Reflections from the road: Feet for Francis Day 2

The Knights of Columbus from St. Ignatius Hickory provide a fine roadside lunch. (CR Staff/Paul McMullen)

“Thank the chicken.”
“Thank the farmer who grew the grain that fed the chicken.”
“Thank the truck driver who… “
Paula Tiller used those words and more to slow me Sept. 21 at the Route 1 parking lot leading to the hiking trails at the Big Gunpowder Falls north of Perry Hall. The Knights of Columbus, Council 9279, from St. Ignatius Parish in Hickory set up tables and a buffet of Royal Farms fried chicken and sides. I filled a plate, sat down next to Paula and one of her boys and inhaled a chicken leg in less time than it took a young Haloti Ngata to get to the quarterback. I took no time to chew – let alone taste – the food we had just given thanks for. An inner voice led me to ask Paula to help me slow down. After she did, and I was able to listen, lunch was quite enjoyable.
But not for long, as the mind kept racing ahead, while simultaneously attempting to process what had already unfolded on a 16.2-mile day.
There was the send-off at St. Ursula School in Parkville and the serendipitous pit stop at the Schimunek Funeral Home. Nearly two years after writing about one of my mentors, Bob Doerfler, I ran into one of his sons-in-law, Tim Burdyck, who works for Schimunek. We could not have been dressed any differently, except for our matching “Doerfler Strong” bracelets. Wore mine every step of the way, from the Basilica to the papal Mass in Philadelphia, to home.

I am a creature of deadline, and Father Jack’s pilgrims are trained to stop and evangelize, every step of the way. I kept pushing to make time, and they kept darting off the road to share one of the Feet for Francis prayer cards designed by Sara Goldscher, senior graphic designer for Catholic Review Media.
Nearly four miles after lunch, I distributed some during a restroom break at the Horseshoe Pub in Kingsville, where some of the regulars nursing afternoon beers recognized our yellow T-shirts from the previous night’s news. It would be days, however, before I turned over one of those prayer cards and read the pilgrimage prayer from St. Francis de Sales, patron not of pilgrims, but of journalists. It reads:
“Do everything calmly and peacefully. Do as much as you can as well as you can. Strive to see God in all things without exception, and consent to His will joyously. Do everything for God, uniting yourself to Him in word and deed. Walk very simply with the Cross of the Lord and be at peace with yourself.”

That peace was easy to find at John Carroll in Bel Air, two days after I had dropped off provisions at the high school and did some scheming with Gary Meyerl, the campus minister. We had never met, but developed a rapport in about 90 seconds. A North Carolina native, his first experience in the Archdiocese of Baltimore was as an undergrad at what is now Loyola University Maryland. He’s been on the staff at Mount St. Joseph and Calvert Hall and Sacred Heart Parish in Glyndon; served as the principal of the former Cardinal Gibbons School; and as an administrator for the National Catholic Educational Association. The two youngest of his three daughters were John Carroll students when he went to work there in 2014. One of the best conversations I shared on pilgrimage was the night of Sept. 21 with his youngest, Sarah, a John Carroll junior and a very neat kid. 

Weary pilgrims were brightened by the site of John Carroll students and their principal, Madelyn Ball. (CR Staff/Maureen Cromer)

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