Pellegrinaggio Pilgrimage: Community, Faith, Reflection

A group of 22 Merrimack students, along with several faculty and staff members, leave today for Italy, where they will take part in the college's 18th annual Pellegrinaggio pilgrimage.

Over the next 10 days, the group will “walk in the footsteps of St. Augustine,” visiting sites in Milan, Tuscany and Rome that were important and meaningful in the life of the fourth-century theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity.

The trip will be led by Joseph Kelley, professor and co-chair of religious and theological studies, and director of Merrimack’s Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations. We recently spoke with Kelley about his aspirations for the pilgrimage.

What is Pellegrinaggio?

It’s a life-changing experience that opens your mind and heart to your fellow pilgrims, to your deeper self and to the inner presence of God.

What do you hope students accomplish on the trip? 

The purpose is to introduce students to the life and thought of St. Augustine and to the history of the Order of St. Augustine. It is also an opportunity to build an experience of Augustinian community as we travel together as pilgrims through Italy, visiting places important in Augustine’s own life and important in the history of the Order of St. Augustine. Finally, we encourage students to take the opportunity of the pilgrimage to practice Augustinian interiority by reflecting on their experience of being a pilgrim and a searcher for truth. 

Why is it important for pilgrims from the college to make the trip?

The Pellegrinaggio provides an annual opportunity for students, faculty and alumni to study and experience the Augustinian heritage of Merrimack and to come to a greater understanding of the meaning of that heritage.

How are the pilgrims funding their trips?

Most students take on an extra job over the previous summer, or request that Christmas gifts or birthday gifts go toward funding their trip. I wish that one day we find a donor who would provide scholarships for deserving students who would compete for those funds.

What is your favorite part of the trip?

My favorite part is watching how the pilgrimage experience evolves into an opportunity for the students to grow and change. Over the years, I have seen so many students, and faculty as well, discover a deeper part of themselves, or a new kind of relationship with God, or an appreciation of how community life can engage and empower participants.

What have you learned, as a Christian and Catholic, by going on these trips?

I have learned how God works through pilgrimage to accompany people on their journeys of faith. Pilgrimage is an important tradition in all the world’s great religions. It is an important part of Catholic and Christian faith. Its importance comes through the commitment of time, energy and resources that the individual pilgrim must make, and through the shared commitment that pilgrims make to one another along the way.

Is there anything new on the trip this year?

Every year we try to learn from the experience of the pilgrims, and through an assessment make changes that improve the learning and the reflection. This year, I have asked the students to choose a quote from the “Confessions of Augustine” for each day of the trip, and then to reflect on their experience of the day in light of that quote.


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