North American SCJs arrive in Congo

Fr. Charles Brown (middle, with blue shirt), Fr. Claude Bédard (member of the Canadian Region) and Fr Stephen Huffstetter with Congolese confreres.

Fr. Charles Brown (middle, with blue shirt), Fr. Claude Bédard (member of the Canadian Region) and Fr Stephen Huffstetter with Congolese confreres.

Frs. Stephen Huffstetter, Charles Brown and Leonard Elder are in the Congolese Province to take part in its 50th anniversary events of remembrance and celebration. It was 50 years ago this month that 28 members of the Priests of the Sacred Heart were martyred during the Simba Revolution. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Congolese Province.

Fr. Steve shares the following:

An 8-hour overnight flight from Atlanta to Paris, immediately followed by another 8-hour leg from Paris to Kinshasa had me feeling weary. But when Fr. Gabriel approached us after we had cleared customs and asked, “Are you SCJ? Welcome to the Congo!!” I felt a sense of rejuvenated excitement. I am traveling with Frs. Charles Brown and Leonard Elder, both members of the U.S. Province who once served as missionaries in this country.

We flew over the Sahara desert with the astonishingly vast open spaces. Then as evening settled we crossed over dense jungle forests with few signs of lights or cities. What would I learn from my introduction to Africa? At my brother’s home for supper the night before I left he remarked that growing up in a small town in Indiana, Africa seemed like a distant dream – could I ever have imagined actually going there?

Porters aggressively scrambled to be the first to grab our bags, but we insisted on carrying our own. Eric, a young Congolese SCJ seminarian, helped load up the van. While French and four African dialects are the common national languages here, Eric studied philosophy in South Africa and was able to begin my orientation with details about the community and country in English. Eric is set for a missionary adventure, soon to be going to the Venezuelan Province to begin studies in Spanish. When a local church becomes a sending, missionary church, it has reached spiritual maturity.

Two SCJs from Cameroon, Jean Baptiste and Jean Marie, arrived just a few minutes after us. Jean Baptiste spent last summer in Hales Corners for our ESL program and greeted us with a hearty hug.

The main road was quite good but as soon as we turned off to wind our way to the SCJ formation house we had to slow down to cross rugged uneven surfaces. We received welcome from SCJ confreres from Poland, South Africa and Canada who have also arrived to take part in the celebrations. We enjoyed a hearty meal, conversations in many languages, and then headed for a much appreciated sleep.

Our novitiate in the shadow of Mt. Tanggamus

Mt. Tanggamus can be easily seen from Gisting, where our Indonesian novitiate is located.

Mt. Tanggamus can be easily seen from Gisting, location of our Indonesian novitiate.

Fr. Tom Cassidy’s most recent journal entries are from Gisting, Indonesia:

November 14, 2014 – I’ve arrived at the last stop of my Indonesian journey before returning to Jakarta next Tuesday in preparation for the trip home. After two days in Metro it’s time to spend the next four days at the SCJ novitiate in Gisting. I specifically asked to spend a few days here as on all my other visits (I think this is my fifth) it was “hello-spend-a-night-and-goodbye.”

Fr. Kus and Br. Antonio drove me here this morning. We left Metro about 8:30 am for the three-hour journey. The roads weren’t bad (though for the most part a single lane in each direction ) and the traffic presented few difficulties. Along the way we passed the airport I’ll use on Tuesday to fly from here to Jakarta.

Looking at the mountain from a Gisting neighborhood

Looking at the mountain from a Gisting neighborhood

Gisting is located at the foot of Mount Tanggamus and is well known as the ‘village of a thousand springs.” I’ve tried to find out how high it sits but the internet isn’t cooperating at the moment. It is safe to say the trip from Metro to Gisting is an uphill climb. It is not a large city but a village that hugs the highway. It has been important to the SCJs for many years. A fair number of members of the Indonesian Province come from here. Fr. Sunardi, SCJ, who just recently earned his doctoral degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee calls Gisting home.

In addition to the novitiate, the SCJs staff the local parish and several years ago built a retirement community that unfortunately, not many senior SCJs prefer to use. It does not sit idle though as it is frequently used for retreats and as a conference center. I am staying there as the novitiate is filled. I was under the impression that it had hot water but was disabused of that fact when I took a shower after my walk this afternoon.

There is no room in the novitiate because this year they have 16 novices and 10 postulants which has greatly limited their guest room space. In turn, that will greatly increase the number of scholastics at Yogyakarta when the current novice class of 16 make their first profession of vows and head off to their philosophical and theological studies.

I don’t plan on climbing Mt. Taggamus, but it is a pretty site to see as I look at it out my window. Gisting itself offers a walker the choice of walking uphill on the way out of the novitiate grounds and downhill upon return or just the opposite if that be one’s choice. Threat of rain kept me walking on our grounds today, but tomorrow for sure I’ll venture out as rain tends to come in the afternoon so I’ll head out sometime after breakfast to see what Gisting may have to offer.

One of the less traveled roads of Gisting.

One of the less traveled roads of Gisting.

November 15, 2014 – This morning I took my walk exploring some of Gisting. I ran across a spring by sheer luck as when I turned right out of the novitiate’s main gate I was confronted by a Muslim School marching up the street and at the nearby corner it became impossible to head down the hill so instead I turned into a side street and found this stream in the process. By the way, I still have 999 others to find in the next three days if I’m to believe Gisting is indeed the village of a thousand springs.

The morning was quite pleasant with a temperature of about 85° and sunny skies. That would not last as this is the rainy season and the clouds build up so that by lunchtime the skies are gray and threatening and the rains come sometime during the early to mid-afternoon hours.

The virtue of taking the side road in addition to discovering a spring it allowed me to see some of the local housing, and scenery plus no traffic to speak of. I also found a few fields of rice and what looked like grape vines but I’m sure was a bean plant of some kind. I am told grapes are grown in some parts of Indonesia and given Gisting’s milder climate it might be grown in this area as well. Around here it is common to get two crops of rice in a normal year.

In addition to rice and beans corn for human consumption is a common crop as is palm oil and cassava. Then there are the many tropical fruits. Alas many of which we never see or taste in the States. I’m missing two of my favorites because they are out of season: duku and rambutan.

Tomorrow I will try to wind my way down to the traditional market now that I know where it is located. It is fun walking the streets standing out like a sore thumb. I don’t think they see many western tourists so stares are common along with the desire by young and old to use their smattering of English.

A worker in the SCJs' candle factory

A worker in the SCJs’ candle factory

Gisting wasn’t the only thing I explored today I nosed around the novitiate as well. This morning the novices and postulants finished a course in journalism. It’s a regular part of the novitiate curriculum as journalism is an important ministry of the SCJs. Judging by the laughter coming out of the classroom the novices and postulants were having a good time. I found out at lunch the highlight this morning was viewing the two funny videos the students put together as their projects.

I also spent time at the small candle factory just behind the main building. It’s a small way to help support the novitiate. It keeps food on the table! The factory has one full time employee and when things get busy and extra hands are needed some of the other novitiate staff will assist. I think from time to time the novices and postulants also lend a hand.

The candles are for liturgical or religious use. With Advent just around the corner they are busy putting together packets for Advent wreaths. I’ve been promised two sets to bring home with me to the States. The novitiate use to also raise coffee but no longer does so.

Picking coffee beans in Sumatra

Picking coffee beans in Sumatra

By the way, Sumatran coffee (in this case Lampung coffee) is a robust brew. It sure beats the instant coffee that is so common in India since tea is their preferred drink. Now this is how you brew a cup of Sumatran coffee.

1. Put your desired amount of coffee in a cup or glass. The coffee grounds must be extremely fine— almost a fine powder.

2. Pour boiling water slowly over the coffee grounds.

3. Allow the coffee to sit for a few minutes.

4. Just before sipping use a spoon and give it a good swirl.

Now you would think you’d be eating coffee grounds but because the coffee is so fine much of it is absorbed by the water and the rest settles to the bottom. I like a strong cup of coffee and have enjoyed three or four cups a day while traveling Indonesia.

Visiting our ministries in Indonesia



Fr. Tom Cassidy writes today about his journey to Metro, on the southern end of the Indonesian island of Sumatra:

Fr. Madya, SCJ, (provincial superior) and his driver picked me up just a little after 8:00 am from St. Paulus Minor Seminary and so began our 10-hour drive to Metro. We probably could have done the trip in nine hours but we made two stops along the way.

Chapel in Indonesia

Chapel in Indonesia

Our first stop was for lunch at a Halal restaurant. Think of kosher and you’ll know that what it is to Jews Halal is to Moslems. Fr. Madya said in the past we would have stopped at our parish for lunch but it was turned over to the diocese and we no longer staff it. Actually that’s a common theme in the Diocese of Lampung. The SCJs have been here for 90 years and staffed all or almost all of the parishes but as the diocesan clergy grew, especially in the last 25 years, slowly the parishes have been turned over to the local church. Metro, for example, was one of our large parishes that we no longer staff.

Our second stop was at St. Andreas (Andrew) parish in Mesuj, Lampung; the church and rectory (pastoran) were built in the last couple of years. It’s currently staffed by two priests, Frs. Sepiono, SCJ, and Eko Yuniarto, SCJ, and Br. Satria Pamungkas, SCJ, one of the 10 scholastics (regents) on his pastoral year assignment. We missed Br. Satria as the 10 regents are meeting in Jambi for their week of reflection just as the “baby priests” (The Indonesian term for those ordained five years or less) are meeting in Lampung. Actually that’s the reason Fr. Madya, made the trip as he will close the baby priests meeting on Thursday.

We stayed for about an hour and I was intrigued by the snack they served us — corn on the cob. It is eaten without butter, salt or pepper. In fact it’s almost impossible to find salt and pepper on an Indonesian table. As one Indonesian put it: “We put the spices in the food!”

Students perform

Students perform

Our long journey came to an end at about 5:30 p.m. as we pulled into the drive of one of the two houses for boarding students (boys) that we have not far from the school the SCJs operate. I am staying with Fr. Kusmartono, SCJ, and Br. Sukarman, SCJ, who supervises the senior high boarding students. Br. Antonius Sudaryono, SCJ, and Fr. Anggota Budiyo, SCJ, staff the house for the middle school boarding students. The two houses are about a half a kilometer apart from one another and within walking distance of the Yos Sudarso school.

Our day began early this morning with Mass for the boarding students at 5:30 a.m. followed by breakfast, and then Fr. Kus took me to school to meet the faculty and tour the campus. We spent several hours together and then I was handed over to the care of Br. Antonius for the rest of the morning. It gave me a chance to use my rusty Italian as Antonius was in Rome to take care of the grounds while I was serving on the General Council.

Teachers at Yos Sudarso pray at the start of the school day

Teachers at Yos Sudarso pray at the start of the school day

His own background was in carpentry. He returned to Indonesia after his stint in Rome and then worked in the Papua mission where, which by the way, both Fr. Vincent Suparman, SCJ, and Fr. Christianus Hendrik, SCJ, who nw work in South Dakota, also served. Papua is not an easy mission and one of the problems all the SCJs face is malaria as almost all of them come down with it sooner or later. Br. Antonius told me he managed the first two years free of malaria before the bug hit him.

After four years in Papua he returned to Rome for several years to take the place of Br. Vincentius Dalijan, SCJ, another Indonesian brother skilled in the building trade, who went with Claudio della Zuanna, SCJ, when he was named archbishop of Beira, Mozambique, in 2012. The archbishop’s residence was in need of major repairs. After two years of getting the archbishop’ residence in shape Br. Vincentius returned to Rome late this past summer and Br. Antonio returned to Indonesia to take up his duties here in Metro about a month ago. Now that’s all a long way of saying his Italian was better than mine as Br. Antonius has been using it for the last two years. I must say though we managed to communicate well enough to the point the he was my translator into Bahasa Indonesia when we stopped by to visit two communities of sisters towards the end of our hour-long walk we took as part of our morning together.

A day in Palembang

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The statue of St. Paul outside of St. Paulus Minor Seminary, Palembang

Fr. Tom Cassidy writes from Palembang, Indonesia:

This statue of St. Paul with sword in hand stands outside the chapel of St. Paulus Minor Seminary where some of the residents in the area come for Mass. Tomorrow morning I will find out just how many attend as we’ll celebrate Sunday Mass at 6:30 a.m. As for today, I spent the morning touring a number of the churches in Palembang with Fr. Ignatius, a diocesan priest I know well as he spent several years living at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, first improving his English, and then attending Cardinal Stritch University earning a master’s degree in Educational Administration. He was our driver and was accompanied by Fr. Tri Mardani, SCJ.

Palembang is in red

Palembang is in red

Palembang was raised to the level of an archdiocese on July 1, 2003. The latest statistics I could quickly find on the internet were also from that year and listed it as having a Catholic population of 76,201 out of a total of 10,828,441 or .7%. The archdiocese covers three provinces of South Sumatra, Jambi and Bengkulu. It’s interesting that the Diocese of Tanjungkarang (Lampung) actually contains more Catholics, but since Palembang is one of the largest cities in Indonesia ranking 9th with a city population listed at 1,030,732 it became the archdiocese. In Sumatra only Medan (also an archdiocese) with a population of 2,185,789 outranks it coming in as the 5th largest city in all of Indonesia.

I was looking forward to meeting with Archbishop Aloysius Sudarso, SCJ, as I have known him since he was a student priest at Loyola University in Chicago and living with our SCJ formation community. Unfortunately at present he is in Jakarta attending the meeting of the Indonesian Bishops Conference. I found it interesting that both the US Bishops and their counterparts here meet at about the same time. I leave here on Tuesday for Lampung and the archbishop will not return until the 15th so our paths will not cross.

For many years Indonesia was truly mission territory and as such religious communities were tasked with building the local church. In the last 15 to 20 years a transformation has taken place where enough local (diocesan) clergy are now in place to take over many of the parishes previously staffed by religious. That is true in both Palembang and Tanjungkarang where the SCJs have served since coming to Indonesia in 1923.

Of the four parishes we visited this morning two were staffed by diocesan clergy and two by SCJs. Here at the seminary most of the religious on staff are SCJs but it also includes Fr. Ignatius, a member of the local diocesan clergy. Slowly the SCJs are taking over other ministries, particularly in education. This is at all levels, i.e., primary, secondary and at Musi University2 where they staff a number of positions.

Palembang, like many large Asian cities, is not easy to navigate. Actually the main roads are well kept and often have three lanes in each direction; however they are filled with cars and motorbikes. Happily there are a lot fewer busses or large trucks as they would add to the traffic woes. The former superior of our International College on his visit to Indonesia remarked that the bikes are like bees! Not a bad description as they dart in and out of traffic. Actually it is probably easiest to travel around the city by motorbike. I still think Vietnam takes the cake for the number of bikes per square meter, or foot in our American way of thinking.

In addition to the four churches, I had the chance to visit the tomb of Fr. Tom Fix, an SCJ from Milwaukee who came to Indonesia when I was a novice. Actually he was the first SCJ I ever met as when I was accepted to attend our seminary at Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1960, he came to visit my family, along with the superior of the Great Barrington seminary. Fr. Fix was the last American SCJ missionary in Indonesia. In his last few years he was spending a great deal of time in India where the SCJs established their presence in October 1994. Fr. Fix died in April 2012. He is buried in an impressive mausoleum built by the Caritas Sisters who have a long-standing relationship with our SCJ community.

Our last stop before returning home was to enjoy lunch with the Caritas Sisters who once a month have a special meal for the sisters celebrating their birthdays. I believe we were celebrating four birthdays today. The Caritas Sisters were originally a Dutch Foundation but for all practical purposes it is now an Indonesian community with only a few elderly sisters still in Holland.

Smokey Sumatra!

Sumatra is one of Indonesia's largest islands.

Sumatra is one of Indonesia’s largest islands.

Fr. Tom Cassidy is spending much of November with the Indonesian Province, an area for which he had responsibility during his first term on the General Council. He writes the following from Palembang:

On the way to the airport this morning to catch my 10:35 a.m. flight from Yogyakarta to Palembang both Fr. Joni, SCJ, and Fr. Suradi, SCJ, warned me that Palembang would be smoky and that sometimes planes have trouble landing!

As our plane was coming in for a landing I understood what they were trying to tell me. Just like Mother Nature’s blanket of fog, a cloud of smoke hung over the city making it difficult to see the ground until we were practically on it. Not only that, you could smell the smoky air even as the plane was coming in to land.

It is an annual problem for this part of Sumatra as farmers west of here burn off the land to get ready for planting their next crop. The smoke lasts for about three months and spreads as far as Malaysia and Singapore, depending on the winds. As you might imagine, neither country is very happy about the situation. Fr. Agustinus Pribadi, SCJ, the provincial treasurer, told me that a number of owners of large farms live in either Singapore or Malaysia but still burn off the land. I’m thinking it may curtail my walking for the next few days. Thankfully, the air is to be much better in the province of Lampung where I will head next. I return to Jakarta on November 18.

To help orient you as to where I am and where I am going I’ve included a map of Sumatra (top of page), one of the largest of the Indonesian islands. At the bottom right is the tip of Java with the capital Jakarta noted. Yogyakarta, where I came from today, is in central Java about a 55-minute flight east from Jakarta. Palembang is located in the province of South Sumatra (Sumatera Selatan) on the Musi River. On Tuesday I will travel from there to the province of Lampung making stops in Metro and Gisting and maybe one or two others depending on what has been arranged.

I was given the option to drive or fly to Lampung, where my fist stop will be Metro. To fly there from Palembang requires flying to Jakarta and then down to Lampung. They said it takes five hours but if you add one or two hours at the airport you’re up to seven for the trip and, like traveling to South Dakota from Milwaukee, you might as well drive it. Besides, it will give me a chance to see the countryside; something you can’t do very well from 35,000 feet up.

My room at the seminary is very comfortable and air-conditioned for which I am grateful, more for the quality of the air at the moment than the cooler temperature. Certainly one of the differences that’s easy to spot from my last trip some 18 years ago is that air-conditioning is available in certain rooms — especially guest rooms. The roads in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Palembang also seem much improved. It will be interesting to see if rural South Sumatra and Lampung roads have changed much in the same time span.


From India to Indonesia

Fr. Tom Cassidy came home from India with just barely enough time to do his laundry and repack before heading off to Indonesia. He will be spending the next several weeks with our Indonesian Province, an area for which he had responsibility during his first term on the General Council. He writes the following from Jakarta:

Altar servers in Jakarta

Altar servers in Jakarta

Last evening these four girls [pictured above] from St. Antonius grade school were the servers at the 5:30 p.m. Mass that I concelebrated along with Fr. Kusmartono, SCJ, my major guide and driver during my stay here in Jakarta. After Mass we went to the pastoran (rectory) to have dinner with Frs. Samiran, SCJ and Zeamrudi, SCJ, the two priests serving the parish. St. Antonius was the first parish the SCJs staffed in Jakarta and now they have three along with the schools.

The school was for many years a part of the parish but has now become a part of the Dehon Trust covering the several schools owned and operated by the SCJs on Java and Sumatra. While I don’t know if you would call St. Antonius an inner city parish it is beginning to feel the effects many city Catholic parishes in the States have gone through. As the population has become more affluent the trend is to move out of the city into the surrounding areas — I don’t think you can quite call them suburbs just yet. Consequently St. Antonius’ parishioners are growing older.

On the other hand, our other two parishes are on the periphery of the city and are still growing, especially St. Barnabas our newest parish. When I was here 18 years ago the parish was just getting started. Building churches is a complicated procedure in Indonesia given the minority status of Christianity. It took many years to get the necessary permits from the government to build but after patience, persistence and hard work the parish complex is complete.

I found the church design a bit unusual. The church itself is actually on the second floor while the ground floor is an open area that can be used for any number of things, including overflow crowds at important celebrations. There are four on the staff: SCJ Frs. Puryanto, Kurkowski, Wardjito, and Siswinarko.

If the name Kurkowski does not sound Indonesian it’s because he is Polish. There are four remaining Polish missionaries in Indonesia. Many years ago, I’m not sure just when this took place, the government declared no more missionaries could enter the country and those who were here were expected to become Indonesian citizens or leave. Some opted to leave while others stayed. Fr. Tom Fix, SCJ, who was an American missionary, is an example of someone who stayed.

I know both Frs. Puryanto and Wardjito. Puryanto spent a number of years in Canada. The Canadian and Indonesian SCJs have an understanding that in return for taking care of the Indonesian community in Toronto the Canadian SCJs will cover the cost of graduate studies. Over the years a number of Indonesian SCJs have benefited from this program usually staying in Canada for three to five years.

Wardjito was elected to the general council during Bishop Bressanelli’s second term and we worked together on his council from 1997 to 2003. He is now working on his doctoral degree.

Unfortunately I did not get to meet Fr. Siswinarko, SCJ, who began a two week vacation shortly before I arrived in Jakarta. The visit to St. Barnabas was the only item on today’s agenda. Kusmartono said we’d leave for the parish around 10:00 a.m. as he had some things to do at the office. That did not mean my day would begin late. I was informed morning prayer was at 5:00 a.m. followed by Mass. That’s a bit early even by tropical standards. I asked why so early and was told given the schedule of those in the house who have to be at their place of work by 6:30 a.m. this schedule works out best for them.

I dutifully set my alarm to get up at 4:30 a.m., but was wide awake just after 4:00 a.m. I’m still waiting to really catch up on my lost sleep from the long journey over here, but may have to resign myself that sleep is lost in the fog of time.

Kus was prompt so we were on the road just after 10:00 a.m. It took us an hour to get to the parish. It’s about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from Rumah SCJ (where I am staying). Part of the trip is on the freeway system and there traffic moves but once we got to some of the two lane side streets we often moved at a snail’s pace.

Besides touring the church and pastoran (rectory) we sat and chatted for about an hour talking about many people, places and things related to the congregation. When it came time to eat dinner I was surprised to see spaghetti and lasagna on the table in addition to traditional Indonesia dishes. Fr. Puryanto informed the family responsible for today’s meal that both Wardjito and I had spent time in Rome and liked Italian cooking.

When dessert time rolled around the fruit of the day was bananas. These are truly home grown right on the property by Fr. Puryanto. He told me they are currently growing five different types. The ones we had were about double the size of a typical banana we are served in the States. Sadly we don’t get the chance to try the many and varied varieties of bananas common to the tropics.

Following dinner it was time to pack up and head back to Rumah SCJ as this evening Kusmartono will be saying Mass for one of the Base Christian Communities. Today is the last day of October (Halloween back home) here they’re bringing the month of the rosary to a close as we get ready to celebrate All Saints Day.

evening Kusmartono will be saying Mass for one of the Base Christian Communities. Today is the last day of October (Halloween back home) here they’re bringing the month of the rosary to a close as we get ready to celebrate All Saints Day.

A pilgrimage to France

The pilgrimage group at Normandy

The pilgrimage group at Normandy

During the first week of October the Province Development Office hosted a pilgrimage to France that included visits not only to the many the famed historical sites of the country, but to significant sites of the Church and the Priests of the Sacred Heart as well. Fr. Dominic Peluse and Fr. Jim Schroeder, along with Pam Milczarski, planned giving director, led the trip. During their journey Fr. Jim maintained a daily journal, which he shares:

Wednesday, October 1: Left St. Louis in the morning for JFK airport in New York. The heavens were as blue as the legendary robe of Mary, and I was on my way to Lourdes. Good flight. Lots of time in the airport to meet most of the others in our group of 30, including Fr. Dominic and Pam, before our 8:00 p.m. Delta flight to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam.


Thursday, October 2: Tough flight; didn’t sleep. We transferred to a KLM flight to Toulouse, France. Nice plane and lovely flight attendants. Two people had lost luggage, so there was a big run-around in French and English in Toulouse. We took off in a pullman bus but had to return for the lost items. Although everyone was exhausted, it was a beautiful two-hour ride through the French countryside.


Fr. Jim celebrates Mass at Lourdes

We arrived in Lourdes at 5:30 p.m., 12:30 St. Louis time. There were many quaint, one-car-wide streets, and it was very hilly in the Pyrenees. Almost every shop was piled high with religious items. We found our Hotel Chapelle et Parc, a small place of faded glory. There were thousands of Italians about and many women dressed all in white like nun-nurses; they were actually lay women who were volunteers to help the ill. I had a good hotel dinner with five ladies, three from Long Island. Afterward I walked to the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto and there were thousands processing in the night with candles, singing and praying the rosary in six languages, hundreds in wheelchairs or little carriages, old and young, parents with their children, young spouses wheeling a disabled partner, children with elderly parents. It was a parade of human suffering which was heart-breaking and brought me to tears. Then a choir sang the Lourdes song and the Ave Maria, with a soprano soaring above it all; really moving. Although I had not expected to like Lourdes, the amount of faith and hope, and love and care for the ill, was truly inspiring. At the end of the day I fell into bed.


Friday, October 3: What a packed day! After a short night we had breakfast and we were off to the Grotto, just around the corner, for a 9 a.m. Eucharist with our group. Fr. Dominic and I were joined by a Father Festus and his group from Nigeria, Father George, I believe, and a group from Australia, and Fr. Jerry Drummond with his mother and a whole group that could not fly who came from England in a “jumbulance,” a bus with medical equipment and staff.

I was chosen by the three others to have the honor of presiding in the Grotto cave. I was going to preach but suggested that Fr. Jerry do so because he is a regular. It was a wonderful experience. Then we did a walking tour, first of a new, massive underground church for pilgrims, then of Bernadette Soubirous’s home in a mill, then of a home her father owned before becoming unemployed because of an accident. The home is still in the family. We walked across town to Sacred Heart Parish where she was baptized. Then seven of us had lunch outside at a cafe, the Leffe, while others went back for the baths at 1:00 p.m.

We toured the Cachot, the former prison the Soubirous family lived in when they were very poor. It was from there that Bernadette entered the convent in Nanterre; she died there. Fr. Dom, Pam and I went to the Keep, an old fortress overlooking the town, and toured a fascinating museum on the culture of the Pyrenees. We all gathered again at the hotel and I went to see the lower church of Our Lady of the Rosary, then the crypt of the Basilica and the relics of Bernadette, and finally the top Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Finally I visited the spring again, bought some candles and got some water for sick family and friends.

We had dinner at the hotel again and I went back early to join in the candle procession and rosary. I ran into some of the Nigerians and Fr. Festus who were delighted to see me, and also a group from Philadelphia with their two priests. Being part of the procession was not as impressive because I could not experience the full extent of the suffering and hope as I did when observing the whole procession.


Saturday, October 4: Another short night with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up and breakfast at 4:30. We had to make a 6:30 TGV (French speed train) to Paris and were in a near panic trying to get all the bags on before the train left. It was very quiet and there was no sunrise till 7:45. The countryside was like an impressionist painting in the fog and mist. In six hours we reached Paris, Montparnasse station, and had another panic unloading and guarding all the bags. We had a very long walk to the bus, and back for the restrooms. We headed by bus to the Peripherique (beltway), and off to Cabourg, two-and-a half hours north. During the ride I gave a short biography of Father Dehon, our Founder, and explained our spirituality of oblation and reparation, and the daily prayers for each that we included in their travel booklet. Because of travel we did the liturgy of the word of St. Francis of Assisi on the bus. Our beautiful Hotel Mercure was on a lush racetrack. We had a gourmet dinner of salmon in a light tomato cream sauce, wild rice, and a berry charlotte dessert. Everyone was in very good spirits after another full day of travel.


Pilgrims walk toward St. Michael

Pilgrims walk toward St. Michel

Sunday, October 5:   I had a good sleep for the first time and the morning offered a 6:30 a.m. American breakfast with eggs and bacon/sausage.  We left for a 92-mile, over two hour, bus ride to Mont St. Michel, which was visible from miles out. It was a beautiful, sunny day. There is new parking far from the island, with shuttles to the new bridge. The former causeway will be removed soon because it blocks the tides and was reconnecting the island to the mainland. It was an incredible climb up the mountain on a very narrow pedestrian street chocked with shops, restaurants, and hotels.

About half way up, at the little parish church of St. Pierre, many stopped and waited till we returned for Eucharist there. We had a nice tour of the fortress/ former Benedictine monastery which now houses a small group from the Jerusalem Community that was founded in Paris; the community serves the parish of St. Gervais there. I got to chat with one of the young nuns. We toured the church, refectory, scriptorium, chapel of St. Margaret Mary, and the cloister. At St. Pierre we met the pastor who is 95 years old and who was there 30 years ago during my last visit.

Fr. Dominic presided at Eucharist, and a group of Spanish-speaking people joined us. After, Fr. Dom and I caught a sandwich and drink on the way down. We had a two-hour trip to the Omaha Beach Cemetery and a brief visit. Our French guide reminded us that we were entering American territory. Under a clear blue sky, overlooking the sea, set in lush green grass were thousands of stark white crosses and a few stars of David marking our dead young Americans. It was literally breathtaking. We took a group picture in front of the memorial, and behind it were walls with all the names of the deceased. Then we went to Omaha beach to gather sand, and there stood a touching monument of a young soldier charging through the surf, dragging his dead buddy behind him. Needless to say, we left in a very somber, sober mood. After a time of reflection we prayed for all the deceased and then said Pope Francis’s prayer for peace that there be war never again. We got back late for another wonderful dinner of shrimp with avocado salad, pork leg with potatoes, and dessert.


Monday, October 6: Another early morning with breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and departure at 8:00 for Lisieux. In only 45 minutes we arrived at Les Buissonets (the Little Bushes), the family home of Therese Martin, the Little Flower of Lisieux. It was a large, affluent home. It was so early that we could not enter and only got photos. Because Therese’s mother died when she was only four and her elder sister, who became her second Mom, left her for the convent, Therese was, with a dispensation, permitted to enter the Carmelite convent (the “Carmel”), in 1887 at age 15.


Basilica of Ste. Therese

We visited the Carmel, the church, museum, and her tomb. Then we went to the Basilica of Ste. Therese. It is a massive church with a fine visitor center where there are informative posters and pictures about her life. We had Eucharist in the crypt adoration chapel and Fr. Dominic presided, while I preached and cantored. Then we traveled an hour-and-fifteen minutes to Rouen. It was pouring so we rushed to cafes with only an hour for lunch. I translated for a group of eight at Cafe Paul, across from the south transept.

We toured the Cathedral and then we tromped through the pouring rain to the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. It is now a large circle of varied flowers with a tall, pointed monument topped with a cross. We had a very long ride to Paris and arrived just in time for their daunting rush-hour traffic. However, in the midst of the terrible traffic we had beautiful views of the Bois de Boulogne (huge park) and the Champs Elysees. When we got to the TimHotel it was raining, we could not park on the narrow street, and the elevator and keys were not working. The hotel was booked solid so we could only solve problems by switching around rooms. After we were more or less settled we walked up to the Bistro Montmartre, a little family place near the Moulin Rouge and had a dinner of rice and veal stew with mushrooms and carrots and a dessert of ice cream and chocolate sauce. Everyone was feeling better afterward, although some were still sorting out rooms at 10 p.m.


Tuesday, October 7: After a frustrating evening of bags and rooms, everyone was settled and we had a very good breakfast. We took a long bus tour through Paris to the Trocadero for views of the Eiffel Tower. It was a beautiful, crisp morning. Then another long ride to the Parish of St. Sulpice, where Father Leo Dehon, our founder, was a regular member when in college and law school. It was there that he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and was first touched by direct service to the poor, and I believe converted to a new mind about the deprived in society.

We went to Sainte Chapelle and had a good visit; the light was good for the extravagant stained-glass windows. This was built by King St. Louis IX for the relic of the crown of thorns. Then we walked over for a tour of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. There was a Eucharist being celebrated but I was able to get some beautiful photos of the Notre Dame statue, rose windows, a high-relief carving of Thomas with the risen Jesus, and Joan of Arc.

It is amazing that in the midst of hundreds of tourists, real prayer occurs, and it is obvious why all of the older churches keep the Eucharist reserved in a side chapel for more quiet prayer.

St Michael w Jim

Fr. Jim (right) listens to a guide

Four of us had lunch at Cafe Esmeralda across from the Cloister Garden at the east end of the Cathedral. Then we had a long drive through the city to the north and the Basilica of Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart). We first visited St. Pierre, the little parish church of Montmartre, where St. Ignatius Loyola and his companions took their first vows. A new community of nuns at Sacred Coeur care for things, and a sister had me go before the exposed Eucharist at the main altar and pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart and a prayer of consecration to presence before the church full of pilgrims and tourists. Then our group proceeded to the crypt for Eucharist, and I presided and preached. Afterward we moved up our dinner from 8 p.m. to 6:30 and we had a really enjoyable time at the Cafe Cremaillere on the Place du Tertre (square of the artists) by Sacre Coeur. The restaurant was narrow but went deep and we had the section to ourselves with recorded music by Charles Aznavour, the French parallel of Frank Sinatra. We had classic French dishes: onion soup, boeuf bourguignon, and a crème brule that was excellent. Then it was a long walk back to our hotel; it got a little scary when we passed a man on drugs who was combative. But, we passed without incident.


Wednesday, October 8: A large group had come to our hotel, filled the dining area, and eaten like locusts. Our pickings were slim when we got there. Once again it was raining and we had a delay. Because of the delay we were left standing in the rain at Versailles for over a half hour since we lost our reservation slot. The Palace of Versailles was mobbed with tourists and it was hard to stay together and hear our guide. Many things have been refurbished there and it is stunning, although the tour was shorter than the one I took years ago. It was raining too much to tour the gardens so we took off for Chartres.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame is noted for its stained-glass windows. Also the apse and choir have been cleaned and are gleaming. They are working on two other sections. We had Eucharist in the crypt and Fr. Dominic presided and preached. Again, we had a very pleasant sacristan. We had an easy trip back to our hotel and moved dinner up to 8:15 p.m., again at the Cafe Montmartre. There was a group of 50 Filipinos from Kuwait there with their own pianist and they were loudly singing show tunes and even Christmas carols in English. It was fun. We had another good dinner of terrine de campagne and then sole with herbs and potatoes, with a dessert of charlotte with berries.


Thursday, October 9: We were able to rise later today. The big group was leaving so we had space and food this morning. We went to the shrine of St. Vincent de Paul, a classic church, obviously an active parish. His relics were below a crucifixion sculpture. Our group had more time to pray. Then we went to the shrine of the Miraculous Medal, the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity, with over 100 sisters. The chapel was beautiful and the group experienced the Eucharist as a highlight. We celebrated a Mass of Mary and I got to preside and preach on the Gospel of Gabriel’s visit to Mary and her Ecce Ancilla (Behold the Handmaid of the Lord) and Jesus’ Ecce Venio (Here I come to do your will, O God), a text beloved by Father Dehon.


The Musee d’Orsay

I had taught our group the hymn Salve Regina on the bus and when they sang it with a church full of people it was very moving. There was no rain and after Mass the sun came out and we had a free afternoon. A group of us walked toward the Seine and had lunch at a corner cafe on rue Ste. Germaine. Then we walked to the Musee d’Orsay (the Orsay Museum) and we had a little over two hours free. I got to see some of my favorite impressionists, such as Renoir, Monet, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as van Goghs. For the first time this trip I took the Metro back to change for dinner. All dressed in their best clothes and we left early for the Eiffel Tower. We had a slight wait for the group ticket up the elevator in the northeast leg to the first level. There are spots with new glass floors that give interesting views of those on the ground. We had dinner at 58 Tour Eiffel, an Alain Ducasse restaurant. Others had large prawns in avocado and I had duck pate. Then we had leg of lamb cut like filet mignons, with potato galettes and an herbed, foamy cloud of egg whites, with Bordeaux wine to drink. For dessert we had meringue shells with whipped cream and caramel bits in a caramel sauce. Perhaps my best meal ever. Afterward we did a tour of Paris at night on a navette, a river boat. Gorgeous.


Friday, October 11: We got to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast. I helped one woman shop for pastries. We left early for Charles de Gaulle Airport, and it was a good thing because nine of us had our tickets cancelled, and it took forever to get re-ticketed and check in. There is a beautiful new international terminal for Air France. We had a 777 and a good flight, although I had an inside seat. I watched the Grand Budapest Hotel and Nebraska. I was seated between a young woman who is an international lawyer from Beijing and a man from Denmark on his way to visit a brother in America. We arrived on time and experienced a new immigration process of checking oneself in before meeting an agent. Customs was easy.

I still am automatically saying “Merci” to people. It will take time for all of me to be home. It was a blessed trip and I met a lot of wonderful people. The benefits and blessings far outweighed the rain and scheduling and hotel problems.   I am grateful to Fr. Dominic and Pam for all they did to arrange this and manage it.

Merci beaucoup!