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    A View from the Pew
    Thursday
    Jul072011

    French Reflections

    In January 2010, the Stonehill College Chapel Choir set out on its fourth European tour, heading for the first time to France. In addition to offering concerts in the Cathedral of Notre Dame and L'Eglise de la Madeleine in Paris, the choir traveled to visit Notre Dame du Chartres, and finally to Le Mans, the home of Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Through the local Holy Cross community in Le Mans, the choir visited Notre Dame du Sainte Croix, the church built by Fr. Moreau in the 19th century, and continued on to visit and sing for the elderly Marianite who inhabit at The Solitude, a reserve that includes the archives from the Congregation's origins. Our singing tour ended with a vigil Mass at the Cathedral of St. Julien in the old city of Le Mans.

    Forty singers, including five Stonehill choir alum, journeyed together to witness what history set before us. We pondered human suffering and endurance in the Conciergerie, extravagant glory at Versailles, creative genius at the Louvre, and the glory of God as we toured and sang in the glorious French cathedrals. As I visited with my students on our bus rides and our walks up and down the streets of France, I asked what touched them the most. Some were clearly moved by the music that we sang as their voices resounded and echoed back to them in reverberated hymns of praise. Others raised questions on political and economic history and their effects on a country that clearly surpasses our own in matters of national health care, affordable higher education and an enviable sprit de corps of the people of France. As the students toured the cathedrals, several mused on mysteries revealed throughout the magnanimous period of human history that produced such an implausible witness of faith in the living God, and what these miracles of stone and mortar teach us about ourselves. More than a few students returned to the Louvre in their free time, to continue to explore the countless works of genius throughout the ages and offered a spontaneous concert on the steps of the museum for other tourists.

    I discovered a leitmotif of profound wonder and joy within all of these conversations, which I believe can only be accessed through lived experience. I may tell my students that their voices will resonate in a vast cathedral, but unless they draw breath as they prepare to sing, create sound and wait for the reverberation to cease before they sing another phrase while sensing the music of the ages that resonate for centuries before them, their epiphany will not occur. These young scholars study the history, literature, politics and artistic ventures of particular periods of history, reflecting and writing about them as they search for truth and meaning. However, as my choir students placed their hands on the very stones that the laborers of Chartres hauled by hand from a quarry five miles away, or gazed upon the upward thrust of flying buttresses and exquisite stained glass at Notre Dame in Paris, classroom legends became a living testament of real people who birthed these wondrous glories of mortar and glass through human endurance and unparalleled faith. As we encourage students to evoke their senses through learning opportunities such as a choir tour, we offer them new possibility, to discover, learn and grow into the holy human beings that God has in mind for us all.

    I considered this particularly as we visited Le Mans and the site of Blessed Basil Moreau, who believed that “the mind must not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.” As my students sang an Ave Maria in Notre Dame du Sainte Croix, prayed at the tomb of Fr. Moreau and toured the church where our Stonehill roots found their origin, one student reflected, “If it hadn't been for all of this, we would not be here. We would not have met.” Without the experience of standing in that church, I very much doubt that Fr. Moreau would be as real as he will be forever more in the heart of that student. The exuberance of the elderly Marianite sisters during our afternoon concert enkindled the embers of friendship that transcended language as religious women and Stonehill students joined in music making and elated encounter, bringing alive the Holy Cross charisms of hospitality and community. Borders disappeared as we sang the liturgy at Cathedral of St. Julien, collaborating with the cathedral musicians in praise of our God, ignoring Arctic temperatures as hearts were warmed within the spirit of our shared faith. Singing for the hundreds of tourists who heard us at Cathedral of Notre Dame, L'Eglise de la Madeleine and at Cathedral of St. Julien stirred in all students a sense of Christian mission, igniting a spirit of faith which inspires and animates zeal and identifies us as the people of God.

    For some of our students, choir tours will be their only experience of travel across the ocean during their academic careers, and will embark on a more profound journey of study because of their travel experiences. Others will find the inspiration and courage to step outside their borders and study abroad, exploring the world more deeply, traveling widely while they pursue academic discipline in a foreign country. Whatever the case may be, Stonehill choir tours offers our students an opportunity to engage spiritually, intellectually and bodily with the world, giving witness to Fr. Moreau’s vision of an education that fosters the widening of minds and the deepening of hearts.