by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — If you could only walk a mile in pilgrim Ann Sieben’s shoes.
Or 32,000 miles — her current total.
Sieben is a full-time pilgrim. She’s walked through the Alps in the dead of winter, across the frozen Aral Sea in Central Asia, through two of the world’s biggest deserts, and across North Africa during a civil war.
In late April, she and two other pilgrims went a-pilgriming down the ol’ Katy Trail across Missouri.
They started at the St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Shrine at Sacred Heart Parish in Mound City on April 23 and hiked approximately 328 miles to the saint’s tomb in St. Charles, Missouri.
Being good pilgrims, they first received a blessing from Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann.
Sieben hopes other pilgrims will follow her same route next year during the bicentennial of St. Rose Philippine’s arrival in Missouri and founding of the first school west of the Mississippi.
Sieben, a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Denver, has been a mendicant (meaning dependent on the providence of God) pilgrim since 2007.
The New Jersey-born cradle Catholic — not an active Catholic at the time — was working as an engineer in Europe when she learned about pilgrimages. She decided it would be fun to try one out.
Her first pilgrimage in 2006 was a “shorty” from Leon to Santiago de Compostela, the famous medieval route known as the Camino de Santiago.
However, her first “real” pilgrimage — her words — was the Via Francigena from Canterbury in England, across France and over the Alps in snowshoes, to Rome in time for Holy Week in 2007. It was only 1,200 miles.
“I really got into it,” said Sieben. “It was a special Easter for me. I didn’t go back to work. I just called my employer and said, ‘I’m done with my sabbatical but I’m not ready to work again. I did this pilgrimage and it was very interesting.
“I’m not married and I have no children,” she said. “My company always provided my house and car, so I had nothing tying me down. I had the freedom to read a lot about pilgrimages and talk to other pilgrims.”
Between pilgrimages, she returns to her home base of Denver. There, the Archdiocese of Denver helped her found the Society of the Servant Pilgrims. So far, it’s a one-woman society.
The whole point of her journey across Missouri was to “scout” the route for other potential pilgrims who want to take part in the St. Rose Philippine bicentennial.
Sieben has blocked out two dates when she will walk the trail again, in May and September/October 2018. Other pilgrims can join her during those times, or they can strike out on their own.
She collected contacts and places to stay during this year’s pilgrimage, and she’ll make those available for other pilgrims next year.
For information about the bicentennial pilgrimages to the tomb of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, go to the website of the Society of the Sacred Heart at: https://rscj.org. Click on the tab “Bicentennial” on the right side of the home page. Go to “Events” at the top of the next page, and then down to “pilgrimages” on the pull-down menu. More information will be posted as plans are further developed.