A young priest and a group of women touched by the Spirit of God founded the Sisters of St. Joseph in the village of Le Puy, France, in 1650, according to the Sisters of St. Joseph website. They shared a vision of union with God and neighbor, which they sought to achieve through prayer, service and love. The Congregation came to America in 1836, eventually founding nine colleges in the United States. And now, nearly 370 years after the founding of the Sisters of St. Joseph, two students from each college went for the first time on a pilgrimage to Le Puy from June 16 to June 23.
Tatiana Belanich, a senior from SJC Long Island majoring in Philosophy and Religious Studies and Journalism and New Media Studies, traveled to France alongside SJC Brooklyn 2018 graduate Veronique Mathieu, who earned a bachelor’s in English.
The Association of Colleges of Sisters of St. Joseph (ACSSJ) Executive Director Martha Malinski and Belanich (an intern for ACSSJ) explained the importance of this pilgrimage.
To experience these historical places was a professional and personal highlight that has deepened my awe and commitment to the Sisters of St. Joseph.” — ACSSJ Executive Director Martha Malinski
Martha: To offer a unique opportunity for two students from each of our nine member institutions to participate in a weeklong trip to France to learn more about the Sisters of St. Joseph‘s history and charism. Each of the students is charged with bringing their new knowledge, understanding and hopefully a deeper connection to the Sisters of St. Joseph back to their home campus and offering fall programs. Students are working to infuse their learning and the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph on campuses, through presentations at first-year orientations, tabling, videos, programs, etc.
OnCampus: Why is it important for students from these nine colleges to experience Le Puy?
Martha: The students learned more about the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph in France that led to them coming to the United States in the 1800s to begin new ministries of dividing the city and circling it with love. Students had an opportunity to reflect on what bold and courageous women the first Sisters of St. Joseph were and how their work has led to great institutions, like St. Joseph’s College. It also allowed them to meet current Sisters of St. Joseph, who continue this bold legacy and are leaders in their own communities.
Tatiana: Not enough people know the story of the Sisters of St. Joseph, and that needs to change. The Sisters were radical for their time — they followed God’s will with unwavering faith and made a difference by loving without distinction. We are all called to make a difference. By attending the Le Puy Pilgrimage, we not only experienced the breath-taking views, but we had the opportunity to relate the stories of the Sisters to our own life.
OnCampus: What was the most meaningful part of this journey to you?
Martha: I was inspired by the group of 18 students who opened themselves up to the experience and came together as a group, fostering deep connections with each other and with the place. S. Kitty Hanley, C.S.J. and S. Joan Lescinski, C.S.J. were our guides. Their knowledge and understanding of the place and the charism were essential. Campus Ministry Directors Lori Helfrich (from Fontbonne University) and Daniel Leahy (from Regis College) provided thoughtful evening reflections to deepen our understanding of what we had seen, heard and felt during the day. They used the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Sharing of the Heart practice to guide these reflections.
It was my first time to Le Puy and Lyon. Walking the streets of Le Puy, sitting in the Motherhouse chapel in Lyon, and being in the first kitchen are spiritual and transformative experiences. These are places I have read about, heard stories of and imagined. To experience these historical places was a professional and personal highlight that has deepened my awe and commitment to the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Tatiana: The entire trip was filled with memorable moments. From walking the same streets to seeing the same beautiful sights as the first sisters, I was struck by the simple, humble beginnings of the congregation. With every story, I was enamored by the courage and passion the Sisters had in following God’s will. Moreover, sharing this with students from all around the country whose own colleges were also founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph enriched the experience more than I can say. We all had a desire to learn about the Sisters and their stories, and we all formed relationships and bonds that will remain. Most of all, our guides S. Joan and S. Kitty enlivened and blessed our journey beyond words. I was inspired by their wisdom and faith, and it was such a joy to see how much they loved Le Puy and the Sisters of St. Joseph.
OnCampus: What did you gain from this experience?
Tatiana: Being around a group of faithful, steadfast people awakened my love for God. Hearing the wisdom from our leaders reminded me that God fully knows and understands each one of us. I left with a deepened desire to discern and follow the will God has for my life — to make a difference. Le Puy will always be a home and an experience I will carry forever.
This experience also allowed students:
• To deepen their spirituality and Catholic faith.
• To participate in an abroad learning opportunity and to foster knowledge of and participation in a larger global community.
• To foster relationships with other students from the other nine colleges of the Sisters of St. Joseph’s.
I left with a deepened desire to discern and follow the will God has for my life — to make a difference. Le Puy will always be a home and an experience I will carry forever.” —Tatiana Belanich ’19