Friday, September 27
Br. Larry Schatz, FSC
This is, in effect, the final day of our pilgrimage; tomorrow, Saturday, is a free day which concludes with a reflection exercise and dinner. Today, we boarded the coach for our excursion to Rouen, the city where our Founder’s earthly life ended 300 years ago. There was some concern about the situation in Rouen, since there was a big explosion at a chemical plant there, and schools had been called off for the remainder of the week. We decided to go and if the air quality were poor, we would cut our visit short.
After a lovely drive through the French countryside, we arrived at “Pensionnat Jean-Baptiste De La Salle”, a school that predates the canonization of the Founder, hence the lack of “Saint” in the name of the school. Originally a boarding school, it is now a pre-K, elementary, and secondary school with a very impressive chapel. Because there was no school in session, we didn’t get to see the school in action, but the principal, Christophe, and his son Louis, were there to greet us. Our main interest was the chapel, since it was there that the relics of the Founder were placed for a while, and where there remains a significant relic above the main altar. Due to a World War II bomb, the original windows had been shattered, but they have been replaced with beautiful contemporary stained glass. If any of us are concerned about the lack of Brothers and how the charism will be carried on by our lay partners, we need look no further than to Christophe. The passion and zeal with which he shared the story of St. John Baptist de La Salle and the amazing stories around the destruction of the original tomb during the French Revolution and subsequent movement of the Founder’s remains, along with his determination to ensure that every student in the school knows the story, was so very inspiring to all of us. The courtyard of the school also had a very impressive timeline of the last 300 years in the form of a long banner.
We went from there to lunch and then to the beautiful Cathedral of Rouen, done in late Gothic flamboyant style. Many of us are familiar with Monet’s series of paintings of the facade. We then walked through the distinctive medieval town center, with Norman-style architecture, very different from Reims and Paris, to St. Maclou, site of one of the four original schools operated by the Brothers in Rouen. We could not enter the building which housed the school, but the illustrations on the wall clearly showed the history of the Brothers there. From there we walked to the church of St. Joan of Arc, a modern structure on the site of St. Joan’s execution for heresy in 1431. St. Joan, burned at the stake at age 19, is now a heroine of France and the Church for her courage and faith. Her image is everywhere in Rouen.
Our final stop in Rouen was Place Saint Clément, where a monument to De La Salle was erected in the 1800s as a testimony to his contributions to education. It is located on the corner of the former property of St. Yon. We then walked down the adjoining sidewalk to the facade of St. Yon Chapel, the only remnant of the original buildings.
Due to the strong chemical smell in the air, we dropped our plans to have some free time and dinner in Rouen, and rather returned to Reims. The next day, our free Saturday, we gathered for a final dinner, which began with a very fruitful reflection and sharing.
We were such a diverse but wonderful group of Lasallians from all over the District who shared many miles and prayers and stories and more than a few laughs together. What a very blessed and grace-filled seven days.
Vive Jesus dan nos coeurs. A jamais!