First Timer in St Joseph Service.

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Photo Credit: North American Volunteers 



Timothy McGuirk serves in the Saint Joseph Service as a member of the Hospiltality of Our Lady of Lourdes. As a fourteen-year-old American, he came to Lourdes for the first time during the 2008 Jubilee with Our Lady’s Pilgrimage for secondary school students with members of the Order of Malta. Today, he lives in New York City after leaving his hometown of Boston to accept a communications role at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.


Coming to Lourdes for the first time to serve in the Hospitalité can seem daunting. You may ask, “Who do I know in town that week?” “What kind of assignment should I expect to receive?” “How can I maximize this time of service to grow closer to God?” For those reading this on the heels of the Flame Congress in London, know that those of us who have served for many years in Lourdes ask the same questions!

I would like to devote my next few posts to some of the most important moments during your first stage to prepare you for the experience. In this post, I would like to chronical a typical day as a first-year stage.

Let me begin by saying there is no such thing as a typical day in Lourdes…  Lourdes inspires millions of people every year because of its evergreen characteristics. The messages Bernadette received from Our Lady in the Grotto remain the driving force in the sanctuaries. The long queues at the baths, the Chapel within the Grotto, the confessionals off Rosary Square and the stacks of candles around the domain become visible signs that Our Lady’s message continues today. In coming to Lourdes, as a pilgrim or helper, we continue the response Bernadette began in 1858 when she saw “the Lady,” Aquéro.

Before each day in the evening, you want to make sure you understand your schedule for the day. Those serving in Saint Joseph Service see this on the bulletin boards in the Foyer and at the Bureau. Others may receive this information from a team leader or may work on a set schedule.

Two things to bear in mind with the schedule: first, make sure you know it. People depend on you to arrive at formation and service on time. Things happen to everyone and we’ve all had a rough morning getting up for that early service; but you’ve got to get there! Formation too as a stage is essential. If you miss it, you won’t be able to appreciate the experience in Lourdes and it will prove problematic in the near future (get ready for a make up class!). Second, be a hero to others and snap a picture of the agenda on your phone. People we love you as a source of information! There’s nothing better than someone saving you a trip to the bureau late at night because they have the schedule. Be a hero for your teammates!

As you get up in the morning and prepare for the day, consider how you will prepare for service. Do you need caffeine? Take my advice and visit Café St. Marie across from the Brancardiers on the back side of the Grande Moderne. Get the almond croissants. You won’t regret it.

Once your caffeinated, you have a more important question: how are you going to pray? How will you think about inviting Our Lady and Bernadette to be with you during your service? Spend a few minutes as your walk to your morning service and ask God to strengthen you for the day ahead. Ask for the grace to share a smile with the person who needs it most. Ask for the eyes to see the person most in need. Ask for the same embrace that Our Lady showed Bernadette at the Grotto.

You will discover things about yourself and others in your morning and afternoon service. At the breaks you receive, write down anything that struck you. A person, action, family, candle, rosary, act of faith or anything that inspires you. Living with true Lourdes vision means seeing the ordinary signs of God’s presence in the world around us.

At the first apparition, Bernadette stopped when she heard the wind in the Grotto. She perceived a number of physical change in herself, including stillness. In later apparitions, she described feeling alone with Our Lady despite being surrounded by hundreds.

Are we perceptive to the extraordinary things going on around us?

In my work at the 9/11 Memorial, we benefit from the presence of many former NYPD personnel. These professionals see things differently than you or me. They work with an incredible awareness and mindfulness. They see those around them, understand their motion in a space and remain vigilant about their safety. For us as stages and hospitaliers, how can we develop a similar awareness to think about those around us and their needs?

After your shift, you grab dinner with friends and prepare for either evening service (depending on your schedule) or fellowship with those in town that week. I recommend and encourage you to go to the foyer. This is the Hospitalité’s clubhouse for us to catch up and have a chat. This encounter with others will undoubtedly deepen your love of Lourdes.

Last but not least, whether you join us at La Bamba or head in early for your morning shift, offer a prayer at the Grotto to end your day. The Grotto at night offers a semblance of the quiet Bernadette would have known. I find the best time to pray at the Grotto comes when no one is there and you are able to spend time with Our Lady.

There is no better way to end the day and this time means so much to me, I write this with a small tear on my eye and lots of emotion in my heart.

To end the day, consider reciting the Canticle of Simion:

“Lord, now let your servant go in peace. Your Word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the Salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people, a Light to reveal you to the nations and the Glory of Your people, Israel!”

 Look out for my next post on the special days you’ll experience while on stage.

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