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Priest finds month in Lourdes ministry deeply moving

Father Michael Stubbs, retired pastor and former Leaven Scripture columnist, served as a confessor for pilgrims in Lourdes, France, earlier this summer. He also had the opportunity to concelebrate Mass at the basilica of St. Sernin in Toulouse, France (above). COURTESY PHOTO

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

“There are a lot of healings that take place in Lourdes,” said Father Michael Stubbs. “And some of them are physical.”

But many more take the form of a different — but just as important — cure entirely.

“Most of the healings are spiritual,” he said.

Father Stubbs recently returned from serving four weeks as a confessor at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in southwestern France.

Each year, millions visit the Grotto of the Apparitions where, in 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous.

In the grotto, visitors can drink or bathe in water flowing from a spring famous for its healing.

Each year, millions visit the Grotto of the Apparitions in Lourdes, France, where, in 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous. In the grotto, visitors can drink or bathe in water flowing from a spring famous for its healing. CNS PHOTO/OSV NEWS, NANCY WIECHEC

They also have opportunities to attend Mass and receive the sacrament of reconciliation from priests, like Father Stubbs, who give their time to minister to the pilgrims.

“It was a moving experience for me, very rewarding,” said Father Stubbs. “A few times, the confessions were routine. But for the most part, they were not.

“Often, people had tears in their eyes; they were very serious and very sincere.”

Father Stubbs believes one of the most profound healing miracles of Lourdes is penitents experiencing the grace that comes from sacramental confession.

“Sin can be a spiritual infirmity,” he said. “And the healing power of God can come to us through the sacrament of penance; it’s God’s grace that can heal us.

“Christ is the physician of the soul; my experience at Lourdes reinforced that for me.”

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, France, is pictured above. PHOTO BY NICK CASTELLI/UNSPLASH

Father Stubbs learned about the opportunity to minister at Lourdes through archdiocesan priest Father Harry Schneider, who was a confessor there in 2019.

“Lourdes is my favorite Marian devotion,” said Father Schneider. “To serve there in the ministry was just an incredibly powerful and spiritual experience.”

Father Schneider said he gave Father Stubbs the application information with the hope that “he would have as wonderful experience as I did.”

Father Stubbs’ ministry was to English- speaking pilgrims.

“The way it’s set up,” he said, “there’s this building that has all these reconciliation rooms — and each one has a sign. For instance, mine had a sign that said ‘English confessor’ and then my name.”

Priests from all over the world stay together at an auxiliary residence, the Maison des Chapelains, and have opportunities to build friendships.

“There were about 30 other priests there,” said Father Stubbs. “There were several English-speaking priests — one from India, a couple from Nigeria, one from Scotland.

“But I was the only American priest.”

During his time at Lourdes, Father Mike Stubbs was the only American priest there to hear confessions. PHOTO BY VYTAUTAS MARKŪNAS/CATHOPIC

A typical day for a confessor begins with breakfast at 7 a.m.

“You fixed that on your own,” said Father Stubbs. “There was a coffee machine and bread, butter, jam and yogurt.”

The morning session of confessions begins at 9:30 and lasts until daily Mass at 11 a.m.

The midday meal is served buffet- style at 1 p.m.

Afternoon confessions last from 3:30 to 6 p.m.; and the evening meal is served at 7:30.

“Some days, I would have both sessions [of confessions],” said Father Stubbs. “Some days, I’d have one or the other.”

Father Stubbs was especially moved by the universality of the Catholic Church on clear display at Lourdes.

“The people whose confessions I heard were from Ireland, India, the Philippines, Australia, England — all over the world,” he said. “And there were two times when I took part in international Masses.

“The basilica holds 20,000 people. It was filled up.”

People gather at the Grotto of the Apparitions in Lourdes, France. PHOTO BY NICK CASTELLI/UNSPLASH

Yet, Father Stubbs also met people who reminded him of home.

“I was at Lourdes during the pilgrimage of the Knights of Malta,” he recalled. “I heard someone call out my name.

“It turned out it was a man who had been a student at Washburn University [in Topeka] when I was chaplain at the Catholic campus center there.”

Another encounter from the Knights of Malta was the son of a deacon from Corpus Christi Church in Lawrence.

During his free time and for a week after his ministry, Father Stubbs was able to explore France.

He went to Toulouse, where he visited the tomb of St. Thomas Aquinas and also took trips to the cities of Albi and Carcassonne.

As a French major in college, he spent his junior year in France, and he found his ability to speak the language very helpful.

“There was one day, on my free day,” he said, “I went to the movie theater in Lourdes and I saw ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ in French.”

The days were arduous but rewarding. Father Stubbs said his most memorable experience from his trip to France was the confessions he heard.

Father Schneider understands that sentiment.

“As time goes on,” he said, “I often just stop and think about how incredibly healing and what an incredible gift is the sacrament of reconciliation.”

The message of Lourdes, according to Father Stubbs, is the healing power of God that comes through Mary.

But you don’t have to go to Lourdes to experience it.

“It can be useful,” he said. “But it is not necessary, because God is everywhere.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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