Reflection From Eileen Kirk

Reflection on our Journey:
I do believe that we met God in so many faces and places while in France…

Eileen Kirk

It is difficult to capture in words the experiences of our time in France while walking “in our founders’ footsteps.” The trip was absolutely incredible!

Having Sr. Eleanor Dooley as our group leader was such a blessing…To walk with her made the journey so much more meaningful for each of us. We were always enveloped by her gentle spirit, brilliant mind, masterful storytelling, sense of wonder and beauty, great humor, and ever-present kindness to all. Indeed, we are better people for having spent time with her.

There were so many graced moments on the trip. Many of us will never forget the time spent at Sainte Chapelle. In the afternoon, as we sat in the chapel marveling at the beauty surrounding us, Sr. Eleanor spoke of the history of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, of the courage of those first sisters in 1650 and then again in 1812, of how they selflessly set out to answer the needs of the day, and of how we are called to do the same today.

In the evening, we returned to Sainte Chapelle to hear a group of seven musicians give an amazing concert. There is something about being in a sacred and holy place and experiencing music played from the heart that makes one truly believe that goodness is being dispersed all around and that all is well for the time being…

The same night of the concert, several members of the group went back to Notre Dame de Paris for a special documentary on the history of the cathedral and its place and meaning in the lives of the people who live in France and of those who visit each day. The narrator echoed what many felt: “By the grace of God, you are here.” How grateful we were to be surrounded by such beauty and to feel the presence of God within us…

Our visit to Lyon included a visit to Mother St. John Fontbonne’s grave where prayers of thanksgiving were offered for the courage and faith of Mother Fontbonne in sending sisters to the United States. We also spent much time at the motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in Lyon where we were able to view Mother Fontbonne’s room and other memorials to her, as well as view pieces of artwork, memorabilia, and correspondence from Sisters of Saint Joseph around the world.

Perhaps the visit that was most profound for many was the time spent in Le Puy, the site of the original founding of the Sisters of Saint Joseph in 1650. Here we saw the original kitchen of the first sisters…We were “standing on holy ground” and one could sense the awe, reverence, and hope of all who were present. In a silent moment, all sorts of feelings rushed forth: gratitude for the first sisters who had tremendous faith and courage to go forth into Le Puy to live and work among those most in need; gratitude for the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Springfield and for all they continue to do to answer the needs of the day; prayers for the college, that in the spirit of the SSJ’s, we may always continue to work for a more just society; a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of being one of the “pilgrims” searching for what is right and good…

Everywhere we went, we were warmly greeted by Sisters of Saint Joseph, and one could clearly sense the common thread of gracious hospitality that is part of the charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. We have made friends in far-off places, and we know that part of what unites us is the answer to the call to “unite neighbor with neighbor and neighbor with God.”

In looking back at the time spent in France, and in scrolling through the many photos, we can’t believe that we accomplished so much in just over a week! We visited so many places of worship, places to where people still journey each day in hopes of bringing peace to oneself, to one’s family, community, or the world at large. At each stop, we would pause to light a candle and offer our prayers… for the college, for the Sisters of Saint Joseph, for those back home to whom we had made a promise for prayer, for special intentions, and for the gift and blessing of being on the trip.

I have a new appreciation of places of worship, for their bells have been calling to many over the years. During my time in France, I read a short book entitled A Good Life, by Robert Benson. In his book, Benson writes of church bells: “It is prayer that is as old as our faith itself, older even. And it is as new as the day in which it is offered. “The bells break in upon our cares to remind us that all things pass away,” wrote Thomas Merton once. “The bells say: we have spoken for centuries from the towers of great churches. We have spoken to the saints, your (ancestors) in their land. We call them, as we call you, to sanctity.” The bells are calling us all, and that echo we hear within is the sound of our longing to be with God.”

I do believe that we met God in so many faces and places while in France. We will carry our journey deep within us for years, for “our God has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” May we continue our journey here, sustained by the spirit and charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, to carry on the work begun by our ancestors, those first six sisters, and by Mother St. John Fontbonne.

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