The Shrine of Saint John Berchmans located in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, sits on the site of the miraculous cure of Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ) novice Mary Wilson following an apparition by Berchmans in 1866. As the convent’s original infirmary, the site has seen its share of illnesses and epidemics. When the shrine closed its doors to the public in March amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I went home with the same feelings of apprehension and uncertainty shared by most of the world. When will we all be back? How bad will this get? Can we get through it?
While feelings of anxiety still linger seven months in, the community around the shrine has a way of shining light and hope. Despite being closed to tours, I received numerous phone calls from individuals telling me how past visits to the site had left lasting impressions. They told me their personal stories of prayers answered or worries comforted. They requested their current intentions be placed in the shrine. Some called simply to offer their own prayers for the school which the shrine is connected (Schools of the Sacred Heart- Grand Coteau), for me and for the RSCJ.
One moment that stood out to me was when I arrived at the shrine one morning to find that the school’s administration had placed photos of every student in the pews as a reminder that the spirit of the student body remains and that they would be back. One of my first visits after reopening in August was a group of Jesuit novices, who after their own quarantine, gathered at the shrine to celebrate Mass. To hear them talk of their delight at being able to worship in a place so significant to their Society as well as their gratitude to me and to the entire Society of the Sacred Heart, made apparent the impact this place carries.
Through these small gestures and moments and words of support, I have come to realize that the importance of this place has, perhaps, less to do with what occurred here over 150 years ago and more to do with the effect it has on its visitors and patrons this many years later. The love, support and hope emanating from the greater community during this time has shown me that we will indeed get through this and anything that follows.
Caroline Richard is the Director of Le Petit Musée and Shrine of Saint John Berchmans in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.