By Sister Lois Anne Palkert, OSF
“It was a life changing experience,” were Dr. Anna Damien’s first words to me as we gathered for a meeting at St Joseph Regional Hospital. Dr. Anna Damian, a primary care physical at CHI St Joseph along with Bev Welch Interim Chief Nursing Officer at CHI St Joseph Health, were selected to participate in the Pilgrimage for Franciscan Leadership in October.
For those of us who have participated in the Franciscan Pilgrimage to Assisi we know how walking in the footsteps of Francis and Clare in Assisi and each of the places significant in their lives has changed ours.
The roots of the Franciscan Pilgrimage go back to the early 1970’s when Damien Isabell, OFM, a friar from the Sacred Heart Province (St Louis) began offering guided trips to the friars. Franciscan communities greatly appreciated the Franciscan Pilgrimage Program, leading to its expansion. As administration of Franciscan institutions was no longer in the hands of founding religious communities’, requests came from these institutions for Franciscan leadership programs. Annually we send leaders from our institutions to these programs. Listening to how their lives are enriched and transformed we know that our heritage and legacy continues.
Prior to leaving on the pilgrimage Dr. Anna and the staff at the clinic gathered for a prayer and blessing for her. Now she wanted to share her experience with all who serve at the family practice clinic where she and her husband, also a physician practice. A tradition at the clinic is a Thanksgiving luncheon the week before Thanksgiving. This was the perfect time for Dr. Anna to share her experience with all with whom she ministers. And what a powerful experience it was for me as well as all of the clinic doctors and staff.
Dr. Anna brought no pictures. “They are all on my phone, she admitted, “I want to talk about what I experienced.” And that she did as we sat around the chairs in the clinic with plates filled with all the traditional Thanksgiving dinner foods (except the turkey, but plenty of ham).
Dr. Anna began by talking about the blessing she received the week before she left. “I carried that blessing and each of you with me the entire time I was on pilgrimage. I prayed for each of you, my family and friends each day.”
“Our group of 15 mostly from CHI sponsored organizations got along so well. The welcome letter I received from the Franciscan Pilgrimage Program invited me ‘to put aside all worries or cares and to be open to what God wants to share with me and to be open to what the sacred places have to say to me.’ I was to attend as a pilgrim, not a tourist.”
The pilgrimage begins in Rome visiting St John Lateran and St Peter Basilica, a papal audience with thousands of other pilgrims from around the world. “The Pope’s message that day was to be kind to strangers and to clothe the naked-particularly those stripped of their human dignity and what an opportunity we have here in the clinic as we care for those who come to us.”
Following the crowds, and hustle and bustle of Rome the pilgrimage heads for Assisi. “Here I learned the love story of Francis and Clare.” We walked all over Assisi (60 miles according to the Fitbit which one of the pilgrims wore) We did not just travel to all the places significant in the life of Francis and Clare we experienced these special places. We were privileged to walk through the life of Francis and Clare as we visited these places, listened to lectures and spent time in reflections. I could feel God’s grace and presence descending on the group.”
We celebrated Mass together. We prayed together and I prayed for each of you and for our ministries. We were immersed in the philosophy and spirituality of Francis and Clare. Their love story is their love for and devotion to Christ. Hundreds followed Francis. Today there are thousands in many parts of the world, living out the simplicity of Gospel life…”
I feel compelled that since I was sent as a pilgrim I am to bring something back. A few lessons that I think we should incorporate here that encompass the Franciscan spirit include:
- Contemplation over Conflict
- Love over Violence
- Graciousness over Discourtesy
- Generosity over Greed
- Humility over Power
- Poverty over Wealth
- Inclusivity over Exclusivity
I want these on our boards to remind us of how we are to live the spirit of Francis.
And above all we are to: Recognize the dignity of each person. Everyone who walks into our clinic, every person that we speak to over the phone, every person that we touch in one way or another, deserves our respect, compassion and tenderness.”
Dr. Anna presented the clinic with a large wooden Tau to be strategically placed in the lobby of the clinic. She distributed a small Tau to each team member and a copy of the Peace Prayer.
Dr. Anna was not the only one who whose life was transformed. Each staff member was reminded of who we are as a Franciscan health care system. All who come to the clinic are touched by the spirit of Francis and his compassionate love and care, especially for those who are sick.
I was touched by the passion with which Dr. Anna spoke, her deep conviction convinces me that the legacy of love and service that our founding Sisters brought here to Bryan, Texas 80 years ago lives on and will continue to live on long into the future.