Loyola University Chicago

Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing

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Nursing students connect with spirituality on Lourdes service trip

Nursing students connect with spirituality on Lourdes service trip

Nursing students pose with military pilgrims they assisted on their service trip to Lourdes, France.

Each year, five million patients make the pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, where a young Catholic peasant girl named Bernadette had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858. The site is home to a spring long believed to heal those who bathed in its water. These pilgrimages could not be possible without the help of the volunteers that assist the travelers —among them, Loyola’s own nursing students.

 The students, who are selected to attend after an application and interview process, come each year to Lourdes as part of a service immersion trip through Campus Ministry. This year, 11 students attended, accompanied by three chaperones.  Led by nursing professor Dr. Ann Solari-Twadell, they spent ten days assisting pilgrims in the baths, attending Mass, reflecting, and learning about Lourdes and the legacy of St. Bernadette. For students used to rigorous demands of the nursing curriculum, it is a time to focus on spiritual care.

“Being in the baths humbles you so much and teaches you how you should look at each one of your patients with priority and understanding,” said senior Ania Domalik, who attended this year for the first time. “After serving there you start to understand that everyone has burdens they carry and fears within them that you could ease with paying attention and a few kind words.”

The service trip brings to life the Jesuit value of cura personalis­ that is crucial to quality nursing. The students felt a deeply personal connection to the pilgrims, who visited the baths.

“It is our responsibility as the nurse to care for our patients as human beings with compassion, an open heart, and a smile,” said Amanda Garza, a 2015 graduate who served as the student leader for the trip. Garza first came to Lourdes in 2013 as a sophomore, and felt called to return and give others the same inspiring experience she had. “It was the perfect way to end my time as a student and reaffirm my calling to the profession of nursing,” Garza said.

The students also loved the feeling of solidarity at Lourdes they had with each other, the pilgrims, and other volunteers. The trip occurred during a military pilgrimage when more than 20 nations sent soldiers to Lourdes as a sign of peace.

“My favorite memory from the trip was the nighttime candle rosary procession,” Domalik said. “There was such an abundance of people, who don't even speak the same language, but all of them united in prayer. It was an image that I'll remember forever.”

The trip inspired Domalik to focus more on spirituality in her studies.

“After my trip to Lourdes, I cannot wait to register for Dr. Solari's spirituality course to get another taste of what I experienced in France,” she said.

Find another student’s account of her trip to Lourdes on RamblerBuzz.