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Seniors take on Ignatian Pilgrimage throughout northern Spain and Italy

Eight seniors traveled to Spain and Italy for a Spring Break Ignatian Pilgrimage following the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola through mountains, caves, and churches. The group was accompanied by Director of Campus Ministry Matt Stewart, SJ, and theology teacher Mike Lally.

“Traveling to those more sacred, holy sites allows for spiritual opportunities and growth that might be more difficult when just going about your daily routine of life,” said Lally.

The trip started with a drive to Chicago after school on the Thursday before Spring Break. After several connecting flights, the group finally made it to their first country: Spain.

To start, the group traveled to Loyola, where they toured St. Ignatius's family castle. As the space in which his conversion occurred, the location has great religious value to the Jesuits. After the tour of the home filled with artifacts and sculptures, Stewart led Mass in the room where Ignatius had his conversion. 

“When you visit the place for real, it starts becoming more of a reality and it stops being just something that you've read,” said senior Nolan Meara. “It actually happened.”

Sunday was first spent traveling to the city of Pamplona, the place of Ignatius’s life-changing injury. The group saw the site where Ignatius was hit by a cannonball, the event which sparked the development of his Catholic faith.

The group then began the trip to Montserrat, which is home of the Black Madonna and the Abbey of Montserrat. The Benedictine monastery on the side of the mountain offers spiritual growth for many, as it did Ignatius on his own spiritual journey. The group had a Mass that was led by Stewart in the monastery’s crypt and spent the night on the side of the mountain. 

“Montserrat was quite a beautiful spot. Being up in the mountains and separate from everything was really special,” said senior Nicholas Purschke. “It was a really meaningful experience and knowing that Ignatius spent some time in that same place was impactful.”

On Monday, the group first traveled to Manresa. After his conversion, Ignatius spent a year in Manresa, where he grew deeply in his faith. He practiced asceticism, and many sites in Manresa mark where Ignatius had profound spiritual experiences. He also wrote The Spiritual Exercises in the cave he lived in. The group had Mass in his cave, led by Stewart, and spent time exploring the town. 

“For me, that's where everything started to form into place. It's where he wrote The Spiritual Exercises,” said senior Daniel Irvine. “It's insane to think I was praying in the spot where he started so much.”

Seniors explore the cave that St. Ignatius stayed in. photo | Alex Brinkman

The group then drove to Barcelona to spend the night. On Tuesday they saw a century-old church that still hasn’t been completed, called the Sagrada Família. They were able to have Mass in its crypt, and after a long day, they flew to Rome for the next chapter of their pilgrimage.

The group's first day in Rome started with Pope Francis’s General Audience, which happens every Wednesday. They listened to a talk from Francis about evangelization and got to see him as he drove around the circle. They also heard SLUH’s orchestra play for Francis and got to meet with the group after. 

Former English teacher Michael Mohr, SJ then accompanied the group later in the day to explore the different religious sites of Rome. The group went to the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, The Basilica of Saint Mary of Minerva, The Church of St. Louis of the French, The Church of the Gesu, the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the Basilica of St. Augustine, and more. The group ended its adventure with a powerful Mass with Mohr in the small room where Ignatius died. 

“I think both me and Fr. Stewart felt that there was a sort of spiritual power to the Mass that was happening in that close, personal space,” said Lally. “That was definitely a major highlight.” 

Thursday, the group explored more of St. Peter’s Basilica. They had Mass in the crypt of the Basilica, explored the famous pieces of art in the Basilica, and visited the tombs of many popes buried under the church. They then took a tour through the Scavi, an excavated site underneath the Basilica, to see the bones of St. Peter. 

Friday, the group explored the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. The group was able to appreciate the many beautiful, spiritual, and historic works of art. They then went to the Jesuit Archives to see the oldest copy of The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius’s original autobiography, signatures from many early famous Jesuits, the first known depiction of a pineapple, and much more. 

“It was interesting to see the books that Ignatius wrote and the signatures of many Jesuits,” said Irvine.  

Finally, on Saturday, the group saw the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, which is where St. Paul is buried. A friendly priest led the group on an unorthodox tour to a room full of powerful and famous relics that included the staff of St. Paul. The group ended its pilgrimage with Mass in the Pantheon and dinner with Mohr. 

Throughout the remainder of their time in Rome, the pilgrims continued to explore the rich cultural history of the city. In all, the pilgrimage gave students and teachers a place to learn more about their faith and to do it in the company of others. 

“Success is a hard word to use to define a pilgrimage, but I was deeply moved by what I saw and I can't help but feel like our spiritual and faith lives have grown as a result of what we've done,” concluded Lally. “I'm very happy with the trip and I'm so glad that we did it with the group we had.”






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