A Novice’s Pilgrimage
My name is Charlie Bulger and I am a novice for the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, based in St. Paul, MN. As part of our formation in novitiate we embark on something called the pilgrimage experiment. In this experiment, we are given $35, a backpack, and a one way bus ticket and are sent out for a month. The purpose of the experiment is to teach novices to trust in God and his providence to provide for their needs.
My pilgrimage eventually brought me to the Little Sisters of the Poor Holy Family Residence in St. Paul.
But before I reached the Little Sisters, I had spent nearly a month on the road. Given my devotion to St. Joseph, I had chosen as my destination the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, NM, where there is a staircase that is said to have been built by St. Joseph. My goal was to be there for the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1. So, I first made my way from St. Paul to Kansas City, MO, then to Oklahoma City, OK, and finally to Albuquerque, NM. Then, on May 1, I walked into the Loretto Chapel. It was a very moving experience as I sat in the chapel and replayed the two weeks that had led me to that spot. God and the prayers of St. Joseph had delivered me to that spot.
I then started to make my way back to St. Paul by way of Lawrence, KS, West Des Moines, IA, and St. Cloud, MN. As I was figuring out where to spend my last days of pilgrimage, I decided to see if the Little Sisters of the Poor had a home in St. Paul. I found out they did and it was right down the street from the novitiate. So, I reached out to Mother Theresa Gertrude and asked if she’d be able to help me. She said she’d be happy to have me, so I headed to the Holy Family Residence.
When I arrived, Mother Theresa Gertrude gave me the first day to sleep after early morning traveling. But the second day she set me to work…with none other than…Sr. Joseph Marie. I found myself laughing to God. Here I was in the final days of my Joseph pilgrimage, working with Sr. Joseph Marie in the Holy Family Residence. We spent the entire day cleaning the auditorium stage, which was covered in decorations for every holiday imaginable. When I walked in, I thought we would never be able to finish. As we worked, we talked about discernment, vocation, my pilgrimage, St. Joseph, and the Little Sisters. It was an amazing experience. And sure enough we somehow managed to clear everything off of the stage.
To celebrate our accomplishment, Sr. Joseph Marie and I went outside and took a picture with the statue of the Holy Family in front of the Home. I said, “What a fitting end to my St. Joseph Pilgrimage,” and Sr. Joseph Marie looked at me and said, “Do you have a devotion to Joseph?” I told her I did, and she said, “I knew I forgot something! Follow me!” She took me to a room filled with books about the Little Sisters, and after searching multiple bins, she finally found what she was looking for, and she handed me a one-inch-tall statue of St. Joseph. As she gave it to me, she said, “Every Little Sister of the Poor receives this statue at her final profession, and she carries it with her every day for the rest of her life. Keep him with you and pray to Joseph.” In that moment, I felt as if the Lord had just tied the bow on my pilgrimage. That was why he brought me there.
Though I was only with the Little Sisters for a few days, I was struck by the care they showed to their Residents. There was an obvious affection shared between the Residents and the Sisters. Talking to Sr. Joseph Marie, I could hear the deep love she had for the sick and dying. Clearly, she was dedicated to the mission of the Little Sisters. I pray that more women will respond to the call to serve Jesus in this way. Truly, the Little Sisters live a beautiful witness to the value of every human life and God’s closeness to the sick and the aged.