Saint Mary’s Emulates Camino de Santiago

Annie Harton '11

American Pilgrims on the Camino held their Saint James Jubilee Celebration on campus July 23-26. Volunteers from the Midwest chapters of American Pilgrims worked with Saint Mary’s to host participants from 26 states who gathered to mark the holy celebration. 

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela—in English known as The Way of James—is a network of pilgrims' walking routes, or pilgrimages, leading to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Tradition holds that the remains of Jesus’ apostle are buried there. 

July 25 is the Feast of Saint James. And while pilgrims walk the Camino every day of the year, the feast day is generally a special time to take part. When the feast day lands on a Sunday, as it did this year, it becomes a holy year, exponentially increasing the number of people from across the globe who travel to the Camino. Due to the pandemic, the Midwest chapter offered pilgrims from the US a chance to celebrate the holy year together in lieu of international travel. Throughout the weekend, members engaged in presentations, lectures, a film premier, service projects, Spanish-inspired meals at the Noble Family Dining Hall and, of course, many walks around Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, and the South Bend community. The jubilee concluded Monday morning with one final walk and reflection.

Previous cities to host this group of American pilgrims include San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Asheville, North Carolina. When it came to choosing the location for the jubilee celebration, Tom Labuzienski, co-chair of the local event, had the perfect place in mind. A South Bend native and active athlete, Labuzienski has walked the Camino several times and said “Saint Mary’s was a perfect fit. The size and location of the campus made the participants feel intimately connected to the community.”

Pilgrims adjusting bike tire
Fixing bikes as service.

Annie Harton '11 is one of the 130 members who gathered on campus for this event. “One of the biggest reasons I walked the Camino was because Saint Mary’s formed me into a confident and courageous woman,” Harton said. "At Saint Mary’s I was shaped into a woman who believes that I can do all things through Christ and knowing that even when I’m alone I have a community that surrounds me and encourages me."

The Camino routes stretch across Europe and come together in northwest Spain for a total of 500 miles. In order to receive the Compostela certificate, pilgrims must walk at least 62 miles of it. Emulating the experience, pilgrims on Saint Mary’s campus had the opportunity to walk up to 25.3 miles over the course of the weekend.

So remarkable and rewarding is the experience of spiritual walks, that a Saint Mary’s professor turned it into a valuable learning opportunity for students. Philosophy of Walking, taught by Patricia Sayre, Ph.D., provides an opportunity not only to philosophize about walking, but to philosophize while walking. This class meets once a week to go for a walk while discussing readings and sharing insights. A 2018 Courier story offers one alumna’s reflection on the class. Annie McGuire, ‘20 shares her own personal experience walking the Camino and Professor Sayre’s class.

“I see Saint Mary’s as a stage of the Camino because I have grown to trust the steps I take in life, and Saint Mary’s is just one of those steps,” McGuire said. 

Sister M. Madeleva Wolff, CSC, spent her lifetime collecting walking sticks, associating them with the pilgrim’s staff used on the Camino. Her personal collection has become cherished artifacts of the College. So valued is this connection, new presidents of the College will select a walking stick from Sister Madeleva’s collection to use during their tenure. The stick leads processions at academic ceremonies.

“When you’re on the Camino, everyone is speaking different languages and taking different routes but we are walking together in the same direction and we are there to support each other. That’s how I feel every time I return to Saint Mary’s,” Harton says. “You are a lifelong learner and are always on a journey. Your Camino is never over.”

To learn more about the American Pilgrims on the Camino click here.

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