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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Pilgrimage to Lourdes

connell school news



By Kathryn Boyle '11 and Molly Keefe '09

One cannot help but constantly be on the verge of tears, and even though we want to turn away, our eyes can't be torn from the scene of those pleading and begging. Our lips move in silent prayer. This is Lourdes, France. The inscription on the rock reads "I am the Immaculate Conception". The serene statue of Our Lady is situated in a nook in the Grotto. She is surrounded by ivy and pink flowers, some of which have escaped from their origins in the vine and now gently dangle in front of her. Birds fly above like angels, chirping merrily and skimming their wings on the heads of the hundreds of visitors to the shrine. Someone once said, "Wherever you travel, be a pilgrim." We don't think we fully appreciated this advice until the opportunity arose to travel to France with the Order of Malta to assist the infirm, the malades, on their pilgrimage to Lourdes. We didn't fully understand until we stood in the Grotto witnessing firsthand God's grace and providence at work.

In 1858, the Blessed Mother chose this location to appear to St. Bernadette, then just a young girl. Today, millions of pilgrims flock to Lourdes to be cleansed in holy water that pours forth from the earth and to pray in front of the shrine. As we quickly discovered upon arrival, no book, website, picture, or even catechism instruction could have prepared us for the emotional and spiritual adventure we were about to experience. Whatever personal challenge or qualm you bring to Lourdes, our research explained, you will grow to be at peace with it. More than that however, we inexplicably found that the Immaculate Conception fills you, mesmerizes and captivates you, speaks to you. Lourdes is a lesson in life; a teaching on the Trinity, the Church and the Sacraments, on life in the Holy Spirit, and especially on final destiny.

During our time in Lourdes, we witnessed many acts of love and communion. There were no barriers between those who were ill and those who were well. To see friends pushing each other in wheelchairs, to see mothers and fathers comfort their weak children, and to see brothers and sisters kneeling before the shine in great reverence was truly both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. One of the most moving moments of the trip was a procession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. More than one hundred fifty years ago, the Blessed Mother directed St. Bernadette to have pilgrims "come here in procession." A glance at the surrounding crowd revealed about twenty thousand individuals from all over the world praying for Our Lady's intercession, their hearts kindling with fire for Christ.

Boston College affords numerous opportunities to work with the sick in clinical settings, but this trip was unique. In Lourdes, faith was the center of all care we provided. Though the Jesuit mantra "Men and women for others," has always imbued the nursing curricula, this journey was especially focused on devotion to Mary. The echo of "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria!" constantly rang out from church bell and voice. Upon hearing this chorus, we often found ourselves wondering why we were so blessed to be summoned to Lourdes. In reflection, we have never felt as convinced of our call to the nursing profession as we did then. Serving the infirm with the Order of Malta was truly a wonderful gift.

As our time in Lourdes came to an end, we found ourselves thinking about one particular afternoon when we took the children malades up to an old Roman fort in the hills to explore and play. One of the priests on our trip pulled us aside and started running up a flight of old stone steps. We followed eagerly and when we got to the top, our breaths caught. For miles around us were snow capped mountains, red-tiled roofs, church steeples, and, far in the distance, the Grotto. Never before had we experienced such a vastness and a great filling inside our souls. Clouds dotted the blue sky and the earth was silent. We leaned over the walls and looked out into creation. "God is good," we said together. "Always," the priest replied.

From left: Kathryn Boyle '11, Molly Keefe '09, and Kristin Stobo '10