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Walking in the footsteps of Champagnat



Roselle Catholic High School’s recent pilgrimage to L’Hermitage

28/09/2010: United States

“So far, this has been a journey that words cannot describe. I think Marcellin would be filled with joy to see so many young people visiting the Hermitage and capturing his spirit of love and open arms. I feel truly blessed to be able to walk in the footsteps of Champagnat and I can’t wait to share this experience with other Marists around the country and world.”(Samantha Bachert) “I must say, I have never been on a pilgrimage before and I didn’t really know what to expect. But I have found this trip to be different, in a very essential way, from all other retreats in which I have participated…going to the church at Fouviere and the chapel of the black Madonna, where Marcellin dedicated his life to the formation of the Marist brothers, was another moving experience for me – will I ever find something so concrete to live out my values and beliefs? Will I ever feel a calling big enough that I want to dedicate myself fully to it and in front of God?” (Ellen Salmi) These were just some of the words written by the Roselle Catholic students who recently traveled to L’Hermitage de Notre Dame in France. The group of 16 (students and adults) met up with a similar group from Marist High School in Chicago in the Paris airport on July 23. After a whirlwind 27 hours in Paris, the pilgrims made their way, via high speed train, to Lyon. There Claud, the group’s faithful bus driver, picked them up and drove them to L’Hermitage, where the true pilgrimage began. “At the hermitage, I feel truly at peace and at home. The openness and warmth that is shown by the community here is astounding…” (Corinne Crowhurst) Corinne’s words were echoed over and over again, throughout the week. For these USA Marists, after hearing the stories of Marcellin’s life throughout their high school careers, coming to the Hermitage did indeed feel like coming home. The welcome of the international community there also made a difference. The group of brothers, and married and single lay people, were delighted to have us, showing in many ways, the spirit of hospitality and family that so characterized Marcellin’s life work. After settling into the beautiful accommodations in the former Scholasticate building, we had a tour of the property. It was so moving, to walk through the gardens and orchards, listening to the sounds of the Gier River, to look up into the hills and see LaValla. Our first full day saw us all hiking up those very hills. We stopped at the Red Cross - a site marking where Marcellin, shortly after his ordination, knelt in a prayer of thanksgiving after receiving LaValla as his first parish. Br. Neville met us in LaValla and gave us a fleshed out story of the beginnings of the order. We visited the first home of the Marist Brothers established on January 2, 1822. We ended our time there with a prayer around the original “dining room” table, built by Father Champagnat. Monday was Champagnat Tour Day. We visited the birthplace of Champagnat in LeRosey, then gathered in the church built next door by Marist students throughout the world to commemorate the beatification of Marcellin Champagnat. Br. Neville explained the stained glass windows dedicated to Marcellin. We traveled down to the church of Marcellin’s childhood and there renewed our own baptismal commitments. Perhaps the most awe-inspiring moment came with a visit to the remains of the home of Jean-Baptiste Montagne, a dying boy who inspired Marcellin to found his order of teaching brothers. A single rock remains of this house -striking in contrast to the vast basilicas and churches we had visited – yet it was this simple site that gave birth to a world-wide Marist movement which endures almost 200 years later. We gathered in prayer around the crumbling walls of the Donet home – site of the Memorare in the Snow. Lyon was our destination on Tuesday, the day the Chicago group would leave for Rome. In Lyon, we made straight for Fourviere to see the black Virgin at the altar where Marcellin and his fellow priests dedicated their life’s work to Mary. RC then said a tearful good-bye to Chicago, as the groups went their separate ways.Wednesday morning found us out at the altar in the woods, where Fr. John said Mass for us. “The humility of having Mass outside felt more sacred than any Mass I’ve ever attended. It’s experiences like this one, similar to the ones Marcellin had with the early Brothers each day, that helped me find my way.” (KC) The RC group then did what we always do…a morning of service. We spruced up the cemetery for a few hours, and followed that with the praying of the Rosary. “Right now I’m taking a little break from cleaning up the cemetery that is dedicated to hundreds of Marists Brothers. These brothers have changed my life, made it more meaningful and opened my heart. I can’t think of a better way to venerate them than cleaning up their sacred space and rejoicing to music while surrounded by my Marist Family.” (Samantha)Our trip ended with a Thursday excursion to Taize. The RC pilgrims were quite impressed with the village community there, and especially with the noon prayer filled with sacred chants. An exhausted group arrived back at the Hermitage for one more evening of prayer and sharing. We gathered in Marcellin’s bedroom, it’s starkness and simplicity heightening our sense of this Marist heritage that we had explored all week.“Over the past 4 years…I have heard countless stories about Marcellin and all the things it means to be Marist. Now that I’m here (in France), I realize everything is finally coming together. All the stories I have heard are finally coming to life; the four years have all lead up to this one experience where I can say I finally understand the exact meaning of Marist.”(Cait)“I came to L’Hermitage in a time of great doubt – in myself, my faith, and the world in general. But walking in the footprints of Champagnat, seeing his story come to life, has renewed my hope and nourished my spirit.” (Meg)Not one person in the group would argue that this trip went beyond our expectations. The entire pilgrimage was an incredible experience, one that deepened our faith and helped our spirits to grow. We increased our knowledge of Marcellin Champagnat’s life, but more importantly, came to a greater understanding of all that it means to be Marist today. Our pilgrimage showed us the life of love that Marcellin lived – the love he received from his family and the love that he brought forth into the world through his founding of the Marist brothers, a love that continues today, a love that each of the young people was challenged to bring into the future.

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