Photo courtesy of Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

MADISON — A pilgrimage along the Kennebec River will give participants an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Father Sebastian Râle, a Jesuit martyr who ministered to the Abenaki people 300 years ago.

The pilgrimage is set for Saturday, July 24, at 9:30 a.m., and will start at St. Sebastian Church, located on 161 Main Street in Madison, where prayers and reflections will be shared, and lead participants to the place where it is believed Father Râle is buried. The pilgrimage includes a short drive to the site of Fr. Râle’s mission on Old Point, after which pilgrims will process along the Kennebec River to the Fr. Râle monument. Along the way, there will be stops to read and reflect on Father Râle’s letters, which tell of his missionary work. The pilgrimage will conclude by 1 p.m.

“It’s a tribute to the fascinating history that we have in Maine,” says Donlon. “At a time when we’re under so much stress and so much turmoil, if you will, this is a great opportunity for some unity behind a figure who was a very pivotal figure in the early Church in Maine.”

Originally from Pontarlier, France, Sebastian Râle (also spelled Râsle) joined the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1674. Fifteen years later, he traveled to the Americas, where he first served in Illinois and in Canada, before settling along the Kennebec.

“When he encountered this amazing, burning love from the heart of Jesus, it lit his own heart on fire,” said Moreshead. “He had to make the love of Jesus Christ known to the farthest corners of the world. In Father Râle’s day, Madison, Maine, was the farthest imaginable corner of the world!”

While living among the Abenaki, Father Râle composed a catechism and a dictionary in their language and is credited with establishing the first school in what is now the state of Maine. It was a time of conflict, however, with France and England struggling for control of the Americas, and in 1724, Father Râle was killed by the British while defending the Abenaki people. 

Participants are asked to bring rosary beads, bug spray, water, and a lawn chair. For more information, contact Erin at erin.donlon@portlanddiocese.org.