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.
As I reflect on our time in Le Puy, I am beautifully overwhelmed--moved by our vulnerability and incredibly encouraged by our desire to know and experience God. Most of all, I am in complete wonder and awe of the stories of the first Sisters. We have all come to discover their unbridled faith, their uninhibited trust and their willingness to follow God's call no matter the circumstances and it is undeniably striking. The Sisters were and still are fierce witnesses of God's love--they are inspiring and they are relevant. Their mission lives on in every one of us and we feel a duty to share their beautiful message--a message this world needs now more than ever: to love your neighbor without distinction, to see a need and to tend to it fearlessly, to love without condition. As I touched the same stone and sat in the same room as the first Sisters in the original kitchen, it's as though they were with us, reminding us that we were made for greater things. Le Puy has given us all so much. It will forever be our home.
"Streets of Le Puy"
By: Mary Catherine Walton, SSJ
"Who has walked upon these cobblestones? Whose feet have left impressions felt in lingering energies of deeds done here? Whose feet left imprints of agonies and miseries and joys that remain in memory and fact? Holy ones. Soldiers, revolutionists, and poor folk have trod the streets that are still here--though they are gone. The yesterday's call us to remember those who birthed us here. With gratitude, we bow our hearts to the inheritance of love they have left for us to grow in and grow into. The path has voice in the choice some women made long ago. Now the path they took stretches across the Earth, and we walk in their footsteps."
Now, for some reflections from the pilgrims!
"This group is becoming closer each day! I remember during one of the 'Sharing of the Heart', I said that I felt as though I could have a meaningful conversation with any person on this trip. I really feel that has happened already! Everything here is very beautiful...it is evident that God is present in every person we meet and every place we enter."
"The word this trip has made me constantly ponder on is gratitude. I'm grateful to have been chosen for this opportunity. I'm grateful for the people I have met and been able to have conversations with. I'm grateful for the hospitality, the acceptance and every single day that God has granted me. I'm grateful for all I've been open to: experience and lessons and friendships."
"Interacting with the shop owners and locals in Le Puy was so exciting. Having the chance to swap stories of culture and experience was truly like none other. With every conversation I felt both my mind and my heart expand in the best ways! The greenery and the beautiful landscape are also great reminders to keep our communities and streets back home clean, pretty and worthy of God's presence."
"I was very impressed by the visit with high school students. They were all so happy to see us. They spoke English so well and were more put-together in their presentation than any of us could imagine being at their age. These students were so passionate about the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph and forming relationships with their sister schools. They made us feel very welcome and at home."
"Hello again! Or should I say, BONJOUR! This week so far has been incredibly breathtaking. To be able to see history, and be able to walk where the sisters once did is MIND-BLOWING. In case you are wondering, this group of people click together so well. God had such a plan when putting us all together! On a sad note, it is almost time to leave our new home. But, though we tear now, Le Puy en Velay is always an place we can call home....onto Lyon!
P.S. thank you Olga and Elouise for all that you have done for us at the Centre!"
"It has only been a short while here and I feel like I have just got in and belonged here. Le Puy will forever have a special place in my heart and so will the croissants and all of which who came on this trip. God put us all together for a reason and I think that is so beautiful. We all just fit together like a puzzle and see the best in each other. I am so blessed with this experience! Just being around the sisters touch my heart and constantly make me feel closer to God. The food here is unique and the sights here are breathtaking. I am forever blessed and loved by God!"
"Over the past 2 days, I felt so at home in Le Puy. I felt such a connection with Martine and her students because they understood the same mission as me. Being around the Sisters and being in the original kitchen spoke to me as if I was there with the first sisters. It saddens me to leave Le Puy, but I know that it will be my home forever."
"The last two days were very relaxing. On Tuesday, we went to the original kitchen and you can just feel the presence of the Sisters as well as seeing the high schoolers/middle schoolers and seeing what they are doing to carry the legacy on. On Wednesday, we got to go to mass and walk a section of the Camino. I just felt a big sense of community and tradition."
"The past few days here have been the most wonderful of my entire 2018. This experience has already brought me back from a very tough and trying time in my life. This trip came at the best possible time in my life and I can't wait to see the beautiful city of Lyon."
Our first full day of Pilgrimage in Le Puy was nothing short of breathtaking. We were all amazed by the beauty surrounding us, enamored and overtaken by God's presence. As we walked the same ground as the first faithful Sisters, all I could think of was the title of one of my favorite songs by a group called All Sons and Daughters: "Heaven Meets Earth." Le Puy is a touch of heaven--a proclamation of God's goodness; the irresistible, the captivating, the wildly beautiful glory and majesty of God. As we prayed together in the chapel of Saint-Michel D'Aiguille, roamed the Cathedral Norte Dame and climbed to the most holy, Blessed Mother, God touched our hearts. He exposed our need for Him and called us closer to His saving mercy. I am in awe after our first day. God whispered to my heart and reminded me that His peace surpasses all understanding. We connected with God in a tangible, moving way. We connected with the Sisters of St. Joseph and allowed their faith to enliven us. We connected deeply with one another. God is moving!
To close, I want to share some reflections that the pilgrims wrote in a journal we are keeping for the trip!
"Today was lovely. I still can't believe that we all got to come here and experience France. While walking in the streets and bobbing in and out of the storefronts, I felt in awe that I could tangibly touch and see the sights I had previously only dreamed about. It almost felt as though I was experiencing France through Google street view or a dreamy old-fashioned movie. The first day is nearly over and I can't wait to wake up and see what tomorrow will bring."
"It still doesn't feel real. We're in France and I feel so blessed, so glad I get to share this experience with the rest of the group. I am so excited for all that we have left."
"Not only was today beautiful, but everyone here is too! One thing I love (that we learned today) is that people home the highest places like St. Michel to be as close to God as they can be. Turns out, I felt wonderfully close to Him, and I can't wait to see where this week takes me on this faith journey and with my newly made friends."
"This experience is better than I could have ever dreamed. To see so many students who love God as much as I do is incredible. To know I am growing in faith with such incredible people touches my heart. I love learning about each of these people. It feels like I have known them for years."
"The first day has been so incredible. Everyone is so amazing and I am excited to spend the rest of the week with them. I loved hearing about the other schools the sisters have founded. I'm looking forward to this week."
"Going up the stairs to the chapel was a struggle, but then seeing the view was breathtaking. Another awesome thing was when we were saying prayers and the power that had."
"I'm realizing that everyone expresses their Catholicism differently. Even Emily and I are different. I think that's the beauty of it--God has touched us uniquely. We are all so taken by the beauty of Le Puy. It is pretty, but imagine if we looked at our homes with the same awe in God's creation maybe this life would be so much happier. We (Veronique, Mary & I) found a waterfall!
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.