The beauty of Lourdes beyond the Heart


Christine Guido '20

Each year a group of rising seniors from Sacred Heart Greenwich travels to Lourdes, France, to join the Ampleforth Pilgrimage.

Every summer, a group of Sacred Heart Greenwich students travels to Lourdes, France, to join the Ampleforth Pilgrimage, assist pilgrims who may be ill or disabled, and honor Our Lady of Lourdes.  This past summer I was fortunate enough to be part of the group and embark on this journey.

For more than 35 years, Sacred Heart has partnered with Ampleforth Abbey and College and Portsmouth Abbey School, allowing Sacred Heart students the opportunity to volunteer with the Assisted Pilgrims (APs) in the Ampleforth Pilgrimage.  Ampleforth Abbey, founded 1802, is a Benedictine monastery located in North Yorkshire, England, according to

The pilgrimage marching around the main basilica and the Massabielle grotto during a procession in Lourdes, France. Courtesy of Avery McCloskey ’20

Located in the Pyrenees Mountain region of France, Lourdes is home to one of the most religious shrines in the Catholic Faith, the Grotto of Massabielle.  Between February 11 and July 26, 1858, a 14-year-old girl, Saint Bernadette Soubirous, experienced 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the nearby Massabielle grotto.  During the ninth vision, an underground spring with healing powers revealed itself and Mary requested Bernadette drink from a fountain in the Grotto and asked to build a chapel on the sight of the vision, according to

Including me, seven Sacred Heart seniors, Caroline Badagliacca, Caroline Baranello, Grace Nemec, Sally Carter, Lily DeConcini, Avery McCloskey, as well as Ms. Daisy Steinthal ’19 departed from Sacred Heart July 10 and returned July 21.

Sacred Heart alumnae Ms. Kathleen Fenney ’98, Ms. Mary Anne Gallagher ’19, Ms. Emma O’Connor ’19, and Ms. Nicole Seagriff ’03, later joined us in Lourdes  

I wanted to visit Lourdes since I was a little girl because my Aunt Bernadette went there before she passed away from cancer.  My aunt made it very clear that at some point in my life, I had to go to Lourdes because it would be one of the best experiences of my life.  Once I learned about my acceptance to serve in Lourdes, I was thrilled because nothing had ever felt more right to me.  In Lourdes, I had the opportunity to deepen my faith by participating in daily prayers, meditations, and group discussions.

Four to six million pilgrims from around the world visit the site of the Marian apparition each year and over 200 million pilgrims have traveled to Lourdes since the year 1860, according to Specific reasons for visiting Lourdes could be a desire for a physical cure, a movement towards belief, to be of service to those who suffer, or mere interest and curiosity that they come to drink the sacred water from the Holy Spring, according to

The Holy See, the episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, recognizes 69 miracles attributable to the water that flows from the Grotto, according to  Millions of people respond to Our Lady’s invitation by visiting Lourdes each year, a world center of pilgrimage and a special place of meeting between God and people, according to

Ms. Phil, one of the APs, touched the hearts of many Sacred Heart girls with her outgoing personality and generosity of spirit.  Courtesy of Ms. Sydney Welsh

Our days often began between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.  Some mornings we would walk to the Saint Frai hospital where the APs stayed and helped the nurses wake them, while other times we helped prepare and serve breakfast.  Following breakfast, we would take the APs to their first activity of the day, which was usually mass.

One mass that was truly magical was the Anointing of the Sick.  All members of the pilgrimage hiked to a beautiful secluded section in the mountains where we all gathered for mass.  During the mass, the volunteers stood with an AP they formed a strong connection with earlier in the week while the APs received their blessing.  It was so powerful to see the entire pilgrimage together in a gorgeous and peaceful space.

During the Anointing of the Sick Mass, Ms. Phil, one of the APs, asked me and a few of my peers to come down during her anointment and lay our hands on her as a blessing,” Grace said.  “This meant a lot to me since I had only known Ms. Phil for a little while, but our special connection allowed me to be a part of this very life-changing moment.”

In the afternoons, we helped serve lunch to the APs and then attend group pilgrimage activities in the Domain, located near the main basilica.  After dinner, we would attend a candlelit procession with the APs to conclude the day.  Afterward, we helped the APs prepare for bed around 8 p.m. 

In the evenings we were all able to spend time with other members on the pilgrimage and reflect about our day.  For me, one of my most memorable experiences was in the evening visiting the Grotto at midnight with my assigned group in the pilgrimage.  Just before 12 a.m., my group and I gathered at the Grotto’s entrance and then proceeded to a seated area where we sat silently with each other and focused on our intentions.  When we were ready, we moved toward the area where Our Lady appeared to Saint Bernadette and slowly walked alongside the wall with our fingers tracing the stones as the Grotto’s water flows onto our hands. 

One night, Ms. Emma O’Connor ’19, Ms. Kathleen Fenney ’98, Caroline Baranello ’20, Ms. Nicole Seagriff ’03, Caroline Badagliacca ’20, Grace Nemec ’20, Christine Guido ’20, Ms. Mary Anne Gallagher ’19, and Ms. Daisy Steinthal ’19 and other members of the Ampleforth pilgrimage gathered on the roof of the Saint Frai hospital to celebrate the week’s memories with the APs.  Christine Guido ’20

The first time I visited the Grotto was in the afternoon, and although it was still a very calming environment, there were large tourist groups concerned with photographing the site.  Because my group and I visited the Grotto at an unusual, off-hour, there was only one other small group of people which allowed us to focus on ourselves and what we hoped we would gain from this experience.  While we had separate visits to the Grotto with our groups, Caroline had a similar calming experience.  

“At night, the Grotto was nearly empty and I found my experience led by one of the Ampleforth priests to be much more profound,” Caroline said.  “I think the tranquil silence of the environment stuck me the most because it was such a sharp contrast to what I had seen during the day, but it made for a great introduction to how magical Lourdes can be.”

While I was in Lourdes, I knew I was in the right place, and I was meant to be there to serve.  I made many long-lasting friendships with the APs and other members on the Ampleforth Pilgrimage.  I am truly blessed to be able to share my experience and feel so lucky for the opportunity.  Surrounded by people with the same intention as me, to help and serve the elderly, was the most spiritually powerful experience, and to me, that is the beauty of Lourdes.

Featured Image by Christine Guido ’20