Walking ‘With Jesus for Jesus’

A 15-minute silent thanksgiving after receiving Communion helped lead a group of religious sisters to an upcoming 65-day pilgrimage on foot across more than a quarter of the country.

May 03, 2024

The New Hampshire nuns chat as they train for their trek. (photo: Jeff Dachowski / Jeff Dachowski)

By Matthew McDonald
A 15-minute silent thanksgiving after receiving Communion helped lead a group of religious sisters to an upcoming 65-day pilgrimage on foot across more than a quarter of the country.

The timing was perfect. Because of it, one of the sisters got into a breakfast line after Mass at the same time as Fr Roger Landry, who, on that morning in early March, had just given a presentation about the Eastern route of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage as part of a parish retreat.

Their conversation led Fr Landry to sit at a table with several sisters and, eventually, to invite them to join the pilgrimage.

There was a catch: They had to provide their own transportation for the driving portion and find their own places to stay.

That was about 9 in the morning. By 11.00am, a donor had offered all of the walking shoes the sisters would need. By 3.00pm, another donor had offered a truck and trailer that sleeps five.

“So it’s just like the Lord was opening these doors, to say, ‘Yes, I want you to come,’” said Mother Mary Maximilian, 56, the mother general.

Eucharistic Devotion
She and the three other sisters planning to make the pilgrimage are members of the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Healing Love, what the Church calls a “private association” of religious women. It was formed in 2003 and is based in Manchester, New Hampshire, in a building owned by nearby St Marie’s parish that is home to the association’s 11 members.

The sisters’ focus is families, particularly trying to heal what its founder Mother Paul Marie calls “the deep-seated brokenness that has come to the surface in marriages and families of the Domestic Church.”

To that end, the sisters emphasise devotion to the Eucharist as means of healing divisions.

The Catholic Church teaches that bread and wine consecrated by a priest at Mass become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus. But a poll published in August 2019 by the Pew Research Centre found that only 31 per cent of Catholics in the United States said they believe that.

As part of the Revival, between mid-May and mid-July this year, mega-pilgrimages from the East Coast (beginning in Connecticut), West Coast (beginning in California), Upper Midwest (beginning in Minnesota) and South (beginning in Texas) are scheduled to take place, ending in a National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis.

Each of the four simultaneous pilgrimages is like a Eucharistic procession that might take place outside a church on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, with a priest holding aloft a monstrance with a consecrated Host in it, followed by laypeople — only hundreds of miles long over the course of two months.

Why a 1,000-mile pilgrimage
The Eastern route — named for St Elizabeth Ann Seton — which the four New Hampshire sisters are participating in, is mostly on foot, though it also includes some boat rides and a stretch of driving between Washington, DC, and Altoona, Pennsylvania.

That means upwards of 20 miles a day of walking.

If it sounds daunting, it’s worth noting that the sisters aren’t unfamiliar with physical exertion. Several members of the association have participated in multiple five kilometre (3.1-mile) road races. “We used to be called ‘the running nuns,’” said Sr Theresa Marie, 23, a second-year novice originally from Gilford, New Hampshire.

In August 2023, all four sisters climbed three mountains in New Hampshire, each known for its steep, rugged trails: Mount Eisenhower (4,760 feet), Mt Chocorua (3,490 feet) and Mount Pierce (4,310 feet).

Sr Miriam Christe, 39, a firstyear novice originally from Brookline, New Hampshire, in 2018 walked about 1,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Still, why do this?

“This pilgrimage is really a way that we are going to lift Jesus up to everyone, the whole world, so that all the souls that Jesus desires to bring to his heart may come,” Sr Theresa Marie said.

The very test of endurance is itself a justification.

“Today, everything is so easy. But this is going to take a lot of effort. And this shows how much we love Our Lord,” said Sr Miriam Christe.

“It’s worth walking from Connecticut to Indianapolis. He’s worth doing that,” she said. “But this is going to be so much more, because I’m going to be doing it with Jesus for Jesus. If I get through it, it’s because he will get me through it.”

Fr Landry, who is also planning to participate in the entire Eastern route pilgrimage, said the sisters will play an important role in it.

“Women religious teach all of us in the Church how to love Jesus with all our heart. By their prayer, their infectious joy, and their spiritual motherhood, they will be an enormous support to the perpetual pilgrims and priests, not to mention the tens of thousands we will encounter along our 65 days,” Fr Landry said by text. “We are so lucky to have them.”

The sisters expect big things to happen.

Sr Mary Fatima, 29, a junior professed sister originally from Dover, New Hampshire, said, “I’m excited about what Jesus is going to do.”

Sr Theresa Marie said she hopes the pilgrimage leads to more 40- hour devotions, more perpetual adoration of the Eucharist in parishes, and more people attending Mass.

“This is a huge endeavour, and I know that the Lord is going to bless the entire United States,” Sr Theresa Marie said.

Running Start
The sisters have already been knee deep in the National Eucharistic Revival, at the invitation of Bishop Peter Libasci of Manchester, whose diocese covers all of New Hampshire.

In September 2022, the sisters planned and coordinated a diocesewide pilgrimage to the state’s Lakes Region. Later, they travelled to nine churches throughout the state with the relics of Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991-2006), the Italian teenager who created a website dedicated to Eucharistic miracles, and St Manuel González Garcia (1877-1940), a Spanish bishop and founder of a religious congregation called the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth.

More recently, the sisters have been giving retreats at parishes in the state that include a Holy Hour of adoration of the Eucharist.

Fr Paul Gousse, the chaplain to the sisters, told the Register he recently caught a little of a presentation on the Eucharist by one of the members of the association, Sr Eucharista, and unexpectedly felt driven to listen to the whole thing, as she weaved in references to St John Paul II’s 2003 encyclical on the Eucharist and her own experiences with devotion to the Eucharist.

“And so what is going on in these parishes is people are being compelled to listen to their testimony and their witness; and because they speak from the heart, it’s having a very powerful effect,” Fr Gousse said.

Bishop Libasci said the diocese “is truly blessed” to have the Daughters of Mary.

“The sisters consistently demonstrate their love for the Eucharist, which in turn inspires others to deepen their own understanding and love of this precious gift of Our Lord,” Bishop Libasci said, in a written statement to the Register, through a spokesman.

Fr Gousse said it’s a joy to be their chaplain.

“The thing I love about these sisters: They’re real,” Fr Gousse said. “If you were to sit down at a dinner table with them, you’d do a lot of laughing.”

Light for the Lost
The upcoming Eucharistic pilgrimage is not an exercise in preaching to the converted. Participants expect and hope to come across people who have lost their way and for whom a glimpse of Jesus might make all the difference.

“They’re so lost, and they’re struggling, because they’ve severed that communion with the Lord. They just need a little bit of light to guide them back on the right way,” said Sr Miriam Christe.

Mother Mary Maximilian said the two-month Eucharistic procession will amount to God coming to His own.

“The Lord wants to be among His people,” she said. “He wants to bring them joy, and He wants to be with them in their sorrow.

“We’re just the women who follow.” --Register

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