By Anna Rosa Dunnigan, Conseillère Service Notre Dame.
A Little History of the Service Notre Dame
In 1834, the sisters of Never settled in Lourdes to take care of the municipal hospice. To fulfil their vocation, they took care of the elderly and opened a school.It was the Sisters of Nevers who instructed Bernadette and who helped her in the discernment of her vocation (she entered their congregation in 1866). In 1909, Bishop Schöpfer asked the sisters to create a community that would support the reception of sick people at Asile Notre-Dame.
From the beginning, different centres have even built to facilitate the coming of sick pilgrims to Lourdes; in 1874, the Accueil Marie Saint Frai, in 1877, the Asile Notre Dame, in 1975 the Accueil Saint Bernadette and in 1997 the Accueil Notre Dame.
The Asile Notre-Dame built in 1877 stood opposite the Underground Basilica, Today it has been extensively remodelled, being divided into two buildings by removing a section. One building now contains the Chapel of Reconciliation, which used to the be the refectory. The other section is now known as the Accueil John Paul II and contains several chapels (e.g. St Cosmos and St Damien), the First Aid post and Dispensary and the offices of the Hospitalité.
The Accueil St. Bernadette, built in 1975, which stood across the river from the old Asile Notre Dame was demolished to make way for the new one, the Accueil Notre Dame, a modern facility to replace the two older Accueils.
The new Accueil Notre Dame, built in 1997, is organised into two wings, each consisting of six storeys, with the Reception area on the ground floor and the Transit Lounge on the fifth. Each floor from one to four is named after a specific saint, with female saints honoured on one side and male on the other. Each floor has a central refectory area where pilgrims congregate to eat and socialise.
Typically, pilgrims arrive a the Accueil Notre Dame in specially adapted buses, either from Lourdes airport or train station, and will be welcomed in the transit lounge from where they are taken to their rooms.
In 2004, Pope John Paul II, during his second visit to Lourdes, stayed at the Acceuil Notre Dame to signify his status as pilgrim and sick person. He shared the reception centre with 900 other sick people. John Paul II then opens the Torchlight procession from the terrace of the Accueil Notre Dame on 14th August 2004.
Service Notre Dame
The ethos of the Service Notre Dame can be explained in three words: charity, smile and discretion. The main priority of the Service Notre Dame is to support the permanent staff, working in the Accueil Notre Dame to keep the House clean, tidy and welcoming for the sick pilgrims occupying the rooms when on pilgrimage. Stagiares and Hospitalières help with the washing of dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner and with any other ‘household’ job required.
These very discreet and humble jobs are however extremely important for the well-being of sick pilgrims during their stay in Lourdes.
The Service Notre Dame also deals with:
- Reception at the Accueil Notre Dame
- Reception at the Accueil John Paul II
- Lost Property
- Service at the Station
- Service at the Airport
- Service at the Grotto
- Service on the Exterior of the Baths
- First-Aid Post
- Service Nazareth and lending of white coarts
- Service at the Abri St-Michel
Uniform and Practicalities
While on service Stagiaires and Hospitalières are wearing a navy skirt under a white knee length overall and a navy cardigan if needed. Trousers are not permitted.
During the first four years, stagiaires must take part in the ‘formation.’ During the week of stage there is the possibility of attending a Mass in different languages as well as participating in the stations of the cross as a group. Every Wednesday evening Mass is celebrated in St Joseph’s Chapel where new members are accepted into the association and every Thursday the Hospitalité takes part in the Eucharistic Procession. After work the ‘Foyer’ is a place where Stagiares and Hospitalières can socialise together.
Testimonials from the Youth of Notre Dame
‘Since I was assigned for my service at the Bureau John Paul II, I have experienced even more the meaning and value of the word ‘Hospitality.’ Welcoming someone in Lourdes doesn’t just mean making the volunteers that come to offer their service to the sick in the name of Mary, feel part of a big family, but also to be bearers of a smile as a means of universal communication. No matter where you come from or the reasons you are there, a smile becomes the essential tool of your service. Your welcoming can change the mood of a sick person, a pilgrim, a volunteer. The service Notre Dame for me, is this!’
Debora O – Italy
‘Lourdes to me is a place of friendship where we can develop our faith and form deeper links with people that share our values. I have always enjoyed the Service Notre Dame because of the inclusiveness and sense of community that is created during the stage.’
Francesca V- England
‘Lourdes feels like my second home! Since I was 8 years old I went to Lourdes with my family. I started my first stage at Service Notre dame with my sister in 2015 and we will make our engagement this July. In a world that becomes more individualists, Lourdes is the place where you learn to put the interests of others before your own. From washing dishes in the Accueil, to helping pilgrims in the baths. Lourdes is about serving all pilgrims and especially the sick and disabled. I have experience some beautiful and inspiring moments during the past two years when I was assigned to serve in the processions. The Formation is also an important part of every stage. These formation sessions always gave me new insights about Lourdes and the Catholic Faith. For example: how to pass on the Message of Lourdes in your everyday life. I try to pass on the Message of Lourdes by being a volunteer in my parish. After a day of service, I enjoy sitting by the Grotto to pray to Our Lady of Lourdes. For me, this is a moment of reflection of what I have experience that day. I think it is also important to have fun and to share experiences with other stagiares or Hospitalières. The Foyer is the perfect place for that. Every year I have met new people and made new friends from all over the world. Lourdes is the place where I enrich my faith every year. I hope I can inspire you to come to Lourdes for a stage. It has for sure been one of the best decisions I have made in my life.’
Guylain L-The Netherlands
‘I have been volunteering in Lourdes with HNDL for 5 years, all of which have been spent with the Service Notre Dame. It has been a great experience to work in Lourdes, I have met like minded people from all over the world and had the opportunity to put my faith into action by assisting pilgrims on their journey. I have worked in the Accueil Notre Dame, working in the kitchens and helping to clean the wards. Despite often having difficulty in crossing language barriers, a small smile was often all that was necessary to communicate. I found this a very humbling experience, constantly being reminded that the smallest and seemingly most insignificant task can have a huge impact on the lives of those around you, especially when the pilgrims I was serving would recognise me and greet me on the streets of Lourdes. I look forward to having the opportunity to celebrate my Engagement with HNDL, sharing and pronouncing my commitment to Lourdes and the the work of Our Lady to my friends and family,
Julia H- England