By Emily Steves, ’15
Dan Egan hasn’t worn a Wolf Pack T-shirt to St. Bonaventure University basketball games since his freshman year. The junior instead dons a homemade friar’s habit to cheer on the Bonnies.
But his costume isn’t just for show anymore; Egan, along with fellow student Matt Creeron, relived and revisited sites strongly rooted in Franciscan tradition while on a pilgrimage to Italy over the winter break.
After applying to go on the pilgrimage and being accepted, Egan and Creeron left the states on Dec. 27, 2013, joining SBU University Ministries team members Sr. Suzanne Kush, C.S.S.F., and Fr. Francis Di Spigno, O.F.M., in Rome.
“In Rome, we stayed in this hotel where we had to walk up this humongous hill to get up there,” said Creeron, a sophomore sport studies major from Rosedale, N.Y. “We experienced the different types of meals they have there, the fresh meats, the fresh pasta, how they have a large lunch and a really small dinner.”
But the group didn’t have time to relax; sightseeing began immediately upon arrival.
“We went to the Vatican the first day –– we hadn’t even gotten to bed yet, and we were already doing the whole Italian thing,” said Egan, a junior biology major from East Aurora, N.Y. “We were in Rome for three days, and then we went to Assisi.”
Because traditional pilgrimages were completed on foot, Sr. Suzanne made sure this one was no different.
“Pilgrimage means visiting places with your feet, and I think, too, to use all of your senses, whether it is touching the walls, to see, to recall what you read, what you know, and to put a very personal sense into it and to share that with others,” said Kush, director of the university’s Franciscan Center for Social Concern. “That becomes very important.”
“There were a couple days where we walked 10-plus miles,” Egan said.
Long walks helped spur lasting friendships with students from other schools within the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities (AFCU) who joined the Bonnies for the pilgrimage.
“My cousin went on the trip last year from Newman University, and that’s how I heard about it,” said Creeron. “She had this life-changing experience from it, and she just had this wonderful time.”
The Franciscan leaders Creeron and Egan had read about in classes such as Catholic and Franciscan Heritage and Foundational Religious Texts of the Western World popped off the pages and into reality.
“You just get this homey feeling. We were actually walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare,” Creeron said.
The group visited the Portiuncula just outside of Assisi, a small chapel given to St. Francis, who then restored it as a place where shepherds could find shelter during bad weather. In the 1500s, a basilica known as Saint Mary of the Angels was built around the Portiuncula, creating what Creeron described as, “A church inside of a church.” To Creeron, the Portiuncula was “One of the coolest places we went to.”
With the 2014 pilgrimage as her sixth through AFCU, Sr. Suzanne has seen firsthand how the trip can change students. “It happens time and time again, how God’s spirit and the spirits of Francis and Clare truly touch them,” she said. “Many of the students say, ‘I was never the same after it;’ It was that much of an experiential time in their lives.”
“The whole trip personally brought me closer to God and gave me a better understanding of my faith,” Creeron said.
As for students who may not practice a certain faith tradition, Sr. Suzanne believes the trip can still have a distinct impact. “Spirituality doesn’t have to be formal or religious, but I think it’s an important piece,” she said. “It adds to us becoming a whole person.”
Egan had a difficult time adjusting to culture in Italy at first, and then he experienced the same culture shock when he returned home on Jan. 6. “I think there were a lot of times while we were there when we could just have some silence,” he said, “that’s something I’ve been trying to continue to do here (at Bonaventure). Just take some time to be alone and be quiet.”
Students interested in applying for next year’s pilgrimage (Dec. 28 through Jan. 7, 2015) will find application requirements at www.sbu.edu/pilgrimage. The deadline for applications is April 30 and students will be notified by May 31. There will be an information meeting for students to learn more about the pilgrimage opportunity at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 1, in the Thomas Merton Center. Presentations will be given by students from past pilgrimages.
“It’s one thing to read about Francis and Clare in a book. It’s very different to go to the places where they lived and where the walked, where they had spiritual encounters with God and to be in those places,” said Sr. Suzanne.
“Everyone was kind of like a huge family,” said Egan.
About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. We are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers in the context of our renowned liberal arts tradition. Our students are becoming extraordinary.
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