Kildare Ministries Pilgrimage - Insights from Pilgrims 2019

A pilgrim is an individual who makes a long journey to visit a holy place…..

On the 18th of September, 24 eager Australian pilgrims gathered half way across the world in Ireland to embark on a journey tracing the founding stories of Kildare Ministries.

Fresh air, breathtaking landscapes and surrounded by a sea of greenery, for two weeks, we were immersed in Celtic Spirituality and the stories of Brigid, Nano Nagle and Daniel Delany. From Newgrange to Clonmacnoise, Croagh Patrick to Brigid's well, every moment was filled with awe and wonder of the people and history before us.

As a Kildare Ministries school in the Brigidine tradition, it was expected that our visit to Teach Bhride would feel familiar. However, it was much more than that. It was a homecoming. The Brigidine nuns that still live at the convent welcomed us with open arms, hearty food and a very useful washing machine! It was familiar, but more like visiting family overseas. At Teach Bhride, we visited the Daniel Delany Museum and gained insights into his work in refounding the order. What struck me was the short time between the re-founding and Delany’s passing. In 1814, just seven years after their establishment, it was the Brigidine sisters who carried not only Brigid’s flame in the community at Tullow, but now also Delany’s. The strength and courage of the founding sisters is present today.

Sister Carmel, a true woman of hospitality, carries the flame today. We were never without the comforts of home whilst in her care. She was sure to even walk a few of us through the beautiful grounds, making extra efforts to pass on all that Teach Bhríde has to offer the pilgrims passing through.

Furthermore, teaching at Kildare Ministries school in the Brigidine tradition, Nano Nagle was a woman we were eager to learn about. Our time spent in Cork and with the Presentations Sisters, opened our eyes to the selfless and courageous life Nano lived, dedicating her time for the poor and her efforts to educate the marginalised children in society. The work of Nano is continued today in Cork, via the effort of lay people working and welcoming the most marginalised into the community. We learnt of mothers that are given a social group to make connections, immigrants finding support as they navigate and establish themselves in their new homes.  another Example, in the youths on the fringe of society, given a sense of purpose through music making, sharing food and even receiving a lift to and from the venue to ensure their safety. Whilst the works of Nano are not done in secret as they were in her day, they are still creating a positive ripple effect in the lives of those who have taken down their lanterns from their niches and have gone out!

It is hard to place into words how we felt at the end of the pilgrimage. We were full in spirit, our eyes were full of tears leaving the other wonderful pilgrims and we were left in a state of contemplation, reflecting on our roles as educators in Kildare Ministries schools and the inspirational work of our founding figures.

As we have settled back into our lives and routines in Australia still taking in the richness of the pilgrimage, one thing we are certain of is our blessing to not only have been part of this pilgrimage but to teach at a school that embodies the work and vision of St Brigid, Nano Nagle and Daniel Delany.



Isabelle Maroun and Brigitte Garofalo


Killester College

Brushes with the Divine

It took a trip to Ireland, a land with which I had no connection in anyway, for me to discover and feel brushes with the Divine.

My maiden name is Elhage , Arabic for pilgrimage, which means that my ancestors went on pilgrimage to the holy land in Palestine and therefore earned the title of Elhage when they returned.

Yet, I had a somewhat incomplete understanding of what a pilgrimage is all about. I certainly under-estimated both the physical and spiritual demands it will exert.

There was no turning back and there I was immersed into it, confronted by my own “unfinished business” with faith, doubts, uncertainties, and the urge to resist being drawn into a place I left more than forty years ago in search for somewhere else, some other forms of explanations about the world, where we came from, why are we here and where are we going?

The highlight of my experience is discovering that while I have been in the wilderness, the Catholic Church in which I was baptised and which played a huge part in my formation growing up,  has also changed so much that I found myself totally disarmed. I found that our paths have merged again and we are on the same page.  I can reclaim my Catholic Maronite identity with pride and confidence.  I can belong with all the baggage I have and  will be welcomed.  It was like a home-coming experience away from home.


That was my highlight, rediscovering the path to God  and embracing my faith within a community that is inclusive, profound,  loving and caring and best of all always learning and searching for meaning and meaningfulness. 



Dalal Smiley

CEO Wellsprings For Women

Blessings, Bearhugs and Tears.

Reflecting on the Kildare Ministries Pilgrimage 2019.

A few weeks have passed now since I returned home from our Pilgrimage, just in time to attend my eldest’s class lead their whole school prayer. Afterwards, while still seated in the multipurpose centre, I received a massive bear hug from him (I don’t know where he’d get that skill from) and his little brother, oblivious to the onlookers who must have soon realised that my boys hadn’t seen their Dad in the flesh for nearly a month.


But what a month it was.


When people have asked me “how was it?” no words that I can come up with in those brief exchanges could do the answer justice so I simply say “Fantastic! I would go back in a heartbeat.” Which is true but barely only scratches the surface of the joy that I experienced on the Pilgrimage, and totally ignores the deep spiritual enrichment that came out of it.


The day after the pilgrimage had ‘officially’ ended I found myself in Tollymore Forest, which is just over the border in Northern Ireland. It was the day that the remnants of Hurricane Lorenzo was crossing the land, no doubt causing havoc for those who were travelling out that day. A perfect day for a stroll in the forest… and it was!

Having paid my money to get into the place, I wasn’t going to leave just because it was a little wet. I walked the shortest path and thought that was not nearly enough so I checked the maps and took a route that would take me along a river, maybe an old castle, a few ruins and loop around back to the carpark. About 5kms all up. That’s more like it. The rain wasn’t too heavy so I set out.

Often when I go for a bit of a walk I’ll have music playing in my head (sans headphones) and my internal stereo will accompany me along the trip. Often if I’ve got to pick up the pace a bit I’d get a traditional brass band march going and off I’ll go. However, after 2 weeks of reflecting, praying and deep learning, the song didn’t last long as I was soon ambling to the songs of the sounds around me. As I crossed the river at approximately the halfway point of the walk I found myself saying a little prayer of thanks to God for unmade plans. I had no intention of going on this walk at the start of the day. My plan was to simply see where some ‘Game of Thrones’ scenes were filmed and then be on my way. However, unless you had prior knowledge of the filming there, you wouldn’t have known as they don’t seem to use it as a selling point. There are no signs at the carpark on the maps telling where to go. If you find it, you find it.

Now, as I was heading up a hill I heard a crack off to my left and looked as a branch came down. I soon realised that this part of the trail was quite open- a perfect place to reach just as the storm had decided that it had had enough of tip toeing through the day with the light rain and so brought down the heavy stuff with a nice wind to accompany it.

While walking through this I couldn’t help but notice the tall, skinny trees rocking back and forth in the wind. Strong enough to keep standing, flexible enough to cope with what it was facing.


A couple of days later I had made my way to the top of the country to visit the Giant’s Causeway. I had heard the stories about the Causeway and had seen pictures of the famous rocks and ever since a friend had visited the Scottish side a number of years ago, I has wanted to see it ‘live’ as well.

For the first time during my time in Ireland I thought the phrase, “is this it?”. The rocks were great and all but I expected the actual causeway to be somewhat wider. I was about to turn around and head back up the hill when I noticed that the path continued further than the actual causeway. Crikey, I’m glad that I took this path.

I got talking to a number of people along this way, there just happened to be a lot of Australians there that day. I walked till the path ended due to a landslide. I remember one person saying as she was coming back around the bend, “Been around there yet? Nothing there, it just ends.” With a tone of disappointment.

I went around the bend and ended up taking so many photos. The sheer power that a cliff face has in just a small area is enough to completely wipe out anything in its path, in this case- a man made path. Looking down and seeing the stones and planks of wood (of what I took as being the barrier of the old walking trail) I found myself leaning in the corner of the ‘endest’ point of the trail- with no one around- for a bit of centering prayer. Allowing the time and place that I found myself in as an opportunity to commune with God. I can’t remember what the sacred word I used at that time was, and I didn’t hold the prayer for too long as after a few minutes I heard voices coming near, but it was centering nonetheless.

As I looked down into the amphitheatre once more I noticed the big boulders that were just beneath the surface of the water. I’m no tidal expert so I don’t know if the tide was in or out that day, or if those boulders ever get a chance to be exposed or if they spend their entire life just beneath the surface.


After climbing Croagh Patrick, nearly 2 weeks prior to the Giant’s Causeway, I was happy that I had been able to get up and down but now that I had there was no need to go and do it again. After a while, when people asked me about climbing Croagh Patrick again I’d jokingly reply that I would’ve needed to have started training at least a year ago. Now, over a month removed from the climb, I want to climb it again. That want came to be about a week ago and I was thinking yesterday ‘why the hell would I want that?!?” That mountain is incredible! It lulls you into a false sense of security in its first half, then smacks you upside your head and everywhere else as you try to navigate your way up. In places it seems straight up pile upon piles of stone until, eventually, materialising through the heavy cloud, the church upon the mountain appears. Then you have to go back down! (for a raw reflection on the climb check out my entry in the KM Pilgrimage blog). If something is this hard, why bother doing it?

The ocean that covered some of myself had gone when I approached the statue of St Patrick at the bottom of the mountain. Emotions, that I usually keep in check came flooding out. It was a great feeling to have made it up and down but I always knew that I was going to do it. Whether it was a bit of exhaustion, relief or the welcome I received as the last pilgrim down the boulders that I have just under the surface became exposed and though I didn’t like it, I am thankful for it.


I have just reread that last line and had to laugh. Taken out of context it could be mean something quite different. Originally, I had planned on a Bible link to Gen 1:28 to finish that part off linking conquering the mountain to subduing the land but my pen got away from me.

The laughter and mateship that we shared together went in no small way to creating the overflowing sense of joy and success that the pilgrimage gave us. The light hearted conversations interspersed between the prayer and the deep thinking helped to rest us before the next challenge, whether it that was climbing a mountain, braving a bit of wind and rain or sharing with each other our thoughts and reflections.

However, this was all done in the security of having people around who would support you. While at Mass Rock, I noticed a tree that was barely anchored to the ground as it overhung the ‘altar’ of this sacred place. I reflected that through adversity (that I am luckily enough not to have faced) these people were able to stand strong in dire circumstances and cope with what was beating down on them. Not only to survive, but ultimately, to live.


The tour of the Nano Nagle centres in Ballygriffen and more noticeably at Cork really opened my eyes and mind to what had come before us in Catholic education. Growing up in Mildura, I was familiar with the Sisters of Mercy and had a bit to do with them over the years. I was fleetingly familiar with St Brigid- she was the other statue in the church, the one that wasn’t Mary, but I had never heard of Nano Nagle.  That changed when I began work here at Marian College, but it wasn’t until visiting these places that I really got a sense of accomplishment and achievement for what Nano had done.

The way that it was put to us, it was Nano who took the lead to make Catholic education what it is today. From Nano came Catherine McAuley for the Sisters of Mercy and Edmund Rice for the Christian brothers, two of the biggest facilitators of Catholic education in my diocese.


The pilgrimage ended with blessings, bearhugs and tears but our journey continues. We all have a duty now to bring with us our reflections, our experiences and share them with those around us, whether it be work, family or fun. The knowledge gained from the pilgrimage has inspired me to make changes to the curriculum I teach, to the liturgies I write, and to the life I lead.


Thank you.



Stephen East

Religious Education Coordinator

Marian College Ararat