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From left, Gail Berardino, Marissa Simeone’13, Joe Berardino ’72, and Morgan Zachary ’13. Their capes and veils are the uniform of the auxiliary members of the Order.

For the past eight years, School of Nursing Advisory Board member Gail Berardino has been traveling to Lourdes with her husband, Joe ’72 to participate in the annual Order of Malta pilgrimage for the sick. The setting, the people they’ve met, and the pilgrimage itself have moved them deeply. “You must experience the religious aspect of it; it can’t be taught,” Gail says.

The Order charters a plane for the malades (the sick), their caregivers, medical personnel, and religious, to travel to Lourdes for five days, visiting the spot where the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared, and where a mineral spring is said to heal the sick.

Noticing that nursing students from other schools occasionally volunteered on the trip, “Joe and I created a scholarship to allow two junior nursing students from Fairfield to travel with us each year,” said Gail. “Hopefully, they’ll again volunteer with the Order of Malta at some point, but regardless it will be a wonderful experience for them.” Applicants were asked to write an essay and were interviewed before being chosen for the trip last May. The Berardinos also brought along a Fairfield music professor, Michael Cooney, who travelled with his keyboard, guitar, “and his great voice.”

For Marissa Simeone ’13, Lourdes was a trip of a lifetime. “I was assigned to a woman who had been in a wheelchair for many years, though she was really very independent,” she said. “Her attitude was inspiring — she chose to be happy and to live the best life she could every day.”

The most moving of all the events, said Simeone, was the candlelight procession through the grotto toward the basilica, with thousands of people saying the rosary “all in different languages.”

“The whole trip was a mix of faith and nursing,” added fellow student Morgan Zachary ’13. Like Simeone, Zachary was unable to study abroad, so the trip was eye opening in many ways. “Europe, the Pyrenees mountains, the old architecture – it was all beautiful,” she said. “But we were there on a pilgrimage, not a vacation.  Thousands of us were there for the holy place that it is. For me, it was a wonderful blend of faith and nursing.”

Zachary’s malade was a young woman her age who became a quadriplegic in a fairly recent car accident. “Her world, her mom’s world, were turned upside down by that accident, and her mom’s faith was amazing,” she said, noting that she is still in touch with the family. “I loved seeing nursing in a perspective outside the hospital. It gave me an outlook of what I can do post-graduation.”

“Morgan and Marissa are now our ambassadors on campus,” said Gail, who will soon be doing a presentation for the benefit of this year’s junior nursing students. “There’s no doubt that the trip makes you think and reflect about life, and it’s a feeling that makes you want to go back again and again.”

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