The National Eucharistic Pilgrimage crosses the Missouri River at Atchison, Kansas.

Eucharistic Pilgrimage Draws 1,200 to Walk with Jesus

Huge Crowd at Benedictine College for National Pilgrimage Stop

Despite temperatures in the upper 90s on a humid summer afternoon, more than 1,200 people were drawn to walk with Jesus as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage in Atchison, Kansas, on June 25. The desire to be a part of the procession was strong, even for the elderly, small children, and people with physical challenges. Everyone joined the pilgrimage route and the “perpetual pilgrims,” those who are covering the entire western St. Junipero Serra Route from San Francisco to Indianapolis, for the 2-mile local procession over the Missouri River, through town, and up to Benedictine College, a Mission Partner of the National Eucharistic Congress.

“The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is extremely important, and we have made the Eucharistic Revival a top priority at Benedictine College,” said Benedictine College President Stephen D. Minnis.

In keeping with the Benedictine charism of hospitality and as part of the importance of the event, President Minnis had a grand celebration planned once the pilgrims reached campus. The college hosted Vespers with the Benedictine Monks in the Nolan Gymnasium, followed by a free dinner for the entire group, free pilgrimage T-shirts, and entertainment by recording artists Catherine Kluempers and John Marc Skoch.

Mary McKelvy at Benedictine College after the Eucharistic Pilgrimage procession.

Atchison resident Mary McKelvy agreed that the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist was a key aspect of her faith. When she heard about the pilgrimage, she was still recovering from double hip replacement surgery. She was so excited to bear witness to the Real Presence that she decided she would become a pilgrim and do the procession in a wheelchair.

“Believe me, in this heat, I would not have chosen to do this for any other reason than to bear witness to the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist,” she said. “I’m so glad that my helpers made this happen.”

Mary had several people helping her make it through the entire two miles to the Benedictine College campus, but she had even more help than that. A bus at the back of the procession was carrying people who could not make the walk, but still wanted to be a part of the event. The bus driver and those on the bus were concerned when they saw Mary and her helper struggling up the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge over the Missouri River. When they determined that they could not bring her on board, the entire bus prayed for her.

“They said the whole trolley prayed for me, and I just thought that was adorable,” said Mary. “Just to think that everyone on that trolley was praying for me. It was darling, and I am grateful.”

One of Mary’s helpers was Cathy Sienkiewicz, the wife of a Benedictine College theology professor, who chipped in on the spur of the moment.

“I wasn’t intending to do it, but it looked like her helper wasn’t doing too good in the heat and I felt like this is where God wants me to be,” Cathy said. “And Mary’s desire to be a part of it, even though she had barriers to doing it, was impressive. She was determined, it was just really beautiful for me to see that along with her vulnerability. It was an unexpected gift.”

Another couple had traveled down from Crete, Neb., and had been anticipating the pilgrimage for more than a year. Larry and Kathy Koerner met while in college at Benedictine and graduated together in 1972. They saw this as a great reason to come back and visit campus.

“This is where we met, and we were in the first graduating class of Benedictine College (after the merger of St. Benedict’s College and Mount St. Scholastica College) in 1972,” said Larry. “I thought it was going to be too hot, but I said ‘no, it’s not hot. It’s not hot enough to stop me.’ I wanted to say that I had walked the pilgrimage in Missouri and Kansas. So, I took the shuttle over to the other side of the river and walked with more than a thousand pilgrims.”

Larry had also noticed those who completed the procession despite their physical challenges.

“I was struck by the people I noticed with disabilities who were doing the walk,” he said. “I saw several with white canes. That was inspiring.”

See photos from the procession:

Mark Begley, a member of the Knights of Columbus in Atchison, was further back in the procession than his usual position in the honor guard. He said he was craning his neck and trying to get a glimpse of the Eucharist ahead.

“I felt like Zachariah climbing up the tree,” he said. “I was trying every time I could to see the Eucharist, and at the same time remain focused on what we were there for, singing and smiling through the sweat!”

Paul Hausladen, from Overland Park, Kansas, and his family had returned to campus for the first time since his daughter, Grace, had graduated from Benedictine last year.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting so many people and it was an inspiration to walk with that many priests. Just to be able to pray with that many Catholics. You don’t know any of them, but it didn’t matter because you’re all on the same page.”

“The whole thing was better than I could have ever dreamed,” said Kathy Koerner, from Nebraska. “And listening to them singing as they were walking, and watching the procession, I just didn’t expect it to impact me as much as it did. It was beautiful.”

Benedictine College is a Mission Partner of the National Eucharistic Congress and will be in Indianapolis at Booth #240. The college is proud to be the alma mater of Bishop Andrew Cozzens, the leader of the National Eucharistic Revival. Benedictine is also the alma mater of Dr. Andrew and Sarah Swafford, who will be featured speakers during the Congress breakout sessions.

Benedictine College

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College is dedicated to transforming culture in America through its mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.