Jul 16, 2014

Travelers depart for 12-day pilgrimage to Poland



Story and photos by Rebecca Drake

HOLYOKE – She still can’t explain it. But when Lenny O’Loughlin saw the ad for the July 16-27 pilgrimage to Poland in The Catholic Mirror last fall, she knew she had to go.

“I broke down crying. I don’t know why,” she told iobserve before she boarded the bus for the airport this morning. “I ran to my husband and told him, ‘I don’t know why but I want to go to Poland.’”

She said her husband, Jim, told her, “We can go on one condition: that if anything happens to me between now and then, you will still go.”

Lenny, whose maiden name is Bogel, explained that her mother had come to the United States from Poland at age 19 and went back at age 72. She also had a cousin who was a priest and a founder of Hilbert College in New York, where the Bogel Library was blessed by Pope John Paul II.

The O’Loughlins, who have been married for 56 years and are parishioners of St. Mary Parish in Orange, will be traveling with 46 other pilgrims from seven states on the Catholic Communications-sponsored pilgrimage, “In the Footsteps of St. John Paul II.” The couple was among a number of pilgrims who met at Mont Marie, here, to board the bus that would pick up the rest of the travelers in Lee before heading to JFK Airport in New York City.

Leading the pilgrims as they visit Polish cities, churches and shrines connected to the life of St. John Paul will be Father Gary M. Dailey (right, in photo at right), vocations director for the Springfield Diocese. Father Dailey said his goal for the pilgrimage is to help pilgrims to understand the life of St. John Paul, “what brought him to the chair of St. Peter and … where he came from, how his life developed and what formed him as a priest and as a bishop, and as our pope and now a saint.”

Like many of the pilgrims, Father Dailey also has a personal connection to Poland. “My grandparents came from Poland,” he told iobserve,” and my grandparents are the ones who instilled in me the faith. My vocation as a priest really stems from the faith of my grandparents and my mother and father, and from the Polish traditions, the devotions.”

“I think that the people here (on the pilgrimage) are going to really experience the true faith of the Polish people,” said Father Dailey. “They’re going to be able to see a tremendous faith among the people and among the church of Poland.”

The pilgrimage to Poland will be a first-time experience for Laura Fitzell of Holyoke. “I’ve never been on a pilgrimage,” said Fitzell, who is the program director at the Bureau for Exceptional Children and Adults, a Holyoke-based ministry for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Fitzell said she is excited to be going on the pilgrimage with friends is “hoping for a closer relationship with Jesus.”

Traveling companions Maureen Lyons of West Springfield and Joyce Siok of Ludlow previously visited Ireland, the home of Lyons’ ancestors, and said they were looking forward to learning more about Siok’s ethnic heritage.

“I’m full-blooded Polish and I wanted to see what it’s like,” said Siok, who also is anticipating a visit with a Polish cousin whom she hasn’t seen in 27 years.

Lyons said she also is a history buff and is looking forward to a “powerful experience” as she visits historical sites, such as the Auschwitz prison camp and seeing religious artwork, including the Black Madonna.

Joining the pilgrims and Father Dailey on the 12-day journey are “Real to Reel” host Sharon Roulier and Catholic Communications chief videographer Bill Pacocha, both of whom are Polish-Americans. They will provide ongoing coverage of the pilgrimage on the Catholic Communications Facebook page and iobserve.org.

Special reports on the pilgrimage will be aired on “Real to Reel” and published in the diocesan magazine, The Catholic Mirror, in September. “Real to Reel” is broadcast on Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.