Persons, places and things: Faith of the pilgrims

Fourteen members of The Catholic Messenger Pilgrimage to Ireland gathered for a “Faith Journeys” presentation by the Teets family on the pilgrimage.

By Barb Arland-Fye

Months after our Catholic Messenger Pilgrimage to Ireland, 14 of us reunited for a presentation about the journey, to enjoy Irish stew, scones and one another’s company at St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City.

Five members of our pilgrimage family — Dan and Janet Teets and two of their children, Valerie and Matthew, and Bishop Thomas Zinkula, our spiritual leader, shared their experiences and lasting impressions. It happened Feb. 19 during “Faith Journeys,” a quarterly event that offers Catholics in the Iowa City area an opportunity to share and hear faith testimonies.

Nearly six months after our pilgrimage, Valerie can see major shifts in how she navigates her prayer life and relationships. Her encounters with fellow pilgrims, some of whom were especially adventurous, inspired her to “branch out, explore, and see for myself what God might have in store.” She experienced a deep peace and joy participating more fully in her faith during the pilgrimage. “Being surrounded by fellow Catholics and being able to attend Mass every day was a true blessing,” she said.


The beauty of Ireland captivated her. In the pouring rain at Blarney Castle and Gardens, her favorite place, “I pulled down my hood and just walked and walked, absolutely rejoicing in the beauty of God’s earth and the way in which humans have cultivated it. Occasionally as I walked, I’d cross paths with a fellow pilgrim and spend some time conversing with them. It was the perfect combination of peaceful solitude and joyful connection.”

Valerie felt more willing to try new things after returning to Iowa, such as joining the Newman Singers in Iowa City, which “in turn led to friendships that have taught me a lot about faith, hope and love.”

“Surprise and wonder” describe Janet’s experience of the pilgrimage. A year ago, she could not have imagined crisscrossing Ireland among 32 pilgrims, including the bishop and the editor of the diocesan newspaper for nine days.

This busy wife and mother, homemaker, homeschool teacher and community member observed, “God leads us in surprising ways, one day at a time!” She imagines that many Irish people through the centuries have lived their lives in a similar way, “taking just one moment at a time.”

Between heaven and earth
Traveling by bus across Ireland and visiting holy sites, natural wonders and cultural attractions, “It was awesome to be where our own one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith has been lived for

Barb Arland-Fye
Father Nick Adam, left, concelebrates Mass with Bishop Thomas Zinkula at the Cathedral of St. Colman in Cobh, Ireland.

centuries and centuries,” Janet said.

Dan, a convert to Catholicism, said a recent part of his spiritual journey as an adult “is being drawn more to Mary, and her unique role in salvation history.” At historic sites and churches across the Emerald Isle, he was drawn to depictions of the Fourth Station of the Cross (Jesus Meets His Mother). His favorite, at Holy Cross Abbey in Tipperary, “was an abstract image of Jesus meeting his mother. The plaque above the station read, ‘Mary Was There.’ It was a simple reminder that Mary was there not only at Jesus’ birth, but also at his passion and death. “The fourth station gives us the opportunity to meet Jesus’ mother, who is also our heavenly mother, Mary.”

“My trip to Ireland was a very enriching experience,” said Matthew, who shared with the audience of 50 people historical insights about the brave Catholics who strove to free their country from

oppression. “Though rarely mentioned in the songs, the faith of the Irish is in practicality the most important of any inspiration for the immense bravery and constancy of the Irish people throughout the years. Through the centuries, it has been a guiding star and a part of the Irish being that is so deeply rooted …”

“However, the faith of the Irish rests not solely or primarily with its priests…. All of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, the event that led to the freedom of Ireland from England, were Catholics, some of them very devout, some of them less so,” Matthew said.

Bishop Zinkula’s reflection focused on two of the churches where he celebrated Mass: the Cathedral of St. Colman in Cobh, the tallest church in Ireland, and Holy Cross Abbey, a small country church. He shared a humorous story about a couple of birds that chose to make their home inside the cathedral, thwarting the cathedral’s efforts to evict them. After the bird couple died, their offspring took up residence in the church! At both St. Colman and Holy Cross Abbey — two very different churches — the bishop felt a sense of Celtic spirituality, the liminal spaces, where the veil between this life and the next is very thin.

He recalled times from his priesthood in the Dubuque Archdiocese ministering to persons near death. One was a man who wasn’t sure where he was; he had one foot in this world and one in the next. The bishop experienced the thin veil then and again in Ireland where Catholics leaned heavily into their faith during long periods of oppression. “When Jesus died,” he told the gathering, “the veil was very thin.”

Our pilgrimage family’s stories stirred our memories, hearts and souls.

The IC St. Mary Parish YouTube channel link to the Faith Journeys presentation is available at:

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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