SBU Pilgrims Visit the School’s Early Roots

Jocelyn Thomas Features

ALLEGANY, N.Y. — Homecoming and community: two words that describe the spring trip by alumni, administrators and affiliates of St. Bonaventure University to places in Europe connected to the history of the school, turning 150 years old this year.

They participated in the SBU Heritage Pilgrimage, designed to teach them about the people who founded the Franciscan college in southwestern New York in 1858.  Travelers also were familiarized with sites important to Franciscan history.

The May 22 to June 2 trip was organized by Franciscan Pilgrimage Programs, which emphasized that the journey was not a tour but, rather, a pilgrimage — “a cross-cultural journeying together in the spirit of Franciscan and Clare to nurture  and encounter with Jesus Christ through the spirituality of place.”

Leaders of the pilgrimage were two friars and two sisters who have experience and knowledge of Franciscan places. They were:
• Sr. Ann Bremmer, OSF, a member of the Pilgrimage Programs staff
• Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, SBU president 
 F. Edward Coughlin, OFM, vice president for the Franciscan Mission at SBU
• Fr. Andre Cirino, OFM, of the Immaculate Conception Province, a frequent guide

The itinerary provided by the pilgrimage staff said, “People go on pilgrimage seeking and hoping to find what their present world -– modern or ancient –- has not been able to offer them.”

Seeing Historic Sites in Ireland and Italy
The 12-day pilgrimage took travelers to places in Ireland and Italy related to Franciscan history and the lives of SBU’s founders -– Nicholas Devereux and Fr. Pamphilo da Magliano. 

• Mercy International Centre in Dublin, the town where the pilgrims stayed for three nights. The Mercy Sisters provided a high tea to the visitors on their first day in Dublin. Sister Sheila Carney, SM, sister of Sr. Margaret, was among the hosts of the gathering.

• Adam & Eve, the Franciscan friary in Dublin, where a Sunday Eucharist was celebrated by Fr. Caoimhin O’Laoide, OFM, provincial minister of the Province of Ireland.

• Ennis Corthy, Ireland — a small town south of Dublin, in County Wexford. This is the birthplace of Nicholas Devereux, who emigrated to the United States in 1806 at the age of 15.

• Davidstown, Ireland — A rural area south of Dublin, also in County Wexford, that experienced much unrest in the 1790s; it is also home to the Devereux family, which was very involved in the rebellion of 1789.  The pilgrimage group had Mass at Devereux’s parish. In his homily, the pastor spoke of migration and Nicholas, one of nine siblings, who married Mary Butler in New York City and moved to upstate New York when he became a successful businessman. Devereux purchased most of what is now Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

In Davidstown, the group visited a cemetery and a house on the site of the Devereux land.

• Wexford, Ireland — site of the Franciscan church and friary, “The Presbytery,” where the pilgrims had a prayer service called “Remembrance, Thanksgiving and Mission.” Tradition holds that the first friars came to Wexford more than 750 years ago — in 1240. In addition, Wexford is the birthplace of John Barry, founder of the U.S. Navy.

• Rome — where the pilgrims participated in a guided tour, by Sr. Ann, of St. Peter’s Basilica, and an evening walk past historic sites of Rome, led by Sr. Margaret.

The group visited St. Isadore’s, in the center of the city, the large house of studies once conducted by the Irish friars. This is where Devereux met the friars. 

The pilgrims gathered in the room where Fr. Pamphilo taught in the mid-19th century, to learn history from Edward Coughlin.

• Magliano, Italy — A town approximately two hours from Rome, where the founding friar was born. The pilgrims spent a day with the Pietrobattista family, descendants of Fr. Pamphilo, who hosted a visit to one of their homes, as well as a festive luncheon. The pilgrims and the Pietrobattistas participated in the Eucharist at a nearby church.

This was the second time that members of the SBU community visited Magliano. In 1958, a group of friars led by provincial minster Celsus Wheeler, OFM, traveled to this Tuscan village to commemorate SBU’s 100th anniversary. They included Alcuin Coyle, OFM, and the late friars Hilary Scott, OFM, Augustin McDevitt, OFM, and Cassian Corcoran, OFM, who were young students in Rome at the time.

“The town officials organized a celebration that I remember being very festive with dancing, feasting, and folklore,” Alcuin said.

Earlier this year, 21 members of the family visited the United States to see the results of their ancestor’s work; they visited SBU as well as the motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, N.Y.

• Bagnoregio, Italy — birthplace of Saint Bonaventure. The pilgrims visited an historic church and heard a lecture about the educator and leader who was born in this scenic village about 1221. His role as one of the early professors of the Franciscan School was discussed.

• Assisi — birthplace of Saint Francis, where the Americans visited the Basilica of San Francesco, San Damiano Crucifix, Basilica of St. Clare, the Porziuncola, San Damiano, and the Carceri. They enjoyed private tours.

Developing a Memorable Pilgrimage

The idea for this anniversary pilgrimage came from Sr. Margaret.

“I got the idea about three years ago from my experience as a pilgrim guide and from hearing about other colleges who organized similar programs for their jubilees,” she said.

Sr. Margaret met the Pietrobattista family in 2006 during a trip to Italy before a SBU pilgrimage.

The pilgrims said they appreciated the opportunity to learn the history of both the Franciscans and the university.

Edward said that the reading that he did about the Devereux family to prepare for the trip became “quite real as we passed Vinegar Hill, the last stand in the rebellion in which Nicholas’ father was imprisoned and the decisive event that caused two brothers to flee the country.”

In addition to visits to historic sites, the pilgrimage included lectures, meals, prayer, and leisure time.
The participants, who ranged in age from early 20s to nearly 80, said that the experience was valuable and memorable.

The pilgrimage seemed to help strengthen the university’s mission: to impart its 150-year-old tradition of Franciscan education to the men and women who choose St. Bonaventure for their higher education.

“The whole pilgrimage was fantastic” said MaryAnne Palermo, a Rochester, N.Y., resident and widow of a recipient of SBU’s Gaudete Award. “It made me want to live more of the Franciscan values. Every morning now I read Through the Year with Padre Pio and I put in it, as a reminder, the stone that we were given on the last evening in Assisi.”

Robert Donius, SBU’s vice president for university ministries, said, “We not only traveled with wonderful people, we were met with such warm hospitality by every community of faith: the friars in Dublin, the family living in the Devereux homestead, the faithful of Nicholas Devereux’s parish, the hosts at Casa Papa Giovanni and the Pietrobattista family in Magliano.”

Robert Williams, a SBU alumnus and former university trustee, said, “My intellectual side was stimulated by the informative and thought-producing historic and cultural lectures and homilies of the world-renowned Franciscan scholars, who were our pilgrimage leaders. Of particular note was Sr Margaret’s life of Francis, Sr. Anne’s Damiano Cross instruction and Fr. Andre’s beautiful explanation of Bonaventure’s God of love.”

“Now, having returned to the 21st century and all its distractions, I try to maintain a complete and perfect sense of spiritual renewal by just letting my mind return to thoughts of that perfect little ancient town on an Umbrian hillside,” said the resident of St. Louis, Mo.

PilgrimageCompFLATAppreciating History
It was a tremendous opportunity for members of the Bonaventure family to come together and share,” said Paula Scraba, an SBU instructor. “One could see on the pilgrimage how everyone was there for each other and to represent St. Bonaventure University — everyone who has gone before us, the present Bonaventure family — making way for future St. Bonaventure family members. Though we had a great variety of people from Bonaventure, various trustees, administrators, faculty, alums, benefactors, spouses and friends, on the pilgrimage we were all fellow Bonaventure pilgrims.”

“The people who commit to going on a pilgrimage, as opposed to going on a sightseeing trip, are people who seek a deeper understanding and an eagerness to explore something larger than themselves,” said pilgrim Scotti Powers of Pennsylvania.

Powers, a 1982 SBU graduate, traveled with her daughter, Kelly, who had graduated from college the day the journey began.

A song by Earth Mama, Standing on the Shoulders, was played frequently throughout the trip, capturing the theme and the emotions of the pilgrimage. 

Ed Coughlin, an SBU alumnus and a member of the Provincial Council, said that he sensed that ”there were many moments when, between the fun and the laughter, the entire group felt a great sense of walking on holy ground and very much in touch with a remarkable even sacred, story that continues to unfold. I do not think anyone came home with a sense of anything but feeling blessed and privileged to have been touched by SBU’s story in such a special way.”

SBU continues to commemorate its sesquicentennial. In October, the university will hold several events during the weekend of the feast of St. Francis.

Shown in the photo above are, from left, Robert Donius, Vincente Pietrobattista, Lana Benatovich, Laura Pietrobattista (holding sign), Maria Pietrobattista,  Sr. Margaret, Raymond Dee, and Edward Coughlin.

Jocelyn Thomas, a 1977 graduate of St. Bonaventure University, was a participant in the pilgrimage.  She is Director of Communications for Holy Name Province.