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Four Years at the Mount

Freshman year

Fall Break

Carolyn Shields

(Oct, 2010) The week before Fall Break all anyone could talk about was returning home—home to their moms, their warm beds and other comforts that only home has, but being a commuter, I am blessed to come home every night. So I was beginning to dread the empty campus and the lack of a routine to keep me occupied for the next week, but when my sister mentioned a pilgrimage to New York, I jumped at the opportunity.

I promise I won't make a Christian song reference every month, but there was one song I couldn't get out of my head the four days I was away from home. It was Matt Maher's "Remembrance." The part of the song that is so powerful is, "Lord we remember you. And remembrance leads us to worship, and as we worship you, our worship leads to communion. We respond to your invitation. We remember you."

There were fourteen of us who decided to head north for Fall Break, including the campus chaplain, Fr. Brian. Our mission was to visit the National Shrine of North American Martyrs in northern New York. The hours spent in the car with people you've seen around campus but never had the opportunity to talk to helped seal friendships that, through God's grace, will last a long time. We remembered God through our actions from the very start with a group prayer, then through the rosary while in the car…even in the Irish Pub in Scranton where we ate dinner by saying Grace amongst gruesome and highly appetizing Halloween decorations.

I would have to say that the people I met were ideal examples for young adults. People think of stereotypes when they hear ‘college student’: the excessive drinker, the partyer. You never hear about the guys who carry a rosary in their pocket, or the girls who sit and listen to these same guys sing Halo lyrics to the tune of Disney songs without complaining once—even after the tenth time. But the partyers get all the spotlight. All I can ask is why? Why do they get all the attention when it’s those who make an effort to change themselves who will be the ones to change the world?

The first day of the pilgrimage we drove to the North American Martyr Shrine where Kateri Tekakwitha lived during her short life. Kateri sacrificed so much for God and went to great lengths to practice her faith, even running away from her village. With the leaves at their peak in northern New York and the crisp autumn air chilling your skin beneath a lightweight jacket, all you had to do was close your eyes for a moment before you could clearly picture the Iroquois village before you...and their severe practices.

The first American martyrs, St. Renee Goupil and St. Isaac Jogues, were held captive by the Iroquois who lived amongst the rolling hills in the 1600s. Standing on top of Torture Hill where St. Renee and St. Isaac were forced to run the gauntlet between rows of thrashing Indians was mind numbing and humbling. The Iroquois chewed and mutilated the Blackrobe’s fingers so that he would not perform the Sign of the Cross over children anymore or preach about a man named Jesus. The Iroquois children would throw hot coals on the missionaries’ sleeping bodies. They were whipped, deprived of food, and burned. And yet they continued to do what they set out to do—convert men and women and children. In the end they did not convert a single person (as far as we know), but they offered all they had to Christ. Because in the end the Iroquois took their lives.

St. Renee Goupil was tomahawked in front of St. Isaac Jogues. It took months for St. Isaac to find his friend’s remains, and when he did he buried them in a ravine where their presence is so strong that you literally fall to your knees. St. Isaac followed St. Renee to heaven in 1646, four years later. Within those years he continued preaching, despite the dangers.

That part of the pilgrimage was a time for reflection. How much were we giving up to God? How much were we holding back? We spread apart, some sitting by the creek where St. Renee’s skull was discovered beneath golden trees and others kneeling in the middle of the ravine, their knees growing damp from the sodden earth.

In the end, when we reach into a part of ourselves, when we are in that state of mind that only comes when we are completely awed or humbled, we remember what Christ has paid. In the end, that remembrance is what motivated saints like Kateri Tekakwitha to travel 200 miles in a canoe and on foot to escape her village to practice her faith freely, or like Mother Seton to leave home and come to Emmitsburg to start a school without any means of support... or to continue preaching even after the Iroquois murdered your friend.

Will I remember the intense conversation about exorcisms we had huddled over a fire at 1 a.m. under the Milky Way that we had to finish inside because we became so creeped out? Will I forget the way the leaves fell lightly onto the damp earth where America’s first martyr was buried? Or the way my sister’s eyelashes rested on her cheekbones as she prayed the rosary? Or the midnight game of Sardines, tripping through the woods and stumbling over roots, searching…

One thing is for certain. I will never forget the sacrifices St. Renee Goupil and St. Isaac paid for Christ. That’s what the trip was all about. Remembering. We are united in remembrance. Together, the students of Mount St. Mary’s remembered…

Read other articles by Caroline Shields