2016 Pilgrimage Recap

This was published in the diocesan newspaper this week – I thought I’d share it here, since it’s hard to link to the print edition of the paper.


When I began work as Director of Adult Formation for the diocese, I knew I wanted to take people on pilgrimage.  My own time spent in Rome had a deep impact on my spiritual life and the discernment of my vocation, and I knew that no amount of study or reading could replicate what happens on a pilgrimage.  To walk in the footsteps of saints, to experience Catholic culture lived out, to see the Holy Father, and to pray and celebrate Mass with fellow pilgrims are formative experiences that cannot be taught, but lived.

Before the trip even began, our group experienced sorrows and joys.  One of the couples planning on coming with us had to cancel their trip after the husband was diagnosed with cancer, and he passed away two weeks before we left.  He and his family were remembered along every step of our pilgrimage, and we offered Mass for the repose of his soul in Assisi.  Two of our pilgrims were united in Holy Matrimony on the feast of Pope John Paul II just a few days before we left, and on our trip Father John Hammond blessed their marriage before Mass in St. Peter’s basilica, directly in front of Pope John Paul’s tomb.

The high point for everyone was the chance to see the Holy Father.  Months before we left, we found out that both the Wednesday General Audience the Pope holds weekly and the special Papal Mass that is held every year for All Soul’s Day had been cancelled.  Francis was traveling to Sweden right when we were arriving in Rome.  Since these were the only opportunities our pilgrims were going to get to see the Pope, I had to break the hard news to everyone.  They weren’t going to get to see Francis.

Behind the scenes, I worked with my fellow tour leader, Mountain Butorac, who lives in Rome with his family, to see what we could do.  Since we were familiar with the Pope’s routine, we knew there was a good chance that he would stop at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major after returning to Rome from Sweden.  He usually goes to pray in front of a famous icon of the Blessed Mother before and after his trips.  We planned our visit of St. Mary Major for Tuesday afternoon and prayed, not daring to tell any of the pilgrims about the possibility so as to avoid getting hopes up.  I entrusted the intention to St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes!

God – and St. Jude – were certainly smiling on our pilgrimage.  Not only were we in the basilica when the Pope arrived, we were in the front row along the temporary barricade that had been set up.  The Nashville pilgrims were less than 20 feet away when Pope Francis quietly came to the basilica to lay flowers at the altar and silently pray at the icon.  We joined him in singing the Salve Regina, and then as he left, he gave a small wave to us.  To see the surprise and happiness on the faces of our Nashville group, a group that had thought their chance to see the Pope had been taken away months ago, was well-worth keeping the secret under wraps for so long!

To top it off, the Papal Mass that had been cancelled was rescheduled, and so our group joined a small gathering of mostly Italians for Mass in a Roman cemetery outside the city of Rome.  There were only about 1,500 in attendance, and our group was a mere 60 yards away from the makeshift altar that had been set up amongst the mausoleums and graves. I have been to dozens of Papal Masses, but this one certainly took the prize for most unusual!

Besides our times with the Holy Father, the trip was marked with beautiful liturgies celebrated by our own Father Bulso and Father Hammond, prayer in front of the tombs of saints like St. Francis, St. Clare, and St. Paul, and the traditional climbing of the Holy Stairs on our knees.  We saw the Sistine Chapel, relics of the Passion, the wood of the crib of Our Lord, and the table of the Last Supper.  We were able to go under St. Peter’s Basilica and see the very bones of our first Pope. We walked through the Holy Doors of all four major Roman basilicas, making our Jubilee pilgrimage complete.

New friendships were forged as people from various parishes journeyed together.  Gelato and pasta were consumed, memories were made, and prayer intentions were lifted up.  Most of all, a group from Nashville, TN, touched the heart of the Church in the footsteps of saints, and brought you with us.



An open-letter to the Catholic School educators of my past

Thank you. Thank you for the ups and the downs, for the sacrifices to your bank account, for putting up with us and for letting us be kids. Thank you for teaching us to work in community, to listen to someone other than our parents, and for witnessing in small ways to the Christian life. Thank you for what you do.

This morning I went to the All Schools’ Mass with the Bishop for Catholic Schools Week. Since we have so many Catholic schools in the diocese, a few students are chosen from each grade to represent their school and accompany their principal and pastors to the Mass.

After Communion, the choir (made up of kids from the three high schools) were singing a beautiful meditation, and I had to struggle to keep back the tears.  Back came the memories of my days in high school choir.  Back came the memories of “Sharing Day,” the Wednesday of Catholic Schools Week when all our schools would gather together for Mass, too.  Back came memories from 21 years of Catholic education – from preschool to graduate school.

I thought of the teachers, the principals, the friends, the moms and dads of friends, the field trips, the school plays, the All School Masses, the recesses, the classes, the times that stretched me and the times that gave me joy.

You know what?  It wasn’t perfect. I had some not-so-great teachers, I had some not-so-great classmates.  There were even days I cried knowing I’d have to go back to school the next day. It was no walk in the park, those years of Catholic high school.  Even elementary and middle school had its ups and downs.

But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Sure, I would have liked it to be more Catholic at times. Yes, I would have asked that there was less bullying. I could have had more rigorous education at times.  It wasn’t perfect by any means.  If I was going to write the story of my years of school, there are definite experiences I would have spared myself from, and chapters I would have written differently.

But I survived. And I am who I am today because of the ups and the downs, the joys and the crosses, the good times and the bad.  I’ll be eternally grateful to my parents, who navigated those seas – rocky at times, calm at times – and helped me keep my Faith. There are many of my classmates who have not fared so well.

My years in Catholic schools are like any experience in life. You take the good and celebrate it, and you take the bad and you grow from it.  I know that everyone has their own decision to make for their own families, but I will forever be grateful that my parents didn’t listen to me in sixth grade when I begged to be homeschooled.  I needed those years of growth.  I needed those friends.  Who knows, maybe I needed to be a witness to someone, somewhere.

Perhaps this sounds like a rather back-handed compliment to my Catholic education.  It’s not intended that way.  I am honestly grateful for the memories and the experiences those years in the Lafayette Catholic School system gave me. The growth hasn’t stopped – I am still learning, still figuring out this whole life thing. I suppose the continued growth is why I can look back at those years and be grateful – even for the tough times.

I realized with some horror, as I looked around at the kids at Mass, that they thought I was a grownup. I’m as old as some of their teachers – perhaps even some of their parents! And as I looked at them – from the little bitty kindergartners to the seniors in high school– I wanted to tell them it was all worth it.  Thank your teachers. Thank your principals. Thank your parents.  It’s all going to be just fine.


why am I here?

I should be writing a couple of talks for a faculty retreat I’m giving on Monday and another talk for on Laudato Si that I’m giving next Wednesday.  I could also be writing the pro-life talk I’m giving at the end of the month, the talk on prayer I’m giving in November, or the women’s retreat I’m giving in December.

But no, I’m here. Because I’m having a crisis.

I think every blogger goes through this at some time or another, especially when one is looking at a fairly stagnant blog (no fault but mine own).  What the heck am I doing? Why am I here?

I’ve been watching a series of videos from Michael Hyatt’s Influence & Impact summit that’s going on right now, originally to see if there were some tips for marketing my adult formation opportunities or strategies to share with leaders in adult formation.  Essentially, half of my job is marketing the Gospel message to adults sitting in the pews who don’t know they should care more than they do.  So I was thinking I could learn from the “secular” play-makers who are out there.

But after watching several of the videos, I began to wonder about my own blog, website, and online presence.  I want readers to my website. I want to be speaking and teaching groups of people. But unlike the people I was listening to — people who had massive followings online, multiple New York Times’ best sellers, and huge “platforms,” I’m not selling anything.

Or am I?  As I was listening to them, they all had something in common: They had a product- not just physical products (books, an online course, or newsletter full of tips and inspirational encouragement)- but a product in the form of some niche message.

What was my product? What was my “why”? I love to write, but why should anyone read me? What do I have to offer?

One of the presenters said that we all, at some point, suffer from the curse of familiarity. We begin to assume that everyone knows what we know.  We have nothing to offer, nothing to share, because we don’t have anything unique.

Maybe I do have something unique.  My friend Jenny insisted I did, when we were in Philadelphia waiting 8 1/2 hours to see the Pope drive by (have you read about that?  It was awesome…), and I didn’t believe her.  But maybe I do, and maybe it’s just a matter of honing in what sets me apart.  I’m don’t have a tribe of cute kids to homeschool. I don’t spend time crafting or DIY-ing my way to Pinterest-worthy masterpieces. But perhaps I still have something to offer.  And perhaps it’s time to get off my duff and figure out how to hone that into something that’s worth giving.

Stay tuned.

Wanted: Help decorating my office (or at least your ideas)

My new office has LARGE wall space that is just crying out for something on the bigger side.  I have a Fra Angelico print and two photographs (Rome and Assisi) from my old offices, but they kind of disappear on these walls.  While I might be able to group them on one of the walls, at least one of the two walls needs a larger piece.

So, faithful friends, I’m looking for ideas.  I think the most economical plan would be to purchase a poster of a piece of fine art that I could get framed relatively cheaply with just a poster frame from Michael’s.  So what piece of fine art should I choose?  The sky’s the limit- I’m looking for your ideas.  Well, I prefer something religious. But I’m really looking for your thoughts – don’t let the following stop you from suggesting something else.

Rembrandt’s Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee might be a front runner right now, mostly because I need to remember Christ is always in the ship, even if it seems He’s asleep.  (and, let’s face it, partly because I like the guy throwing up over the side.)


But I don’t want to rush into anything, and there are so many great possibilities.  I also have a print of our Cathedral by a local artist, so another possibility is getting that framed alongside a print (by the same artist) of my parish, St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows (which I would have to acquire, but I think the pastor could help me out with that!)

by Phil Ponder

by Phil Ponder

Oh, and my dad has this jewel back home — if I stole it from him over the weekend, it’s most apt given our current climate.  But the Bishop might prefer something more refined and less cheeky.


So, friends, what do you think?  Do I need a picture of the Blessed Mother instead?  Or something that more directly relates to adult faith formation? And does anyone have an idea other than a place like allposters or Amazon?

Sound off in the comments!

Let the spectacle astound you

IMG_7327Back in January, on an unusually spring-like Monday night, a group of us went to Happy Hour at Melting Pot, the upscale fondue restaurant that has a moderately-priced happy hour special.  Afterwards a few of us decided to enjoy the mild weather and play “tourist,” which basically entailed walking around lower Broadway, people-watching and window-shopping.  We popped into a hippie store and was surprised to find a wall of masks:

IMG_6838After having fun trying them on, we all fell in love and decided we needed them.  But since it seemed a little crazy to buy masks for no reason, we began planning a masquerade- an epic Carnivale party that required either dressing up, masks, or both.

The idea grew from there.  I really wanted to distance it from the “mardi gras” that everyone assumes is the only way to celebrate the eve of Lent.  Rather than green, gold, and purple and king cake, I wanted the party to be more Venetian, as the masks deserved. (Like this scene in Rome from Count of Monte Cristo, without the kidnapping.)

Manda and Andrea offered their place for the party, and we convinced our friend Sarah, who lives on the other side of their duplex, to join in the hostessing and open her house too.  The week of the party was spent shopping and planning, and then we threw a mini party for ourselves the night before to decorate.  When I saw tulle at Michael’s, the Christendom-class-president in me was dreaming big (and the girls were willing to trust me, for some reason).  Why not put up a fake ceiling?

Friday night the magic happened:

IMG_7279Okay, not a fake ceiling. But still fun.

IMG_7286Little touches made the room beautiful

IMG_7271Refreshment for the decorating party.  We bought two growlers for the party, so we had to sample one with our pizza the night before, right?

 Most of the decorating was finished late Friday night, so Saturday night was just a matter of putting the finishing touches and getting ourselves decorated! : )  Luminaries connected the two apartments so that the party would flow naturally from one place to another. (That was Manda’s idea, and it was the perfect touch.  It also encouraged people to come in the front doors, since people are used to using the back doors at their house.)

IMG_7326The weather was perfect — in the low 60s– so the party naturally spilled out onto the porches and the front lawn.

Someone had the idea to do a signature cocktail – I don’t remember whom.  A bartender we talked to recommended sangria, but we wanted to do something a little more special.  We thought about a champagne punch, but wasn’t sure the best way to execute it.  I talked to the “mixologist” at my neighborhood wine store, and he recommended champagne with a dash of elderflower liqueur mixed with grapefruit juice.

IMG_7270is it a bad sign when they throw in a free carrying case?

IMG_7317We needed a name for the cocktail, and “golden,” kept coming up in our descriptions of the night, so the first thing that popped in my head was “sogni d’oro,” which literally means “golden sleep,” but is the way Italians say “sweet dreams.”  It sounded elevated and beautiful- so our cocktail had a name, even if it didn’t make much sense.


We were ready for our Masquerade!

I was pleasantly surprised how many people actually wore masks.  Everyone was either dressed up or in a mask – or both.  Of the 30-40 people that came, I’d say 90% were masked — and most everyone kept their mask on all night!  I couldn’t wear my glasses and my mask, but it wasn’t too big of a deal.  I sat on the front porch most of the night and let everyone come to me. : )

Andrea had the neat idea to stage a “photo booth” for people to take pictures.  She originally wanted a big gold frame, but we didn’t have time to run to Goodwill, nor did we have enough money for a real one, so one was created out of cardboard. She ended up hanging it from the ceiling, and even though this picture looks pretty hilarious, and it was definitely the hit of the party.

IMG_7365The five hostesses

All in all — a success!


Faces! Drink it in, drink it up
Till you’ve drowned
In the light
In the sound
But who can name the face?


Thirty years ago, on a frigid December day, I came into this world to the best parents and siblings a girl could ever want.  I showed up early, caused anxiety, and disrupted Christmas.

I think they’ve forgiven me.  I think.

On Wednesday night at my Bible study, I got off on a tangent (imagine that) while speaking about the Immaculate Conception.  God redeemed Mary, but He chose to redeem her by preservation, whereas we are redeemed by deliverance.  That much was in the notes.  But I got caught up in a reflection about my own life and how God has blessed me.  No, I’m not saying I was preserved from sin ; ) But I am in awe of how much He has blessed me and how little I deserve it.  He has saved me from so much pain, suffering, and heartache — because He gave me the family He gave me.  I didn’t deserve to be born in the United States of America, to loving Catholic parents, who raised me well and continue to take care of me.  I didn’t deserve to be taught the Faith from an early age, to be nurtured in the Church so that I could fall in love with Her.

I don’t deserve my incredible siblings, their spouses, and my nieces and nephews, either.

But it all comes back to Dad and Mom.  They are the people who made my siblings and me the people we are today.  Who made it possible for my sister to say yes to religious life.  Who made it possible for my brother and sister to choose wonderful spouses, to raise wonderful kids.

I wish I could begin to express the gratitude that I have for my parents.  I don’t want to embarrass them, and if I listed everything this blog post would be never-ending, so I won’t go into detail — but Dad and Mom, you know what I’m talking about.  For today and for every day of the last thirty years — thank you.


I realized after writing this post that I don’t have a picture of just my mom and me.  I’ll have to remedy that when I go home for Christmas!


the Liebster

I realize that this post risks being both pedestrian and self-centered after the exciting events of the last few months.  My stats saw quite a spike, probably because I haven’t been talking about where I ate dinner last night.  So just when I was getting into the groove of blogging about things other than myself, here we go.  A post about me.

You can blame Martha, who “nominated” me for this “award.”  And my cousin Theresa, who thought about nominating me but spared the world. : )

How Liebster works:

Thank the person who nominated you and link your post to their blog.
List 11 facts about yourself then answer the 11 questions given to you.
Create 11 more questions for your 9 nominees, all of whom have 200 or less followers.
Comment on their blogs informing them of their Liebster Award nomination.

Thank you, Martha, for nominating me for this award.  🙂

Facts about myself:

1. I am shy in large social settings.  Torture for me is walking into a room where I don’t know anyone and everyone is standing around talking.  On the flip side, I can talk your ear off and I have no trouble teaching groups of 200+ adults.  I rarely even get nervous before talking in front of large groups anymore.  But small talk with no wing man?  Scared.to.death

2. Looking back over the first third of my life, one of the things for which I’m most grateful is the incredible people I’ve met.  Despite my fear of social situations, I have had the opportunity to meet and experience some amazing people, mostly in the Catholic world.  Some of them I’ve kept in touch with, some of them I haven’t, but all of them have made a difference in my life somehow.  I think if I could make a resume up of all the people I’ve encountered at some time or another, it’d be a very rich list.  And I know they’ve all been complete gifts.

3. My favorite color is orange.  Pretty much everyone who knows me knows this. What they might not know is that my friend Mary and I felt sorry for orange when we were in junior high because no one ever said orange was their favorite color, so we made it our favorite color.  And pity for it aside, I really do love it.  It’s so… happy.

4. I recently made the National Anthem of Vatican City my ringtone. It was partly because everyone seems to have the same iPhone ring (“old phone”) and so I never knew whether it was my phone or someone else’s.  I’ve yet to be in the grocery store and have someone else’s phone ring with the Pontifical Anthem. I actually got the idea from a story Lino Rulli told – his uncle is a papal nuncio for some country, and it’s his ringtone.  One day when he was meeting with Pope Benedict, his cell phone went off (how embarrassing!) and the Pope noted, “That should be my ringtone.” I don’t know if it’s a true story, but I thought it was hilarious.

5. I love to write and like to say things in eight words that could probably be said in four.  Which is why this Liebster thing is going to take me forever.  Let’s cut to the chase…

6. At various points in my life I’ve taken Spanish, Latin, German, and Italian.  I only know English.

7. That being said, if I could have knowledge of anything instantaneously infused into my brain, it would be languages.

8. My favorite current TV shows are White Collar and Person of Interest.

9. I can quote Win A Date With Tad Hamilton better than I’d like to admit.

10. If I could win a date with any single, straight actor, it would be Richard Armitage.

11. My confirmation saint is Clare.

Questions from Martha:

1. What was the last thing you ate?
A spinach salad.

2. List the three songs you are currently listening to the most.
This one is hard for me, because I’m doing a lot of Pandora listening lately, so it’s been a mix.

  1. The Vatican National Anthem… because it plays every time my phone rings (see #4 above)
  2. Anything by the Sheytoons (mostly Broken)
  3. My sister’s Michael Buble Pandora channel

3. What was your first concert?
I would like to say Tom Petty. Or the Everly Brothers.  Or Herman’s Hermits.  But sadly… I think it was Yanni.  Tom Petty was in high school, the other two were in junior high.  And Yanni was when I was in middle school.  My mother corrupted me early, apparently.  So I went from Yanni to Tom Petty.  What does that say?

4. Who is your favorite spiritual/faith figure?
Pope Benedict- for his writing, the way he celebrated the Mass, and the impact he’s had on my life.

5. Do you have a strange habit that you could divulge to the internet world?
I sleepwalk.  Is that strange enough?

6. Why did you begin blogging?
I originally started blogging under a pen name, thinking that my brilliance and insight would propel me to fame and then I could say, “Hey, it’s been me this whole time!”  That fantasy didn’t last long.  I really fell in love with blogging when I was in Rome, with my JoaninRome blog.  Returning to the States was bittersweet in so many ways, but one of the things I really missed was blogging.

7. Name a pet peeve.
Wow, there are so many.  If I had to just choose one, I’d say those people who fly past a long line of cars just to merge at the very end.  I used to have to deal with this every day on my commute.  We’d all be lined up to get on the interstate, and people would fly past us on the left just to want to merge at the very end.  I never let them in.  And I never felt guilty about it.  Do you think I’m not in a hurry, too?  Don’t you realize you’re making this insane back up even worse?

8. Your first car.
A blue Pontiac Grand Am.  I still miss her.

9. Where would you like to be on vacation right now?
Rome and Assisi

10. What do you do when you can’t fall asleep?
I can’t remember the last time I had trouble falling asleep.  But I usually pray the rosary or read.

11. What luxury do you wish you could indulge in on a regular basis?
Travel.  If I had a more flexible work schedule, I’d travel all the time.  My  to-do list is long.  (Ironically, I travel all over the state for work.)

My Turn

Here are my 11 questions:

1. If you could be a fictional character for a day, who would you be?

2. What is your favorite book of the Bible?

3. What is your favorite thing to cook or bake?

4. What’s your favorite Christmas movie?

5. Do you subscribe to any magazines?

6. Mac or PC?

7. What is your favorite city in the United States?

8. What is your go-to meal for Fridays in Lent?

9.  If you could spend the day with someone in history, what date in history would you spend with whom?

10. If you could have a superpower, what would you want and why?

11. Winter or Summer?

My disclaimers before nominating:

1) I’m sorry if any of you have over 200 followers and I’m insulting you by nominating you. It’s not intentional.

2) You don’t have to do this.  Really.  My nominator told me that, so I’m telling you that too.

3) I’m sorry if you’ve already been nominated and posted this and I somehow missed it.



Sarah D.






Sarah A.