CRANSTON — On Wednesday, February 8, a small group of students from The Prout School sat in the darkened pews of Immaculate Conception Church, Cranston, enjoying the peaceful quiet that envelops church sanctuaries during the mid-morning lull. Father Joseph Upton, chaplain at The Prout School, was explaining the origin of the title of the church, which the students visited as part of a day-long pilgrimage to commemorate the Marian Year being celebrated in the diocese.
“In the United States we have as our patroness, who Catholics look to as our guide, Mary under this title,” Father Upton explained to the students. “We’re not talking about Jesus being conceived in the womb of Mary, we’re talking about Mary being conceived in the womb of her mother Ann.”
Immaculate Conception Church was the third stop on a local pilgrimage planned to commemorate the Year with Mary Our Mother proclaimed by Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. The group of about 24 freshmen and sophomores, accompanied by Father Upton and religion teacher and music director Philip Faraone, traveled between five locations in the Diocese of Providence, praying a decade of the rosary and learning about Mary under her various titles at each location.
“The whole idea was that we know that people have gone on pilgrimages throughout the world to Marian sites for many, many years,” said Father Upton. “We can’t take them to Lourdes and Fatima, but we can take them to Fox Point and Coventry.”
The students began their pilgrimage at The Prout School in Wakefield, where they prayed a decade of the rosary before continuing on to Our Lady of Mercy Church, East Greenwich, and Immaculate Conception Church. At each location, the group dedicated a decade of the rosary to a new prayer intention, asking God’s blessing on the school’s faculty, alumni, current students, benefactors and future students.
According to Principal David Estes, who accompanied the students on the first three stops of the pilgrimage, the day was planned in response to the bishop’s call for a Year with Mary Our Mother and to give students an opportunity to engage beyond the classroom with the Catholic faith. Though the pilgrimage was open only to freshman and sophomore students, the school hopes to plan additional pilgrimages that draw students from a variety of grades and extracurricular interests.
“Because we’re able to dedicate time during the school day, kids who might be otherwise occupied are able to do this,” Estes said.
Following the stop at Immaculate Conception, the students visited Our Lady of the Rosary Church, a traditionally Portuguese parish in Providence’s Fox Point neighborhood, where they learned about the Portuguese devotions to Our Lady of Fatima and Senhor Santo Cristo. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima, an important milestone for Portuguese Catholics in particular as they celebrate their devotion to Our Lady. In August, Bishop Tobin will accompany a pilgrimage to Fatima led by Father Jeremy Rodrigues open to all parishioners in the Diocese of Providence.
Following the stop at Our Lady of the Rosary, the students enjoyed lunch on Federal Hill before concluding their pilgrimage at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, Coventry. Over lunch, the students shared that though all signed up for the day trip voluntarily, each was drawn to the pilgrimage by a different aspect of the experience.
“I think one part was just to see more churches around Rhode Island in general because I’ve only been to maybe two in my whole life,” said Sam Eaton, a freshman who attends St. Clare Church, Westerly.
Benjamin Silva, also a freshman, said that for him, the main focus of the pilgrimage was prayer.
“It’s a great opportunity to get a lot of prayer in for the sick family members and friends that we know,” he said, adding that he was praying in particular for a friend with breast cancer.
Emma Rochefort, a sophomore who attends St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, said that despite not being Catholic, she had been aware of some of the Portuguese Catholic devotions prior to the pilgrimage because of the practices of her extended family. She enjoyed learning more about Catholic devotions to Mary and took the opportunity to compare them to her own Episcopal traditions.
“It was very interesting for me to get to experience it and learn about the different churches and about Mary,” she said. “I find that [the two faiths] are very much the same.”
Mr. Faraone said the pilgrimage provided an opportunity to bring the students outside the classroom and teach them about the various cultural devotions to Mary.
“They don’t know Mary in the different titles,” he said. “Doing something is different than reading about it.”
According to Father Upton, it was also an opportunity to reach out to parishes and give the students a chance to pray in some of the churches that their classmates call home, as the school draws students from a wide geographic area around the state.
“We have students from so many parishes in our diocese. It’s a way of showing the connection between our school and the service that the school provides and all the parishes in the diocese,” he said.