September 28th, 2022
We landed in France on August 23rd, a jet-lagged and red-eyed crew. We stumbled into Paris and were swept away in a whirlwind of French cuisine, immense Cathedrals, the culture of France today, and the tradition of its past. We visited Chartres, Ars, Fontgombault, Tours, Omaha Beach and many others. The trip was, as Mr. Taylor stated, a “gymnastic immersion into history, culture and heroism to strengthen our faith and bonds of friendship” preparing us for our final year and showing us the paths others took to heaven.
Our first stop in France was the town of Chartres, just outside of Paris. We visited Chartres Cathedral, one of the most well preserved Cathedrals in France. We had a tour by Malcom Miller, a man who has dedicated his life researching the Cathedral and has been giving tours for over 50 years. The Cathedral emits the beauty of the golden years of Christendom. Chartres Cathedral boasts over 120 original windows (the best preserved in Christendom), brilliant Gothic architecture, and an ancient crypt church which holds a mantel that belonged to Our Lady. We also feasted that night with Mr. Miller, enjoying French delicacies such as escargot, scallop, veal and of course, a bit of France’s delightfully stinky cheese. Lastly, we ended the night with singing songs in the main square at Chartres with a European guitar we bought there, and which accompanied us on our journey through France.
Upon our arrival to the quiet town of Ars, Fr. Pillari celebrated Mass at an altar under St. John Vianney’s incorrupt body. Here we prayed for the intercession of this unassuming, heroic saint. When Mass concluded, we were given a tour of the original parish of the Cure of Ars, his confessional, sacristy and home. The devil’s scorching hand on John Vianney’s bed was a testament to the ongoing spiritual battle that Christ has won for us. We saw this in the life of this incredible man and even in the quiet, ever-joyful Carmalite nun who was so kind to give us the wonderful tour. We then prayed the Rosary under the incorrupt heart of St. John Vianney. That evening, we sat outside the gorgeous Cathedral and sang amongst ourselves. As the town fell asleep and the sun set, a handful of us set out to sing in the peaceful streets and parks. Singing for married couples on balconies and sharing our story with curious people passing by was a beautiful way to end our night in Ars.
Our first stop at Fontgombault wasn’t the monastery itself, but just across the river. We spent that night in a cave used by the hermit Gombault who founded the monastery. The cave was bare besides an altar and life-sized cross, making a simple, primitive experience for us, but a memorable one nonetheless. The monastery itself was almost like a different world. Gone was the noise and bustle of the world. In its place reigned the monastic gravitas and silence of the monks. Their methodic life, which has continued since St. Benedict founded it, has released them from all worldly cares, allowing them to focus on God and their work without any other worries. Everything is set; all they need to do is follow.
Visiting St. Martin’s Cathedral in Tours very well could have been the pinnacle of our trip, as it connected us with the spiritual heritage of our school. Praying before the tomb of St. Martin, we asked for his intercession in granting a fruitful school year. Along with this, we asked individually for the ability to be leaders as St. Martin led, through physical and spiritual combat. Sadly here, as we saw elsewhere, the French Revolution had taken its toll. The French Revolution devastated most of the Catholic heritage all throughout the country. Churches and other religious buildings all across France were either defaced or destroyed, and St. Martin’s Basilica was no exception. During the Revolution, most of the church was burned down save the two towers which still stand today. Even though the revolutionists hoped to destroy Tours and its importance as a pilgrimage site, it remains today as one of the top most visited sites in France.
One of the last stops of our trip was Omaha Beach. Our first trip out to it was to the cemetery that lies on the coast. Here, Father said Mass in a chapel centered among the graves of these heroes who died for our country. As we left, we met a veteran who served from Omaha Beach to the Battle of the Bulge, who happened to be visiting that same day. The next day we came back for a camping experience on the beach itself. We stayed up late with Mr. Taylor telling stories and talking about the military. The next morning we went for a run on the beach and then a swim where Mr. Taylor talked us through what the landing parties experienced on June 6th, 1944.
From the Cathedral at Notre Dame de Chartres to the little town of Ars, from the monastic silence at Fontgombault to the discipline of the soldiers and their valor on D-Day, to Tours and everything in between, the trip was life-changing for us. Yes, the culture in France is no longer Catholic, but Catholicism is inherent to its past and cannot be ignored. The past and present heroism both in physical and spiritual wars is ingrained in the land, and the history which is the history of the Church is everywhere. We saw the roots of our faith and we grew stronger bonds of friendship, preparing us for our final year of school.
Vive le Christ-roi!
The Senior Class of St. Martin’s Academy