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Saint Mary’s course aims to introduce students to shared experiences of pilgrimages

| Monday, November 25, 2019

The collaboration of a student and professor at Saint Mary’s has resulted in a new spring semester course. Senior Annie Maguire, with the help of professor of philosophy Patty Sayre, has developed a philosophy course called “The Camino.” The course material for The Camino will focus on the subject of pilgrimage.

The course is worth one academic credit and is in anticipation of students completing a pilgrimage at some point in the future.

“[The course was developed with] a syllabus that would allow students to enroll in a class one for one credit to really explore the ideas and themes around pilgrimage and prepare students for that experience,” Maguire said.

The idea for this preparatory course for pilgrimages came about from Maguire’s personal experience when she walked the Camino de Santiago — “The Way of St. James” — in southern France and northern Spain at the end of her semester abroad in Seville. Maguire embarked on a three-week journey beginning in Leon, France, to Santiago, Spain.

“Originally, the pilgrimage route was created as a way for people to kind of show their love for St. James,” she said. “‘Santiago’ means St. James, and ending in the city of Santiago is where it is said the remains of St. James are.”

The Camino de Santiago involves intense backpacking along a path that would take around 35 days to walk in full. Along the path pilgrims would stay at hostels all through the countryside in Spain which facilitates the community experience throughout the journey, as Maguire described.

“That’s something that I can take with me forever — the relationships,” she said. “Having this experience helped me learn about other people’s stories, the importance of sharing your stories, and kind of just widening my worldview. … I wanted to create something where other students could engage in.”

Though Maguire will incorporate her experience walking The Camino, she will teach the course with the expectation that students will complete their own pilgrimages over their own time.

“The preparation we will do throughout the course of the semester for students will be more similar to what I experienced just because I want to help and give as many ways as I can to contribute to this class,” she said. “But students are obviously invited to take any note that they’d like to explore the different options and whatever works for them and their schedules. They could do so at the end of the semester, or maybe like a year down the road, or maybe, you know, far out in advance. But I think that freedom is really important because I along the way, I met a lot of students who were doing this through a school group or with a group of people, and that is a very different experience. … I think that’s the benefit of the structure of our course that we’re creating.”

With Sayre’s experience in her previous course, Philosophy of Walking, she had the ability to work with Maguire to create this new course focused on pilgrimage. Pilgrimages, Sayre explained, unfold over the course of several stages.

“The idea is that the various phases of getting ready for the pilgrimage, going on the pilgrimage, coming back from the pilgrimage,” she said. “We’ll look at pilgrimage narratives from major pilgrimages routes.”

In addition to the course readings about pilgrimage as mental preparation, students will also take a walk every Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. to physically prepare for the pilgrimage experience.

“I think it honestly gave me so many other life lessons that I carry with me now, like the physical act of walking, you feel all of the items to your name on your back as you carry them along the way,” Maguire said. “That’s also a great metaphor for what we carry with us in our life. … That I learned through this physical experience, but also spiritual and emotional experience as well.”

The Camino course not only prepares students discerning a pilgrimage in their lives but allows for the freedom to travel when they choose to.

“It’s going to prepare one for a major pilgrimage,” Sayre said. “One of the things that might happen is that … if it is your time, you might think meet someone else in the class whose time it is. And then if you wanted to travel together, you’d have that automatic connection.”

Maguire encourages students to take this course as it can help all students achieve their purpose for taking a pilgrimage.

“Maybe they want to do a little soul searching, maybe they just want to break in their schedule in their busy lives, maybe they’re really interested in backpacking, so it draws a whole diverse group of people together on this experience that is very much communal and shared and life changing,” Maguire said.

Sayre said she is excited to share her love of walking and to encourage students to use walking and pilgrimage as a transformative experience for their daily lives. She also said she wants to learn more about the pilgrimage experience.

“I’m looking forward to just learning more about pilgrimages,” she said. “I really desperately do want to do the Camino someday. … When my time comes, I’d like to be ready.”

Maguire said she is looking forward to continuing the exploration of her previous experience on the Camino and to share the fruits of that experience with her peers.

“I’m very excited to … hear from other students,” Maguire said. “I feel like that is really valuable perspective because taking the Camino is all about changing perspective in your life. I think reading and learning about the experiences of others will help me even as I still process my own experience, understand things.”

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