Teresa’s story of Faith and pilgrimage
“SOMETIMES God has to remove us from the chaos of our daily lives for us to more clearly hear his voice,” Teresa Lewis, of Queen of the Apostles Parish in Tomah, shares, reflecting on her journey to the Faith. Growing up in Tacoma, Wash., religion was rarely discussed in her home; there was no Bible to be found and her family did not go to church.
But then, in her early 20s, Teresa had the opportunity to move across the country to a very small town. “It was there, in the quiet, that Our Lord finally had me where I needed to be to have my eyes and ears opened,” Teresa recalls. “One day, while going through some things in the house, I found a Bible and started to read it. From that moment on, my life began to change.”
Teresa moved back to Tacoma and learned that she had been baptized Catholic. She found a parish community and joined the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program. After her reception into the full communion of the Catholic Church, Teresa became a RCIA sponsor the following year. In the subsequent year, she returned to the group for fellowship, as the rest of her nearby family was not Catholic.
During this third year, each week at Mass, Teresa was a bit distracted by one of the RCIA candidates, who always seemed within arm’s reach during the sign of peace. One Sunday, she prayed that he would either speak to her or cease to be a distraction. Unbeknownst to her, he was simultaneously praying for the same thing. As Teresa left the church, thinking her distraction could now be put behind her, she got a tap on her shoulder as she made her way to the hospitality table for coffee and donuts. There was John, who had worked up the courage to ask her for her phone number.
Teresa and John have now been married for 26 years, not all of them easy. “But our Faith is central to all we do, and we always go back to those answered prayers in the beginning and trust in God’s will for our lives,” Teresa shares.
Our Faith is central to all we do, and we always go back to those answered prayers in the beginning and trust in God’s will for our lives.
The couple, along with their daughter Danielle, have called many places “home” around the country and abroad due to John’s work as an Army auditor. Teresa has worked in the medical field and served as a pastoral coordinator and lay pastoral minister, all of which, she says, prepared her for the humbling volunteer ministry that is such a big part of her life today.
In 2016, when John was transferred to Fort McCoy for his job, Teresa and John relocated to Tomah. Used to frequent moves and the inevitable transition, the couple were most pleasantly surprised by their welcome. “While we were praying and ‘looking’ for a house, ‘home’ found us and we became part of the parish family at Queen of the Apostles. We were welcomed,” said Teresa, “from the first Thanksgiving invitation—so we would not be alone—to every thoughtful gesture that followed.”
It did not take long for the couple to become involved within their new parish community. They help with sacristan duties, are involved in homebound eucharistic ministry, serve as lectors and assist however else they are needed.
Teresa has special devotions to St. Therese, St. Bernadette and
St. Faustina, as well as to daily Mass and eucharistic adoration. But one of her greatest devotions is to Our Lady and her rosary. “Imagine my delight when we arrived in Wisconsin, to see how Our Lady is loved in this beautiful state,” Teresa excitedly shares. “From the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to the beautiful shrine at Holy Hill to the first and only approved apparition in the United States, Our Lady of Good Help!”
Aside from her involvement within the parish and exploring the Marian sites in the state, a big part of Teresa’s life work stems from a pivotal moment she had at a women’s conference in 2003. While at the conference, Teresa attended a workshop given by Marlene Watkins of Syracuse, N.Y. Marlene is the foundress of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers. She shared her experience in Lourdes with the group and her promise to return the following year with 10 English-speaking volunteers. Of the 8,000 volunteers who served the pilgrims at Lourdes in 2002, about 10 percent were from English-speaking countries, while nearly half of the 6 million pilgrims spoke English as a first
or second language!
Marlene did in fact return to Lourdes the following year with 10 lay women, one lay man and a priest. From there, the apostolate began. To date, more than 6,100 pilgrims have journeyed to Lourdes with the apostolate in hopes of finding healing and peace.
So moved by Marlene’s story, Teresa took her first pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2004 while her family was stationed in Germany. “Thus it began, my heart’s pull to the grotto,” Teresa reminisces. “After our first pilgrimage, a piece of my heart forever remained in Lourdes.” But her journey of volunteering adventures had just begun.
Teresa has traveled to Lourdes nearly 40 times and always feels
a call to return. But as with nearly everything in life during this pandemic—the apostolate could no longer continue their mission in the same way. Teresa and the other volunteers desired to continue to serve in the ministry that they knew was as relevant and necessary now as ever, even though travel is not permitted to Lourdes for Americans.
Through the use of technology, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers has expanded their efforts to bring Lourdes to pilgrims in the comfort of their own homes. “Confined and uncertain during this time,” Teresa says, “the grace of Lourdes can come into the homes of the faithful.” This is done through live-streamed virtual pilgrimages, which Teresa takes turns guiding. Since June 2020, more than 100,000 pilgrims in 30 countries have experienced Lourdes this way.
The Holy Father has even granted an extraordinary pandemic plenary indulgence to those who participate in an online Lourdes virtual pilgrimage experience. “Especially in this pandemic, a plenary indulgence is profoundly significant to those deprived of the sacraments,” Teresa explains. “This can be offered for loved ones who have died during this time.”
To experience a virtual pilgrimage with Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers, visit their website at lourdesvolunteers.org. To view a live 24/7 stream of the grotto in France, type “Shrine Lourdes France” into a YouTube search.
Virtual pilgrims can also request a pilgrimage kit. The kit includes—among other things—“the liquid grace of Lourdes,” water taken directly from the spring that Our Lady directed Bernadette to drink and wash in. When asked, “How much Lourdes water is needed for healing?” Bernadette replied, “One drop and Faith.”
So, during these unprecedented times, Teresa continues her work serving with Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers through its apostolate of prayer, evangelization and service; its charism of love, expressed as family and in charity; and its mission of extending the invitation of the Immaculate Conception as given to Bernadette in the Grotto of Lourdes, by serving the sick and suffering in simplicity, humility and obedience close to home.
While Teresa longs for her next return, she is reminded of her beloved Lourdes by the stained-glass window of our Blessed Mother to the right of the altar in her Tomah parish and consoled by Bernadette’s words, who, when asked if she missed the grotto, replied, “I go to the grotto every day, in my heart and make pilgrimage there.” “We can, too,” Teresa reminds us. “Close our eyes, go deep in our hearts to the quiet peacefulness of the grotto, where heaven touches earth. We imagine Our Lady in the niche, always pointing us to her son, Jesus.”
Story by AMY EICHSTEADT
Published January/February 2021 Catholic Life Issue