INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — At 80, Holy Cross Brother Larry Stewart plans to walk and bike a 320-mile pilgrimage that is close to his heart and his faith.
It’s a journey that will honor the spirit of the Holy Cross men who traveled through Indiana during a brutal early winter 175 years ago to establish the University of Notre Dame.
Stewart hopes to participate in the entire pilgrimage, which began Aug. 13, goes through Aug. 26 and is being called the “Notre Dame Trail” — recalling a journey that began long ago in the Diocese of Vincennes, where the roots of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis started.
“It’s just a thrill to take part in the history of this,” said Stewart, who was looking for a new challenge after completing coast-to-coast bicycle rides across the United States when he was 60 and 70. “I’ve always enjoyed a challenge.”
This one is far more meaningful to him as it salutes Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin and the Holy Cross brothers who traveled with him from France to the United States — and those who forged onward from Vincennes to South Bend on a journey that led to the founding of Notre Dame in 1842.
“That journey was unbelievable,” said Stewart, one of 32 people who signed up to do the entire pilgrimage. “When they were traveling to South Bend in November, it was one of the worst winters in the history of Indiana. And they made it in 11 days. They had horses, oxen and wagons. They traveled one day 11 miles in the snow. And the snow was a foot deep.
“Father Sorin had a great devotion to Our Lady, and he showed it with the golden dome and the statue of the Blessed Mother atop it,” he added in an interview with The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.
Notre Dame wants to honor that faith, that spirit and that determination as it celebrates its 175th anniversary. And the pilgrimage is a major part of that effort.
“We wanted to do something distinct — to focus on our humble beginnings, but to also look to the future,” said Katherine Lane, senior director of the Notre Dame Trail.
Even with all the changes that have occurred on the campus in 175 years, “the mission of the place is still the same as it was when Father Sorin founded it,” Lane said. “Father Sorin wrote that ‘the university would be a means for good in this nation.’ That mission has been carried out since the beginning, and so has the devotion to Mary.”
Preparation for the pilgrimage has been painstaking in its detail.
In June 2016, Lane was among a group of five people who traveled to Spain to walk the ancient pilgrimage route known as the “Camino” in Spanish and “the Way” in English. The journey of 780 kilometers — or about 500 miles — eventually leads to the shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compostela.
Lane and her companions walked 100 kilometers of the Camino, enough to get a sense of the demands of such a journey — and the emphasis they wanted to give to the Notre Dame Trail.
“They call the Camino ‘the Way of St. James,'” she told The Criterion. “The Notre Dame Trail will be ‘the Way of Mary.'”
Returning to Indiana, Lane began walking the route for the Notre Dame Trail, following a path that begins in Vincennes and weaves north through Terre Haute, Lafayette, Logansport and Plymouth before ending on the Notre Dame campus.
“I walked the whole trail last summer to make sure it could be done,” Lane recalled. “Indiana is so beautiful with its landscapes, the water, and there are hills. I found it challenging — a lot of blisters, a lot of wear and tear on the body.
“While it will be a physical challenge, it will also be a spiritual journey,” she said. “There will be a lot of time for reflection and prayer. It’s been a beautiful experience so far. I’ve really fallen in love with the trail.”
She also gained a deeper appreciation of Sorin and the Holy Cross brothers who made the original journey.
“They had this faith in God and this devotion to Mary like no other,” she said. “They were so determined. No one was going to get in his way.”
Stewart embodies that same spirit for her.
“He’s celebrating his 60th jubilee, and the pilgrimage is how he has chosen to do this,” Lane said.
Stewart began preparing for the Notre Dame Trail last October, doing training sessions of eight miles of walking and 21 miles on a bike.
“With all my walking and training, I use my fingers for saying the rosary,” said Stewart, who has a bachelor’s degree in premedicine and a master’s degree from Notre Dame. “All of us in the Holy Cross congregation have a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother. She was an inspiration for Father Sorin and all the brothers who came. So I’m pleased to be involved in this.”
On the last day of the trail — August 26 — Notre Dame is inviting its students, alumni, parents and other supporters to join the pilgrimage for the last three miles to campus. After the pilgrimage reaches Notre Dame that morning, a Mass will be celebrated to mark the 175th anniversary. Lane said well over 2,000 had already registered for the final day, “and we’re hoping for thousands more.”
Stewart plans to make his own special tribute on the last day of the pilgrimage. He will visit the gravesites of Sorin and the six Holy Cross brothers who came with him from France to America — Brothers Vincent Pieau, Joachim Andre, Lawrence Menage, Anselm Caillot, Gatian Monsimer and Francis Xavier Patoy. He will place images of each of them by their graves at the congregation’s cemetery on the Notre Dame campus.
“I’m pushing for the brothers getting equal billing,” said Stewart, who works as the archivist for the Midwest Province of the Holy Cross congregation. “They need the same degree of honor that Father Sorin is getting.”
Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.