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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Students travel to Lourdes

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Leah Gunning, Jenna Perry, and Linda Eichling in Lourdes, France

In April of 2010, Connell School seniors (l-r) Leah Gunning, Jenna Perry, and Linda Eichling traveled to Lourdes to assist pilgrims visiting the shrine. Their personal reflections below describe their experience.

Linda Eichling '10

I was not always certain of my vocational calling to be a nurse. There are no healthcare professionals in my immediate family; I came to Boston College charting new territory by entering the world of nursing. Throughout my freshman year, I always had one foot out the door, ready to enter the pre-med curriculum or another subject in the College of Arts and Sciences. To be cliché, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Professional Nursing I, my first nursing class in the first semester of my Boston College career, introduced me to a profession that cares for the whole person. My fellow anxious and overachieving classmates and I wrote papers about nursing theories and models of care, exploring important components of what makes up the best nursing care. I slowly began to understand what nursing is really about – caring holistically for people in vulnerable situations.

For four years I studied technical skills, chemistry, anatomy, pathogenic process, microbiology, pharmacology, and learned how the body works, how it responds to illness, and how certain therapies can result in better outcomes. Simultaneously, each semester of nursing classes taught me to pay close attention to the spiritual, emotional, and social health of my patients and clients. Throughout my clinical and volunteer experiences, I encountered people in need of holistic care, each carrying with them a unique and beautiful story of love, joy, and pain. As I began to listen to the stories and connect with my patients, I grew into my identity as a nurse. I began to develop a passion for establishing relationships with people and listening to their stories.

I was blessed with the unique opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France in April of this past year. Lourdes is a place known historically and internationally for healing, and is a Sacred place in the Catholic Church because of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the 1800s. A journey to Lourdes is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many. The Order of Malta generously makes this journey possible for people who are suffering from chronic or terminal illness each year (called “malades”). Millions of people each year find great spiritual significance in the act of traveling to a place with the specific intent of prayer and healing.

Lourdes is a very spiritual and beautiful place. As a person who was raised in the Protestant Christian faith, I did not know about the historical and spiritual significance until introduced at BC. As I arrived in the mystical mountainous village in Southern France, I realized that a person of any faith or cultural background could have a spiritual experience simply by physically being in Lourdes. The place itself is characterized by an attitude of hope for healing and service to others.

I was paired with a 16-year-old boy accompanied by his mother. I was blessed immensely to hear their story, and then become a part of it by helping to facilitate their experience in Lourdes. They came with a refreshingly candid spirit and incredibly humble posture to allow this pilgrimage to touch them in a way they knew they might not fully understand.

My personal experience allowed for much growth – in my faith and in my identity as a nurse. Immersion in the Catholic faith and its rich history and traditions led to new growth and reflection in my faith life. Lourdes allowed me to experience holistic care in a distinctive and mysterious way, and grow into my role as a soon-to-be nurse. I believe that I will continue to discern meaning out of this significant journey at the end of my Boston College career. In reflection and discussion over the last two months, people have been deeply touched by the stories from my experience in Lourdes. I am truly thankful for the opportunity of a lifetime to encounter healing and beauty in the midst of chronic illness. Lourdes provided an incredible conclusive reflective experience to my nursing education at Boston College.

Leah Gunning '10

“God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” Those words echoed in my mind as I sat praying in the serenity of the grotto late one night during our pilgrimage to Lourdes. Lourdes is situated in the South West of France in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It was here in 1858 that Our Blessed Mother appeared eighteen times to Bernadette Soubirous, a young peasant girl only fourteen years of age. She revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception and asked that a chapel be built on the site of the vision, telling the girl to drink from a fountain in the grotto. There was no fountain to be seen, but when Bernadette dug at a spot designated by the Blessed Mother, a spring began to flow. The water from this spring is still flowing and has demonstrated remarkable healing power beyond scientific explanation. To this day, pilgrims are invited to bathe in the baths located 200 yards past the grotto. Lourdes has become the most famous shrine of Our Lady and is one of the great pilgrimage centers of devotion to Our Holy Mother. Over five million pilgrims visit Lourdes every year. Many are sick people in need of care. Others come to pray or to help serve the sick. I received the opportunity to do the latter.

In a world where the sick are so often unloved, Lourdes was a sanctuary that upheld them with honor. Each and every day, I was humbled by the stories that I heard and by the inspiringly faithful people that I met. There was Ken, the malade for whom I cared who, despite a diagnosis of brain cancer and two small children at home, still exhibited the radiating joy and humor that one could only hope for. Then there was John, a boy of sixteen years old diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, who consistently remarked that this week was, “the best week of my life,” and asked me how he could possibly convey this experience to his friends at home. There was young Hannah, prone to seizures, bound by a wheelchair, and not able to speak, yet showing unwavering love with her mother at her side. “This is our life,” her mother remarked. Then there was a Boston College alumna and his wife with their youngest son, a bubbling baby boy whose condition forced him to wear a helmet on his head, which was newly decorated by his mother every few weeks. “The theme for this week is Lourdes,” she said beamingly. The baby clapped his hands, while I admired the stickers of Our Lady and the Order of Malta pin located on his helmet.

Each individual had a story, and each story reminded me of why I have been called to nursing as my vocation. For me, Lourdes was just that: an affirmation of my vocation. I have never seen Christ’s face more prominently than in the faces of these individuals. I have never more fully been able to act as Christ’s hands and feet in the world in such a deliberate manner as during those days in Lourdes. In addition, I was never able to relate myself so closely to Our Blessed Mother as I was able to in Lourdes, as I saw Christ’s face in each person’s suffering and thus recognized her strength in watching her Son suffer an undeserved death so that we might gain new life. Despite the crosses that these beautiful people were bearing, the light of Christ shone through powerfully. As they processed in a candle light vigil with the Blessed Mother leading the way, I could only think that in this dark time in their lives, the light of Christ was shining even brighter. They were lights of inspiration for me on my faith journey.

Lourdes gave me the opportunity to witness healing on all levels. I heard firsthand accounts of physical healing, such as the story of one woman who was miraculously healed from cancer after returning from Lourdes as a child. I recently heard from Ken that he appeared to be beating the odds, as his MRI appointments were pushed back from every two months to every three months. Lastly, I have witnessed and personally experienced spiritual healing in a variety of ways. As sixteen year old John said after being bathed in the baths of Lourdes’ holy water, “I can’t explain it. I feel different.” I have recognized God’s personal call for me to serve Him through caring for the sick in a holistic manner: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. As Mother Theresa once said, "I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord Himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?" Indeed, that is why I chose nursing, or rather, that is why God chose me for nursing. The pilgrimage to Lourdes solidified the conviction to my life’s calling, and I praise God for that every day. “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.”


Jenna Perry '10

Water was the theme for our week in Lourdes.  Pilgrims flocked to the grotto to fill their plastic jugs and glass bottles with holy water each and every day. Raindrops fell frequently from the dark gray clouds as they tumbled around in the sky above. Tears gathered in onlookers eyes as each malade was blessed at the grotto. As I brought the holy water to my lips for the first time, I was amazed by the simplicity of it in my palms. But as I looked around me to the anonymous mouths whispering prayers and drinking from cupped hands, I came to understand once again the simple power of healing through faith.

Perhaps the greatest blessings to come from my travels to Lourdes were the two gentlemen I had the joy of accompanying throughout the week, José and Howard. Together, they helped to instill in me a feeling of faith that I had never experienced before. A few years ago, Howard was fortunate to survive major cranial surgery after he slipped and fell on ice in his driveway. In the months following, his best friend José was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is a progressive degenerative disease involving the motor system. José has since lost his ability to speak and is now beginning to lose strength in his hands and legs. Both of them came to Lourdes for their second year in a row to pray the rosary, wash their hands daily with holy water, and seek hope through God in this challenging time.

What inspires me the most about their story is Howard’s peace of mind. Over dinner one evening, he explained to me that God had kept him alive because he was meant to care for José, just as José had cared for him during his long hospitalization. Howard views José’s diagnosis not as a burden, but as a calling. Above all else, their friendship is one of the most beautiful relationships that I have ever encountered. When they met, Howard made it his responsibility to teach José (who is originally from Brazil) to speak English and find an excellent job as a nurse’s aide. Now, after moving from his home country and learning how to communicate using a new language, ALS has once again deprived José of his voice. Though Howard may serve as this voice, José’s spirit is not lost, but is just as brilliant as ever. José has brought me humor, joy, and most of all faith in the bonds of friendship that we are able to create with others in this world.

As I transition from Boston College into my role as a nurse, I will always remember drinking Lourdes’ holy waters alongside José and Howard. I will remember the feeling of raindrops as they fell upon my veil and teardrops as they spilled gently down my face. I was blessed to be witness to such an incredible place of peace, as my understanding of healing now extends far beyond the scope of medicine to include faith, compassion, and most of all love.