Teach Bhríde Dublin has been here, there, and everywhere since landing in Ireland. For our first blog post, we decided to collaborate and give you a taste of our adventures from each of our viewpoints!
“Going With the Flow and Jumping Right In” – Susanna
It is hard to believe that House of Brigid has been in Ireland for a little over three weeks! It has been quite the adventure since we have arrived, with no two days being the same. The first few days for Teach Bhríde Dublin consisted in orientations and getting acquainted with our new surroundings and work environments. The staff at O’Connell House, Notre Dame’s Study Abroad Center, kept us awake on our first day with a brilliant lunch introducing us to the their staff followed by a walking tour in and around the city center. Our commute to O’Connell House involves walking through Trinity College’s campus – which we have no complaints about!
Our orientation for our parish ministry at Our Lady of the Rosary involved walking around our town, Harold’s Cross, meeting with various members of the parish staff and the two choir directors in the church and visiting the two primary schools in the area, where we will be helping out in the First Communion and Confirmation classes. The students were quite taken with “The Three Americans,” our accents, and what states we are from in the US, while our attempts at Irish accents had them giggling profusely! They have promised that they will teach us some Irish during our stay here. We are really looking forward to helping out in their classrooms and getting to know them! Teach Bhríde Dublin played our first mass at Our Lady of the Rosary just four days after we arrived! With Rikki on the keyboard and Geoff and I singing, we brought music back to the 7pm vigil mass after the summer break. Altogether nerve-wracking, rewarding, and energizing, we were happy to have gone through the experience of our first mass!
In looking back on the last three weeks, the three of us have been floored by the hospitality, generosity, and kindness of the Irish. Between the staff at O’Connell House, our parish priest, Fr. Gerry, the parishioners at Our Lady of the Rosary, the choir members, and our friends we met while in Lourdes (more on that to come), we have met some amazing people who have greatly encouraged us in our ministry and have already made our time on the Emerald Isle so incredible. To them we are deeply grateful. The saying “God cannot be outdone in generosity” certainly rings true for Teach Bhríde Dublin and we are eager to continue to delve into life here in Ireland.
“Witnessing Love Incarnate” – Rikki
During our third week overseas we had the opportunity to join about two thousand individuals from the archdiocese of Dublin on their 66th annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. Lourdes holds a special place in our hearts and the hearts of all who love Notre Dame as the home of the original grotto after which ND’s is modeled. It was here that Mary appeared to the young St. Bernadette eighteen times in total throughout the year 1858. Teach Bhríde Dublin was invited to serve as chaplains, or student ministers, to the school groups and young adult volunteers on the pilgrimage.
While in Lourdes I was immensely and consistently struck by the visibility of God’s incarnate Love, especially in and through the people we encountered. This love was first manifested in our small travel group, comprised of Fr. Gerry, four pilgrims from the parish, and Teach Bhríde Dublin. Throughout the week we were fortunate enough to share every meal with this group and I quickly grew to cherish this time together. Hearing stories, learning more about Irish culture, laughing, singing and going out for late night eggs and chips were undoubtedly some of the most memorable and joy-filled moments of our trip. The people we met and worked with in Lourdes also exemplified Love incarnate. I was incredibly moved by the priests who led the school and youth groups and who mentored us throughout the week, along with friends we made who helped coordinate these groups. Observing and receiving the fruits of their caring, dedication, self-giving love and fun attitudes (demonstrated in countless clever pranks throughout the week) helped us better understand the deeper meaning behind the pilgrimage and behind Lourdes itself. The chance to see hundreds of young people voluntarily giving up their time and resources to serve pilgrims was another powerful part of my experience in Lourdes. By caring for patients, transporting them around the grounds and to ceremonies and meals, and offering companionship through chatting, listening and singing along at parties, the volunteers truly demonstrated God’s Word made Flesh.
Ultimately the love and peace that surrounds the grotto was the most powerful witness to Love incarnate in Lourdes. When Fr. Gerry took us down on our first night of the pilgrimage, I think all three of us were moved by the palpable divine presence. This continued to draw us back throughout the week, and we were assured by many experienced pilgrims that we would continue to feel this pull to Lourdes throughout our lives. I feel so blessed to have had such a full week of spiritual reflection, social interaction and new experiences, and am so excited to see the big and small ways in which this pilgrimage will affect the work of Teach Bhríde Dublin throughout the year.
“The Hope of All Our Days” – Geoff
Throughout my first three weeks in Ireland, I have often found myself unconscientiously playing the comparison game. Whether it’s the structure of the liturgy at Harold’s Cross or which candy bar brands I see being sold in the shop next door, so often I have been perplexed, both in times of similarity, or at how vastly different, the Irish way of life is when compared to my own customs and rituals.
Seeing the world “comparatively” was especially prevalent during our time in Lourdes, France last week. Teach Bhríde, in tandem with the Dublin Archdiocese, went on pilgrimage there, (a practice, I learned, which is a quintessentially European thing to do) visiting the site in which Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to 14 year old Bernadette a little over 150 years prior. Any self respecting Notre Dame student or alumnus would at least be familiar with the lore surrounding Lourdes, since it is after this holy place that our own Grotto on campus is modeled.
As such, already I have expectations on the plane ride over of what this Grotto at Lourdes will look like, feel like, all of which is based on my hundreds of trips to the Grotto in South Bend as an undergraduate. The glow of candles, the silence of night, and the heaviness of the air immediately rush into my consciousness. I prepare myself, over these next 5 days of pilgrimage, to receive the tranquility of spirit and inner peace that I so often received in my trips to “the other Grotto.”
What I witnessed in reality, however, was a far from placid, expectation-shattering whirlwind of emotional and sensory stimuli. From the moment we stepped foot onto the sanctuary grounds, we were met with a spattering of people and smells, foreign languages and processions, music and prayer of every kind, cluttered tourist shops filled with kitsch trinkets, Italian nuns lying prostrate on the concrete and wailing prayers at inordinate volumes, etc. etc. Lourdes was loud and bustling, yet undeniably holy. The movement and ampleness of it all somehow didn’t detract from the piety of the pilgrims, or the reality of their prayer.
When I left the sanctuary grounds each evening, after a long day of activities with members of the Archdiocese, what I took with me was peace, to be sure, but it was peace of a very different kind than what I was expecting. Unlike the inner quietude of a visit to the Grotto at Notre Dame, the Grotto at Lourdes taught me what it means to experience the less conventional, intensely visceral “outer peace” that is afforded of pilgrimage; the assurance that God’s grace is immediately present and interwoven throughout the crowds of people, guiding them to prayer through the presence of His Mother. While I was there, I encountered the same gentle Mother that had come to meet me during those quiet nights of prayer on campus, though here, she made it known that her consolation was available for the droves of people who came for help and healing, and not just to the overwhelmed undergraduate at Notre Dame (though she was certainly there for him too). In many ways, the peace I felt was simply the peace of solidarity, of a shared trust in our Mother’s tenderness and intercession with thousands upon thousands of others.
Leaving Lourdes, I have a new respect and understanding of what “Church” means as a community of believers, and I have now experienced the peaceful consolation and communion that can come from a commonly held conviction, a steadfast trust. I think prior to pilgrimage, I conceptualized prayer primarily as that which comes out of the silence of a personal communication with God, and in many ways I still hold deeply to that style. But with Lourdes, I am assured through an experience of pilgrimage that prayer is deeply communal as well, and that the “outer peace” that emerged for me, though vastly different from what I am used to, all the same comes from Christ. It is with this new insight into prayer, and a renewed devotion to the Blessed Mother, that I return to Dublin, to Harold’s Cross, ready to embody that particular peace of Christ for and with the larger parish community, by first receiving it from them.
Our Lady of Lourdes, Queen of Peace, pray for us! St. Brigid, pray for us!
N.B.- Although much of the pilgrimage was boisterous and overwhelming at times, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the few quiet moments I was able to slip away at night just to sit at an (almost unpopulated) Grotto and spend time with Mary, lighting a few candles here and there for special intentions. Those moments, too, are there if you seek them out. So even if during the day, the Grotto at Lourdes could not have diverged more sharply from my expectations, the serenity that is available there at night struck a chord with my sentimental and contemplative spirituality.
And finally, as Rikki and Susanna could probably tell you, (since I won’t stop talking about it!) perhaps my favorite moment of the entire week was when the Dublin Archdiocese was asked to lead the nightly torchlight procession around the grounds.
I’ll never know how I was blessed enough to find myself looking out over a procession 5,000 candles strong, bearing a neon-lit cross while hearing the Dublin Archdiocese choir sing one of the most beautiful Marian hymns I’ve ever heard. Have a listen if you can, it’s not of this world: