by Kristi Anderson and Dianne Towalski
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (CNS) — The idea of a pilgrimage during the Year of Mercy took Benedictine Sister Lisa Kittock by storm.
After hearing Pope Francis suggest that people make pilgrimages throughout the Year of Mercy, she thought it would be fun to invite students to St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph to pray with the sisters at their Sacred Heart Chapel, one of the sites Bishop Donald J. Kettler of St. Cloud has noted as a holy site to visit during the special jubilee year.
She contacted Linda Kaiser, St. Cloud’s diocesan director of Catholic Education Ministries, to help coordinate the event.
“Fifth grade is a year that students typically explore vocations, so we chose students around that age to attend,” Kaiser told The Visitor, the diocesan newspaper.
Sister Lisa also contacted Benedictine Brother Eric Pohlman at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville.
“We decided that the girls would be invited to the monastery and the boys would go to the abbey for the day,” Sister Lisa said.
Nine buses left their starting points from various places in the Diocese of St. Cloud May 10 and picked up other “pilgrim” students along the way. A total of 350 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from 17 schools participated.
In keeping with the spirit of pilgrimage, the girls toured the gathering space and chapel as well as the cemetery and grotto at St. Benedict’s Monastery. They also traveled from room to room, hearing stories of sisters from the past and present, including the community’s foundress, and the sisters who were instrumental in building the chapel and the St. Cloud Hospital. They also heard stories about current sisters working in various places around the community and world.
Benedictine Sister Julie Schleper gave a presentation on the theme “Jesus is the face of God’s mercy.” The girls were asked to recall how Jesus showed mercy when he was living on earth and how they show mercy to others, concluding the talk with a craft project based on the book “Beads on One String” by Dennis Warner.
“I think I can speak for all the sisters in saying that we were just amazed at the sheer quantity of girls in our gathering space, in our oratory, in our chapel,” said Sister Lisa. “I wish people could see how beautiful it was to see the girls learn how the sisters pray and who they are praying for three times a day. And their receptivity to everyone, to everything — they were so happy with whatever they were doing or hearing. It was fun watching them enjoy each other.”
Barb Wick, a fifth-grade teacher at All Saints Academy, St. Cloud campus, accompanied the girls on their pilgrimage.
For her, the prayer service, which included Bishop Kettler, stood out as special.
“The voices of all of those girls filling the chapel was just beautiful,” she said.
The boys also enjoyed an element of pilgrimage as they started their experience at St. John’s with a trek through the woods to the Stella Maris Chapel.
They also toured the campus, including the abbey’s shrine to St. Peregrine, one of five shrines designated by Bishop Kettler for the Year of Mercy.
“It was fun to walk around and see the campus and the monks are really nice,” said Elias Rodriguez, a sixth-grader from St. Mary of Mount Carmel School in Long Prairie. “The best part of the day was the prayer service with Bishop Kettler and seeing the shrine to St. Peregrine.”
The boys also spent time with members of the Benedictine Volunteer Corps, who will be volunteering this summer at Benedictine monasteries around the world to support them in prayer, service and community.
“I think it went very well,” said Brother Eric. “We were happy to have students experiencing our campus, which is beautiful any time of the year, and to experience firsthand in a small way, a pilgrimage. It’s one thing to learn about a concept like pilgrimage in class, but it’s something else to have a chance to actually do it.”