Accueil Marie Saint-Frai: What is it, who is it….
After the apparitions, many sick people started coming to Lourdes on pilgrimage but there was nowhere suitable for them to stay. Marie Saint-Frai had recently started a community of sisters in Tarbes which looked after the poor and destitute (the Daughters of Our Lady of Sorrow – fndd). She, and her chaplain Père Ribes, were asked if they could open something in Lourdes to help. Originally this was a small chalet near St Michael’s Gate but in 1874 the new Hôpital Sept Douleurs (which is now called the Accueil Marie Saint-Frai) opened its doors to receive pilgrims from the French National Pilgrimage. Over the years the building grew but by the 1990s it no longer met the standards that were expected. The rear of the building was demolished and replaced by a new building in 1997 – the former cramped wards with 20+ beds and limited facilities were replaced by 2,4 and 6 bedded rooms with suitably adapted toilets and showers.
A Day in the Life of…a Saint-Frai Stagiaire
The central work of the Hospitalité in Saint-Frai is on the floors of the Accueil. In your first year you will be allocated to work with one of the sisters on her floor. In later years you may be asked to serve elsewhere in the Accueil but service in the floor is always central. You will be part of a small multinational team although, where possible, you will have a more experienced person there who speaks your language.
The Stagiaire’s day starts with breakfast. The timing of this will depend on the programme of the pilgrimage on your floor. The pilgrimage will serve their own pilgrims but we make sure that they have food and drink and we wash up afterwards.
After breakfast, we do a tour of the floor to make sure that any sheets that have been used by the pilgrimage are replaced and that there is sufficient toilet paper everywhere. We also wheel the containers with the soiled sheets down to the laundry.
When this is finished, you are free until lunch time when you will again be required to help with the washing up. You will be told the time you need to return. This is repeated again for the evening meal.
The day a pilgrimage leaves or arrives can be rather hectic as we ensure that everything is perfect for the new arrivals.
Today pilgrimages book rooms on one of the four floors in Saint-Frai – each floor has 100 beds, a dining room, two offices for pilgrimage use, two medical rooms, and two small kitchen areas where pilgrimages can provide their own refreshments.
While the pilgrimages handle the personal care of their own pilgrims, the Stagiaires assist the person in charge of the floor (usually one of the sisters) and the lay staff in the general housekeeping duties (washing up, ensuring clean sheets and sufficient toilet rolls are available, cleaning the public areas etc…).
Other areas where you may be asked to help in later years are:
- Lending wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
- Helping in the small coffee bar on the ground floor (do try the orange juice!)
- Helping in the sacristies for the two chapels
- Helping at the HNDL reception in the Sanctuaries.
During the week there will be various activities organised by the sister in charge of all the Stagiares and the Councillor on duty. These may include:
- Mass, Rosary, Vespers, Adoration
- An afternoon tea-time get together
- A picnic
- A pilgrimage walk through Lourdes and /or the Sanctuaries
Most Saint-Frai Stagiaires stay in the en-suite bed and breakfast accommodation that is provided on site. This adds to the feeling of being part of the Saint-Frai family. Other meals can be taken at the Self Service Restaurants with other members of HNDL.
What To Wear: Service Marie Saint-Frai
While on service in Saint-Frai you will need to where a white knee length overall. Under this you should wear what is suitable and practical. It can get very hot in the kitchens but leggings and strappy tops are not appropriate. As a general rule you should be covered from shoulders to knees.
For more formal occasions during the week (Hospitalité Mass and Processions), trousers are not permitted. You should wear a white top and a navy or black knee length skirt under your overall and a navy or black cardigan or jacket if needed. See the picture at the top of this blog for an idea of what to wear.
Saint-Frai and Me
After my first visit to Lourdes as a helper on my diocesan pilgrimage I was hooked. I wanted to spend more time in Lourdes. Friends from my parish invited me to join them on stage in Saint-Frai the following Easter. We arrived late, got locked in before we had had a chance to eat anything, it was cold (this was in the old building where much of our time was spent outside) and we only had one small heater between the five of us but I loved it. I have been back for one or two weeks of stage every year for the past 25 years.
Being part of the Saint-Frai service has made me part of two families – the Saint Frai community (which is present throughout southern France and the Middle East) and the Hospitalité Notre Dame de Lourdes. When I come back to Lourdes I feel I have come home and even when I am away from Lourdes I know that I still feel fully part of the love that is shared.