Tuesday, June 27, 2017 - 6:30pm

Healing and Helping: A Mercy Director’s Medical Mission to Lourdes

Colleen Powers, director of Health and Wellness Programs in the Student Health Office, is a healer at heart. Last spring, Powers, a family nurse practitioner, traveled to Lourdes, France, with the Knights of Malta’s American Association as part of a medical team. Their task was to support and tend to the needs of 56 Malades, the French term for the sick, disabled, and injured who travel to Lourdes in search of a miracle of healing.

Since its founding in the 11th century, the Order of Malta has maintained a spiritual mission to provide hands-on care for the sick as a way to grow in compassion, humility, and selflessness. The Shrine, Baths, and Basilica at Lourdes, visited each day by thousands of ailing pilgrims in the hope of finding relief for their suffering, has become an annual pilgrimage for members of the Order of Malta.

In 1858, a shining apparition in the form of Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, an uneducated French peasant girl who was gathering firewood nearby. During a series of appearances that occurred that spring, the figure revealed to Bernadette a spring among the rocks, and invited all to bathe in the healing waters.

Documented miracles have been attributed to bathing in or drinking the water at Lourdes. Believers may experience healing in body, mind or spirit, and often leave with a deeper sense of a divine presence and love in their lives. Suffering is often alleviated at some level, and the experience can be profoundly life changing.

Knights, Dames, and Auxiliary members from all over the world convene each spring to join the pilgrimage to Lourdes, which is visited by some 80,000 sick and disabled people from all over the world each year. 

Powers was assigned to the medical team caring for 56 Malades who had arrived in Lourdes for the springtime ritual.  Each team comprised two doctors and two nurses for every seven Malades. Each day the teams would line up and process down the Domain, the road to the grotto where the apparition of the Virgin Mary made her appearances to Bernadette. In obedience to the Virgin’s instructions, the Basilica was built on the site, and the water that fills the grotto is now the site of the legendary healing powers of the Baths.

Along the Domain the Malades and their caregivers spend time in prayer, attend Mass, light candles and reflect on the profound mysteries of this miraculous site. The caregivers assist those who wish to be immersed in the healing waters. Said Powers, “I was able to experience the Baths on my last day. It was an experience I will never forget.”