage.’

While the order plans to have the store open on Saturdays and Sundays, hours have not been established. The store will also serve as the local Fraternité Notre-Dame  food pantry site.