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Fall break pilgrimages deepen faith

NICOLE MCALEE | Wednesday, October 30, 2013


While many Notre Dame students headed home for fall break, a few spent last week as pilgrims, visiting holy sites in Canada and Poland as part of pilgrimages organized by the Office of Campus Ministry.  

Andrew Polaniecki, director of Campus Ministry at Holy Cross College, and Fr. Stephen Lacroix led 27 Notre Dame students and six Holy Cross students on a pilgrimage to the Oratory of Saint Joseph in Montreal, Quebec, where the tomb of Saint Andre Bessette, the first saint from the Congregation of Holy Cross, is located.

“I think students get a close and personal encounter with a special man, Saint Andre Bessette,” Polaniecki said. “No one who goes on this trip leaves without somehow being personally touched by this poor, humble, obedient servant of God.”

The pilgrims also visited the Newman Center Community at the University of Toronto, the burial place of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha at St. Francis Xavier Church in Kahnawake, Quebec, and other historic churches in Montreal and Niagara Falls. 

Senior Jeremy Vercillo said he was surprised by the culture of French Canada. 

“[Montreal] was very unlike any American city I had been to,” he said. “Even though its population is bilingual, all of the street signs, advertisements, menus and passing conversations were in French. People did not address you in English unless they knew you were visitors.”

Freshman Jim Corcoran said he enjoyed the opportunity to grow spiritually and meet other students during the pilgrimage.  

“Between the beautiful churches and the wonderful people who also went on this pilgrimage, this journey is going to be one that I remember for a long time, and one that will continue to bear fruit weeks, months, and even years after,” Corcoran said. “I was the only person from Old College who went this year, and I felt that as a result, I really had to branch out and meet new people. What a blessing.”

John Paul Lichon, assistant director for retreats, pilgrimages and spirituality at the Office of Campus Ministry, led 23 Notre Dame students and one Saint Mary’s College student on a weeklong pilgrimage through Poland, the home country of Pope John Paul II. 

“Because I share a name with our beloved Blessed John Paul II, I have always had a special connection with him, and I wanted to introduce students to his life and witness in faith,” Lichon said.  

The journey took students to several sites of importance to the life of John Paul II, including his birthplace of Wadowice, Wawel Cathedral and pilgrimage sites that John Paul II visited during his life, including Kalwaria Zebryzdowska, Our Lady of Czestochowa and the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy. 

Senior Tony Oleck said he was surprised by both Polish culture and the importance of the Catholic Church in Poland. 

“I was actually somewhat surprised at how rich the culture and history of Poland is. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but when we landed I was quickly confronted with a very rich culture,” Oleck said. “I was also surprised at the vibrance of the Catholic Church in Poland. I guess I expected people there to be excited about John Paul II’s canonization this spring and everything, but this was something else.” 

Senior Marissa Bulso decided to go on the pilgrimage to grow closer to John Paul II and said her experience is “still beyond words.” 

“I can tell you that it involved a great deal of prayer, a good deal of walking, and no small amount of group bonding,” Bulso said. “As I drew deeper into my own spiritual life, I also grew outward, learning from those around me and embracing my fellow pilgrims.”