Our Saints pilgrims who traveled to Lourdes, France, for Canterbury’s annual 10-day service experience were unanimous in their feelings about the trip—the interactions are what made it special.
“Even if we did not speak the same language, when we gifted one of our handmade rosaries or simply exchanged a smile with someone, those moments shared with strangers in Lourdes were unlike any other,” said Sylvia Pinheiro ’24. “We also became closer with each other and reflected on who we are as individuals.”
Joining Sylvia on the pilgrimage were classmates Ruari Bamrick ’24, Katherine Datlow ’24, Paul DeSantis ’24, Cavan Dowler ’24, Ava Faruol ’24, Sophia Faruol ’25, David Kim ’25, Andrew King ’24, Emily Lang ’24, Madison Lang ’24, Austin Moozar ’24, Geoffrey Moran ’24, Gia Mulheren ’24, Brandon Rodriguez ’25, Lea Ruisi ’24, and Ryan Stratton ’24.
They were accompanied by Director of Health Services Colleen Cook, R.N. ’02; Theology Teacher Tracy Garcia-LaVigne P ʼ14, ʼ16, ʼ17, ʼ20, ʼ23; and Director of International Travel Programs, Language Teacher, and Form Dean Julio Omaña P ’19, ’20. Also serving as adult leaders were William Bergner P ’09, ’10, ’14 and Eli Taylor ’19, who has been going to Lourdes every year since his first time as a Canterbury student pilgrim. During this trip, Eli earned the “Red Cross,” an honor symbolizing his dedication to Lourdes. Students from other schools joined their group as well, including Julio’s niece Emma.
Julio enjoyed watching his charges interact with the malades, people who are ill when they come to the city. “The train station work is always the highlight of the trip. One day, we were helping people get off the trains and navigate to buses that took them to their hotels,” he shared. “Then the last day happened in reverse, and it was magical. The malades recognized our students from when they first arrived or from seeing them in town. Since they were leaving, it became emotional. It was such a special opportunity for our kids to make strong connections.”
During a stop at the Office of Christian Hospitality—a group that welcomes disabled people to Lourdes—students had a wonderful interaction with Jean-Paul, who was deaf and visiting the city to help as a volunteer. “Jean-Paul wanted people to know that he is a whole human being; that he is smart and able in many more ways than his disability might show,” Julio said. “In other words, he is much more able than disabled. He delivered a powerful message to our students.”
There were many other highlights for the Saints, who attended mass in various locations, “worked the ropes” at events to help direct and divert traffic, participated in beautiful candlelight processions, assisted with the water gestures at the healing baths, interacted with a group from the French National Pilgrimage, visited historical sites, and so much more. All the while, they shopped, ate, socialized, and grew closer together.
“We had many communal experiences as well as individual ones,” Ava recalled. “Each night, we would gather before bed for an evening reflection. It was so interesting to hear about everyone’s unique experiences, even though we were all usually working the same job. We each learned to find small moments of gratitude in our days.”
And Julio encouraged students to carry those reflections and moments with them when they returned home. “How do we bring Lourdes back with us to our families, to our communities, to our schools, to our friend groups? The answer is easy—we take action,” he said. “We say hello to people, we smile and nod, we trust others, we say what we feel and hope that others listen. We look for similar opportunities to serve. We inspire others by our actions.”
Canterbury students have been doing just that for nearly 30 years. Our first Lourdes pilgrimage took place in the summer of 1994 following a Canterbury-sponsored trip to the World Youth Day gathering in Denver, Colorado, the year prior. Trustee Emerita Hope Carter P ’86, ’87, ’88, ’91, ’95, GP ’09, ’10, ’14 inspired the inaugural Lourdes Pilgrimage and has been instrumental in Canterbury's continued involvement. Lourdes, an internationally recognized Grotto, is the site to which more than five million pilgrims travel each year. The Canterbury trip is organized through Our Lady’s Pilgrimage, an organization that has been bringing pilgrims to Lourdes since 1993.