The Pilgrimage and St. Gregory’s Academy

The pilgrimage has been an honored tradition of Christendom and it is therefore appropriate that this tradition became an essential element in the life of St. Gregory’s and the formation of the spiritual consciousness of the school. Below is an account written following the first St. Gregory’s pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, popularly known as “The Way of St. James.”

September, 1999

 “Here I start from home, and there I reach a goal, and on the way I laugh and watch, sing and work. Now I am at ease and again hampered; now poor, now rich, weary towards the end and at last arrived at that end.” –Hilaire Belloc

Last June, ten boys and a teacher from St. Gregory’s Academy set out on a peculiar European adventure: to retrace a famous medieval pilgrimage route from Pamplona, Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. As befits pilgrims, their transport was by their own muscle-power, albeit on bicycles, and their reliance was on Providence; all their daily needs were provided for by gifts from strangers pleasured by their juggling and songs. The Academy provided no money for this journey. With the help of Luke Culley, their teacher and dorm father, the boys had financed their own private efforts to find donations. Now they continued to sing and perform their way to Santiago across the Spanish countryside. A Chaucerian tale if ever there was one.

Santiago is St. James the Greater, who, with Sts. Peter and John, was the privileged companion of Our Lord at the Transfiguration and in Agony in the Garden. St. James legendarily walked from Jerusalem to Spain, laboring among the tribes for ten years. Then he must have returned or been recalled to Judea, for in the Acts of the Apostles St. Luke relates that St. James was killed by Herod Agrippa “by the sword,” the first Apostle to die for Christ. His relics were returned to Spain, where they now rest at Compostela, and this was the source of Spain’s conversion.

The boy’s journey to honor these relics was long and arduous, taking them through the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain. Through ten summer days the Academy boys biked, sang, ate, and juggled, thanking God each time bread and cheese, fruit and meat materialized through their efforts and the generosity of the Spanish onlookers. Finally, surrounded by the city, the boys gained the cathedral; the dark stones piled high in Gothic splendor. As they knelt before the high altar offering their thanksgiving to God, they felt a great and deserved joy in all that they had accomplished. “I couldn’t have done this with any boys but the boys from St. Gregory’s,” said Mr. Culley.

That may be true. What we call Chaucerian, some might think quixotic; a deed so out of its own  time that the doers might seem foolish. Yet what might seem unusual to most of the world seems natural and right to us. All of us at the Academy, even those who had doubts as to whether it could be done, feel that there is something appropriate to and typical of St. Gregory’s about this trip. Why is that?

The essential elements of this pilgrimage are reflected in the school’s environment and curriculum. St. Gregory’s is where the boys learned to sing and to juggle, to exert themselves physically and artistically, and to treat each other like comrades.  More importantly, many have grown closer to God and to the altar. Comradeship, effort and spirituality all mark the St. Gregory’s experience.

During the six years of St. Gregory’s existence, our boys have participated in a variety of spiritual journeys. For several years we have attended the pilgrimage to the shrine of the North American Martyrs, and students and alumni have traveled to France to join with Catholics from around the world in the annual pilgrimage from Notre Dame de Paris to Chartres Cathedral. A pilgrimage is a great good  in itself, but it also provides an image of our lives as a whole. Every life is itself a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey full of difficulties and hard work. But life is also full of the promise of a great and unsurpassing joy when we reach the journey’s end. It is the hope of this promise that gives us strength through all the difficulties and temptations we may encounter, and it is the strength to persevere in grace that we hope to give our boys through our efforts at the Academy.

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages