Included in the Queen’s recent birthday honours list, much to her surprise, was Ms Maureen Devine MBE of the Irish Pilgrimage Trust. Though she doesn’t consider herself a Holy Joe, her almost 25 years volunteering in a number of capacities for the trust were devoted to the works of mercy characteristic of the Faith.
Her interest in the trust, which takes people with disabilities to Lourdes for a week-long trip, grew out of a chance trip she and her mother took to the grotto in 1997.
After taking a break for a year in 1999, Ms Devine got back to it in 2000 and it went from there”
“Our local parish, the priest was Fr Brendan, and he said we’re going to Lourdes,” Ms Devine tells The Irish Catholic. “I was doing a wee bit of work for him at the time, a wee bit of admin in the parish. He said do we want to go to Lourdes, and I said it to mammy and she says, ‘I’ll go’. We went and we enjoyed it.
“I saw these people with disabilities and older people, there were wheelchairs being pushed to the Blessed Sacrament and these things. I thought, I’d like to do that, I really like this diocese thing, but I’d like to go and help. There was a fella I knew through disco and the like, I knew he took children to Lourdes with something – it was the Irish Pilgrimage Trust. I said to him if you’re ever going and you’re stuck for somebody give me a shout. So he gave me a shout, a week before Easter in 1998. That’s how I got hooked then.”
After taking a break for a year in 1999, Ms Devine got back to it in 2000 and it went from there. Starting out as a volunteer, she then took on more responsibility, filling positions of deputy-leader, leader and finally head of the Northern region of the trust.
“It’s hard work, not very hard, but there’s a lot of fundraising,” she says. “You knew what hotel you were going to, but you were looking about the rooms and dietary requirements. All that information was sent into the trust. And then they would arrange it. These last few years, you were selecting the children that were going to travel. Then there would be the safeguarding, the paperwork for that, and the organising.
Ms Devine says it is ‘inspiring’ to see the joy and fulfilment that the young people get out of the trip”
“Just doing what you could to make a great experience. When you were there, you’d go to all the religious stuff, but you’d also go to have treats. We went to the cafes, to the grotto every day and to Masses, but you would also have a wee bit of fun for them, some of them liked playing games like football or bowling. It all depended on the make-up of the group. You tailored it to suit them.”
“You got a whole lot a buzz from them. Then we introduced fancy dress for a Thursday or Friday night before you were ready to come home. It really took off. It’s just a fun-filled week.”
Ms Devine says it is “inspiring” to see the joy and fulfilment that the young people get out of the trip. They often start the week out quiet, but by the time they get to Lourdes, “within an hour they’re just making friends and getting on”.
“They see round them, they see different things,” Ms Devine explains. “And the weather helps as well, most times it’s better than here! Even the experience of a plane, some young ones would be so nervous or they’ve never been to a hotel – the whole experience of it. They’re the centre of attention that week.
“The masses are very much tailored for special needs, because it’s a special need’s week. Through the Irish Trust, it’s all music and fun filled. Even the priests and all, they’re dressed up and they’re talking to everybody from the pulpit. It’s just so personal. It’s just amazing. It doesn’t matter if they cry, it doesn’t matter – everybody is accepted. Whereas in an ordinary chapel at home they would be looking round at you.”
But you have to help people, that’s what your faith is about”
Though her first trip to Lourdes was in 1997, Ms Devine’s mother had taken a trip many years before in the 50s. Her mother and father were both devout and instilled a Catholic spirit in the family.
“Oh aye, we always went to Mass and we were always going to confessions – the rosary was said and all that,” Ms Devine says. “I don’t pray or say the rosary now, but that was the background. We never would have missed Mass, there was five of us and our parents. We’d go every Saturday or Sunday, it was just part of life. The rosary would have been said, Mam would have had great faith. Daddy too – I suppose it was in us and we didn’t really realise it.”
She believes that as much as faith is about prayer, it is also about doing good to others: “Oh aye, that’s right, it’s about doing a good thing. You always hear that we’re to be good, love thy neighbour and all that. But you have to help people, that’s what your faith is about. It’s not just about going to the chapel, it’s about doing something.
“It’s just an amazing experience. A lot of them would say it’s the best week of their lives. And we get so much out of it too. Like, I love it, I really miss not being there these last two years. Hopefully we’ll get it back, but who knows when.”