TEMECULA—On March 18, 23 members of the founding class at Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac Catholic High School set out on a two-week pilgrimage tracing the steps of their foundress, Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac.
“As we journey forward in establishing the high school, we thought it was important for our students to understand and connect with the mission and vision of the Order of the Company of Mary, Our Lady and how this international mission is reflected right here in Temecula,” said Sister Ernestine Velarde, ODN, President of Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac School.
The first leg of the journey took this enthusiastic group to Bordeaux, France where it all began for Jeanne de Lestonnac in 1607. The students were able to walk the streets that Saint Jeanne grew up in as a girl conflicted between her mother’s Calvinist views and her father’s Catholic perspective. Students visited the castle of Jeanne’s famous uncle, who was a huge influence in her life, French humanist philosopher, Michael Eyquem Montaigne. They prayed for their future vocation in the church that Jeanne married Gaston de Monferrand Landiras and walked the grounds and among the castle ruins where she raised her family and served as the Baroness of Landiras. The students took time for prayer and reflection at the stream in La Mothe where Jeanne contemplated God’s call for her life and prepared to live out the founding of the first Order of religious women dedicated to education.
The students then ventured on to Lourdes, France to the Shrine and Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Many students took the opportunity to bathe in the pools at Lourdes ready to receive the blessings and to intercede to our Lady as they continue to grow into young adulthood and strive to be people for Christ. The evening was enriched with a candlelight Rosary in the Grotto.
“Lourdes was the pilgrimage site that affected me the most and where I had an understanding of my faith, the power of prayer and my spiritual relationships,” wrote St. Jeanne High School student Anik Scherf in an essay about the trip. “It was here that I finally felt still and experienced God’s grace through prayer.”
The pilgrimage journey continued to Barcelona, Spain where the students celebrated the monthly international Mass with the Cardinal of Barcelona, Most Reverend Juan Jose Omella, in Sagrada Familia – a UNESCO World Heritage site designed by the Antoni Gaudi, one of the many places which honors the life of Saint Jeanne for the Order’s historical and present work in education. While in Barcelona, students met and interacted with counterparts from the oldest Company of Mary school in Spain (1650), the students found that although there are cultural differences, teenage life is basically the same everywhere.
Rome was the next destination on the pilgrimage. Students enjoyed reserved seats in an audience with Pope Francis; a private tour of the Vatican Library; time of reflection and awe in the jail that held Saints Peter and Paul; and strolled the other sites of ancient Rome. While in Rome, students learned about prayer and commitment to the cause of social work from members of the San Egidio community who serve the poor and immigrant communities in the Eternal City. Students were inspired by the stories heard regarding the work of young people to make a difference on our home front. From Rome, it was on to the medieval town of Orvieto and Assisi.
“This pilgrimage was much more than a study trip,” says St. Jeanne Principal Annette Zaleski, “This was a time of reflection and transformation for our students. Seeds have been planted that will produce fruit for a lifetime.”
The most cherished times on this pilgrimage was the interaction between the Sisters of the Order of the Company of Mary, Our Lady at each destination. The students stayed at hospitality centers run by the Order throughout the journey. They were invited into the community homes of the Sisters to share their experience and thoughts on Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac. The Sisters greeted each student as their own, and students embraced the Sisters as if they had known them all their lives. It was evident that although miles apart, the Order of the Sisters of the Company of Mary are one.
This pilgrimage experience will be an annual event for our new students to foster a deeper understanding of the school’s mission within the International Order of the Sisters of the Company of Mary, Our Lady.