I returned from the Pilgrimage to the Motherhouse of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Angers, France a few weeks ago. The Sisters were so generous to share this sacred space with us, and to financially support the trip for 80 Pilgrims from Good Shepherd mission partners from all over the world. We were so grateful! Although it was an amazing and life-changing experience to be there where our values and mission began, I’ve been struggling to put it into words for all of you.

Sometimes words just don’t explain how it feels to be somewhere- and that is certainly true in this case.  However, I took a lot of pictures and I’ve decided that maybe the best thing I can do is show you, and perhaps you’ll feel a bit of what the Vista Maria Pilgrims felt while we were there.

The first picture is of the green door- the very same one that our green door at the front of Brennan Hall is modeled after.  At one time, it was the only way in or out of the Motherhouse property. If you zoom in, on the right side you can see the antique brass knocker that someone would use to let the Sisters know they needed refuge, and the screen below is where the Sisters would peek through to be sure it was indeed safe to let someone enter. On the first day of our Pilgrimage, we had an opening ceremony where all Pilgrims stood outside the green door- and when we knocked, those huge doors opened, and the French Sisters were there to greet us! As we walked through the doors, we all received warm hugs and smiles despite the language barrier. Tears came to my eyes as I received an embrace from a tiny French sister; I literally felt as if somehow, she had been waiting for me, knowing I was tired from my journey and needed rest. I imagined that was how girls and women must have felt so many years ago as they finally arrived at this refuge- and I instantly wished you could all be there, too, to feel this warmth, acceptance, and appreciation for all you do each day to make sure youth and families are safe and well.

The second photo is of a statue that is just past the green door, in the vestibule before you walk out into a lovely courtyard. Although there were so many beautiful works of art at the Motherhouse, this statue of St. Mary Euphrasia embracing a weeping girl was by far my favorite. Look carefully at the expression on SME’s face. You can literally see the love, compassion, and deep respect for the child in her arms. It reminded me that even if norms are a bit different now- we probably don’t hug children quite as readily, for example- some things do not change. Our youth and families can see and feel our love, compassion, and respect- and those can be more powerful than almost any modern clinical treatment. In St. Mary Euphrasia’s words, “It’s not enough that you love them, they must know that you love them.”

I see that from each of you: in the moments when you are patiently interacting with a youth who is struggling; when you are patching up a hole in the wall; when you ensure they have fun activities, brand new clothing; and when you tap each other on the shoulder to give a team member a break and ensure a youth is getting our very best. And in all the moments where you are giving of yourself because you truly love youth and families and believe in their ability to heal and grow.  The next time you are having a tough day, try thinking about getting a hug like this from St. Mary Euphrasia. After learning more about her and reading some of her letters, she knew better than anyone that our mission and work can be hard. I’m confident that hugs were not just reserved for children in care.

I’ll share more pictures and stories in future emails, of course. But in the meantime, I thought you should know that even if you never travel to the Motherhouse, someone is waiting there for you, too, with a warm hug and smile.