On our second day of pilgrimage, trip leader, Dan Leahy, gave us the theme of “Spirituality of Place.” That night, we were asked four things: (1) How do you understand spirituality?, (2) What places are meaningful to you as places of spiritual encounter?, (3) Has there been a place of spiritual encounter in Le Puy?, and (4) What does spiritual encounter feel like? These are questions that most of us don’t usually ask ourselves, yet it is so important. The way we view spirituality molds the way we see and understand spiritual encounters and experiences. These questions challenged us to not only reflect on what spirituality means to each of us personally, but to listen to how others experience the divine. As I listened in my small group, I was reminded of something--spiritual encounters and feeling divine presence is not reserved for big churches and extravagant places. The most profound spiritual encounters are usually simple, but it requires us to open our eyes and be mindful. While in Le Puy, we visited the original kitchen. It was not fancy by any means--it didn’t have fancy floors or fancy appliances, rather it had cold stone floors and walls with the most basic of necessities, yet in this small room, some of the most profound spiritual encounters took place. This is where the first sisters would gather and discuss their plans, discuss how they would serve and how they would answer God’s call. A spiritual encounter does not have to be emotionally charged and dramatic--it can be simple. The first Sisters saw God in the needs of others, thus every person and situation was a spiritual encounter--an ordained moment from God to fulfill their purpose. What would happen if we treated every moment as such? While I was in Le Puy, I felt the presence of God all around me, not only in the beautiful churches and cathedrals but in the people and the streets. One does not have to go far to connect with the divine.
On our first day of pilgrimage, trip leader Lori Helfrich gave us the theme “Rock and Fire.” At reflection later that night, each of us were called to ask ourselves what the “rock” and “fire” was in our own lives--the rock being our foundation, what gives us strength, and the fire being our passion. Too often we get so caught up in the day-to-day struggle that we fail to acknowledge the different influences in our life and enjoy the journey they are taking us on. This exercise challenged the group to reflect on our influences and appreciate their impact on our life. As we all shared our different stories in small group, I was reminded of a quote from St. Catherine of Siena who said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” On that first day of pilgrimage we climbed the Saint Michel Chapel, an ancient chapel that overlooks the city which the first sisters would have gone and prayed. It was a beautiful reminder of their humble beginnings and their commitment to faith. Whether you are called to respond to needs in a little city like Le Puy or in the big city of New York, your passions have a purpose. Just as the first Sisters of St. Joseph had their own rock and fire, so do we. Just as the first Sisters set the world on fire by being who God wanted them to be, so can we. Our first night of reflection reminded me to always follow my passions and always be grateful for the people who were put in my path to help me pursue them. Ask yourself today: What is my rock? What is my fire? How are the two interconnected?
As I reflect on the end of our pilgrimage, there is so much gratitude. We left enlivened and re-energized by the stories of the first sisters, the wisdom of Sister Joan and Sister Kitty and the passion of our trip leaders. The first sisters knew their identity in God and knew that God was calling them to greater things. It is from this understanding that they had the courage to fearlessly respond to God’s plan. Through loving others without distinction, the sisters echoed and still echo God’s love for all. On the trip, we had the opportunity to visit Mother St. John Fontbonne’s living quarters. Barely escaping the guillotine, she is the one who revitalized the congregation after the French Revolution. We walked up the same steps Mother St. John walked on--the same steps of someone who had unbridled courage and strength. She sent the first sisters to the United States and if it were not for her, the congregation would not be what it is today. How did she gather the courage and the strength to revitalize an entire community? I believe it was her faith--she knew her identity in God and responded to her call. On our last night of pilgrimage, Sister Joan and Sister Kitty gave us a special blessing. We’re all familiar with the phrase “I know it by heart,” usually referencing a memorization of some sort, but the sisters made the statement more profound. They said to each of us, “God knows you by heart.” Just as the first sisters, knowing this, gives us a courage that is beyond comprehension--the courage to follow God’s call for our lives with boldness. So as we all left France, we were filled with the joy of our identity and thus ready to confidently tell the inspiring stories of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Hello everyone! I’m so happy you’re here. My name is Tatiana Belanich and I’m the writer for the Le Puy Pilgrimage blog. I’m a junior at St. Joseph’s College Long Island campus and a double major in Journalism and Religious Studies. I am also an intern with ACSSJ and will be participating in the pilgrimage this June. I hope my articles will be fun and informative, but most importantly a reminder of the mission of this trip. St. Augustine once said, "The world is a great book, of which they that never stir from home read only a page." There is so much beauty to be explored and so much goodness to be experienced if only we would step out of our comfort zone. I hope you will follow us on our journey as we take these steps to respond to the stirrings of our hearts and attempt to read the many chapters the world has to offer.