Love for Lourdes extends beyond the heart


Every year, six million people travel to Lourdes, France, embarking on a pilgrimage to remember the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes and to bathe in the healing spring known as Massabielle. Christians believe that the spring contains healing holy water after Our Lady of Lourdes appeared there in 1858. This feature, along with several other religious aspects, draws many handicapped individuals to the city. While most pilgrims are disabled, sick, or elderly individuals seeking the healing spring, many, including the Sacred Heart Greenwich students who travel annually to Lourdes, are able-bodied pilgrims who visit in order to help those Assisted Pilgrims (APs) complete their journey.
For more than 35 years, Sacred Heart has partnered with Ampleforth Abbey to allow Sacred Heart Students to volunteer with the APs in the Ampleforth Lourdes Pilgrimage. Ampleforth Abbey is a Benedictine monastery in North Yorkshire, England, according to Numerous benefactors, including the Ampleforth Foundation, fund the rising seniors’ trip to Lourdes.

Pilgrims reflecting in front of the grotto where St. Bernadette saw the apparition of Mary.
Katie McCabe ’18

The tradition of Lourdes began in 1858, with a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous, who Pope Pius XI canonized in 1933. St. Bernadette saw a white-robed woman 18 times in a small grotto called Massabielle near Lourdes. In these apparitions, the woman instructed her to tell the local priest to build a chapel in the grotto. Since 1860, more than 200 million pilgrims have traveled to the grotto, making it the most visited shrine in the Christian world, according to
During the 16th apparition, the figure revealed herself as the Blessed Virgin Mary. After this revelation, St. Bernadette began digging in the spot where Mary revealed her identity. Over the next few days, the puddle that appeared after she finished digging enlarged and transformed into the now famous spring, according to Pope Pius IX declared St. Bernadette’s visions legitimate and called for the veneration of Mary as Our Lady of Lourdes in 1862.
Sacred Heart students who visit Lourdes attend daily masses where they reflect on their experiences, as well as help and support the APs. Seven Sacred Heart seniors, Charlotte Sheehan, Katie McCabe, Emily Coster, Mary Jane Tranfo, Abby Leyson, Stephanie Jordan, and Paolina Kovalenko-Baloup embarked on the Lourdes Pilgrimage Wednesday, July 12, 2017, and returned Saturday, July 22, 2017.
Students often began their days between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. Some students would head to the hospital where the APs stayed and helped the nurses wake them, while others provided assistance during breakfast. Following breakfast, students and APs attended mass.
Charlotte Sheehan ’18, Paolina Kovalenko-Baloup ’18, Stephanie Jordan’ 18, Mary Jane Tranfo ’18, Abby Leyson ’18, and Katie McCabe ’18 pose in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, Lourdes during their pilgrimage.
Courtesy of Mary Jane Tranfo ’18

“We had group masses which were smaller and spread out in different chapels, large masses as a whole pilgrimage in the hospital, and, every Sunday, there was an International Mass for about three hours, because the Mass is spoken in multiple languages,” Abby said.
In the afternoons, the students helped serve lunch and then attended group pilgrimage activities in the Domain, where the main basilica is located. After dinner, both able-bodied pilgrims and APs attended a candlelit procession to conclude the day. Finally, students helped the APs prepare for bed at around 8 p.m.
The Candlelight vigil is always an unforgettable experience for all pilgrims. It unifies both able-bodied disabled pilgrims and other pilgrims from all over the world.
“During the Candlelight vigil, we all walked around the basilica holding a candle as the rosary was recited in a multitude of different languages,” Sacred Heart alumna Allie Massello ’17 said of her experience at Lourdes. “It was incredible and so moving to see people from around the world come together to help others and strengthen their faith.
Charlotte Sheehan ’18 holds the Ampleforth flag along with faculty chaperones Ms. Maureen Crowley, Mrs. Phylis Pregiato, and fellow classmate Katie McCabe ’18.
Courtesy of Katie McCabe ’18

Numerous Sacred Heart students developed strong relationships with the APs while in Lourdes. The determination of these individuals often inspires student pilgrims. Even after their return to Greenwich, these relationships continue to have a lasting impact. 
“One of the most memorable moments of my trip was forming a relationship with a woman named Wendy,”  Paolina said. “She could not communicate very well yet we still managed to laugh and get to know each other more and more every day. Seeing her was the highlight of my day and she would always brighten up the room.”
The students and faculty who visit Lourdes wear white throughout their trip in order to remember Mary as she appeared to St. Bernadette. During the annual Lourdes chapel, the group that traveled to Lourdes reflects on their time on the pilgrimage. Many of the juniors who apply to Lourdes draw inspiration from the reflections and information they learn in this chapel.
“I’ve wanted to go to Lourdes for as long as I can remember because it has a special place in my family,” junior Sarah Eckerson said. “Since being at Sacred Heart and hearing about my peers’ positive experiences, my desire to go on the trip has only grown. I look forward to the chapel each year to hear about the new, treasured experiences that the seniors get, and their stories have made me really excited to apply to Lourdes.”
-Shantel Guzman, Sports, and Health Editor
Featured Image by Katie McCabe ’18