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Embracing the Spirit of Service in Lourdes, France

Jim Norman

It was a trip to remember for 13 Saints who joined faculty chaperones this August for a journey to Lourdes, France, one of the most spiritual cities in the world. The School’s annual 10-day pilgrimage gives students the experience of serving the malades (people who are ill) visiting Lourdes for physical and spiritual healing. 

The Canterbury Lourdes pilgrims were:

Edmund Ackell ’24
Ella Caraluzzi ’24
Nicholas Ciampi ’24
Lily LaVigne ’23
Shaun McKenna ’24
Anne Melich ’23
Reece “Jerome” Montrone ’23
Gia Mulheren ’24
Alexander Olcese ’23
Charles Phillips ’23
Liam Teeking ’23
Adam Zarif ’23
Michael Zarif ’23

They were accompanied by Director of Health Services Colleen Cook, R.N. ’02; Director of the D’Amour Center for Faith, Service & Justice Tracy Garcia-LaVigne P ʼ14, ʼ16, ʼ17, ʼ20, ʼ23; Director of International Travel Programs Julio Omaña P ’19, ’20; and Director of Counseling Cynthia Willmen.

While there, the students assisted the malades in entering the sacred bath space, helped them get to and from the trains that transport people to the city, and offered support in other areas as needed. They also met fellow high school students from across the globe, attended Mass, and wrote reflections of their experiences each evening.

The trip was filled with many memorable moments. The group participated in the Gestures of Water and the Stations of the Cross—peaceful, reflective, contemplative experiences that put them in an ideal frame of mind for the coming days.

Through an organization called OCH (Christian Office for People with Disabilities), the students met Guillaume, whose genetic disorder at birth made him non-verbal and confined to a wheelchair. Julio related how moved he and the students were at Guillaume’s story. “He loved getting out of the house and visiting with us, despite the difficulty of it,” he said. “Guillaume enjoys painting and making music, and his presentation started with a video he made and a song that he wrote. He has a computer screen on which he can write messages; it speaks for him. When asked what his favorite thing to do in Lourdes was, Guillaume answered, ‘Praying for others.’ It was beautiful.”

The student pilgrims had ample opportunity to experience the culture, energy, and people of Lourdes. They attended the mass for the Anointing of the Sick in the massive Underground Basilica of Pope Pius X, carried torches for a special Candlelight Procession, and assisted at Mass on the big Esplanade in front of the Basilica of the Rosary.

The trip had a powerful and lasting impact on the students. “I went to Lourdes expecting an overwhelming sense of sadness and grief in the malades and their families. Instead, I was met with their kind words and smiles, was overpowered by their love for God and each other, and witnessed the strength of a community bonded by faith,” Ella said. “I spent a week meeting people I'll never forget: the child volunteers I gave my handmade rosaries to, the wife whose husband suffers terminal cancer, the grandmother who brought her child there to heal. Lourdes stays in the minds and hearts of those who visit for a lifetime." 

Julio could not have been prouder of how the students conducted themselves. “Our young people have been complimented up and down and sideways by everyone here,” he shared. “Many of the people we work with have mentioned how together, dedicated, and focused the students are. They are a truly amazing group!”  

He was especially impressed with how they interacted with various people throughout the trip. “Outside of the work, the young men and women were very engaged with the malades and other volunteers. They were making friends and exchanging Instagram and Snapchat names,” he said. “The human connections here are strong. It is a small world where humanity is basically good, and people are kind, welcoming, and giving.”

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