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Unlikely spiritual pilgrim walks 70 miles from frat house to shrine
Though he's not Catholic, Andrew Domini walked for two days to reach a Catholic shrine in Indiana.
April 14th, 2012
01:10 AM ET

Unlikely spiritual pilgrim walks 70 miles from frat house to shrine

By Jen Christensen, CNN

Andrew Domini’s feet were blistered and bloodied. He could barely walk by the time he finally made it to a pink marble church and crawled the last 90 feet to a quiet shrine tucked into the corner.

As he paused a couple of weeks ago in front of the wooden coffin that held the remains of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and prayed, the 19-year-old said he finally felt at peace.

Domini had walked nearly 70 miles, becoming an unlikely spiritual pilgrim. But the religious shrine wasn’t in Rome, Jerusalem or some other officially holy city. It was in St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

And Domini’s spiritual quest had begun in the most modern of ways: flipping channels on the couch.

“I was watching ‘Law and Order’ reruns one Sunday, but there was a commercial,” Domini said. “So I grabbed the remote and landed on CNN, and there was this sister talking about this saint and what she meant to her.”

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“There was this regular kind of guy with eye problems who prayed to Mother Guerin and was cured - that made me stop,” Domini said. “By the end of the program I knew exactly what I needed to do.”

An aging friend of Domini’s who lives nearby in Crawfordsville, Indiana, had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer six months earlier.

“He wasn’t doing well, and he’s the kind of guy who gives so much and doesn’t expect anything in return,” Domini said. “I wanted to do something for him.”

Without telling his friend, Domini - who isn’t Catholic and said he has tried out different churches but considers himself more spiritual than religious - said he decided to take a long walk in search of spiritual assistance.

The TV program that had caught Domini’s attention was "CNN Presents," which aired the story of Mother Theodore Guerin, who arrived from France with a small group of religious sisters in what was then hostile anti-Catholic territory in Indiana in 1840.

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Bringing almost nothing with them, the sisters quickly built a community that would improve the lives of hundreds of Hoosiers. Guerin built eight schools, three orphanages and founded the Sisters of Providence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

Today, the congregation includes more than 350 women who educate and care for thousands all over the world.

After nearly 100 years of trying, the sisters finally got the Vatican to recognize Guerin as a saint - the Roman Catholic Church’s highest honor - in 2006.

“I wasn’t even raised Catholic,” Domini said. “But after seeing the show and after hearing about her journey here and what she did, I knew I had to go.”

Domini, who is taking a break from his second year at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, could have driven but said he “wanted to walk.”

“I wanted it to be a sacrifice,” he said.

So walk he did. After mapping out his journey online, he threw a candy bar, a lighter (he couldn't find a flashlight), change of shirt and socks and some money into his backpack.

He left his Wabash College fraternity house around 5 a.m., walking without headphones or company and trying to think only of his friend.

“I wasn’t lonely at all. I was actually fascinated by how things kept working out,” Domini said. “I trusted in providence like Mother Guerin talked about.”

The first day he made it some 30 miles, walking along highways and country roads.

The trek was mostly quiet and uneventful, though a state trooper stopped Domini about 15 miles outside of town. Domini gave the officer his name and explained his pilgrimage, and the trooper sent him on his way, with encouragement.

“The only real hazard was the trucks,” Domini said. “They would come so close I would have to jump off into the grass, and they were so loud sometimes it was hard to think.”

It was also hard to find lodging that first night. “I asked for sanctuary at a couple of churches, but they told me they couldn’t do that,” Domini said.

Eventually he found a couch at a student union building in Greencastle. After security asked him to leave, he tried a park bench and then a couch inside an abandoned bank building.

The next day, he walked 12 more miles. By that time his feet were blistered and bleeding.

But a couple saw him on the side of the road and asked if he needed a ride. They happened to be heading in his direction and dropped him just outside Terre Haute. He went about 10 miles in the car before walking the last couple of miles to St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

“As I stepped on the grounds, it all felt so peaceful,” he said.

After praying at the shrine for his friend, he visited the Sisters of Providence’s welcome center, watching a video about the Saint Mother Theodore’s life.

The small museum is filled with earthly reminders of Guerin’s humanity: her tiny shoes, a sewing basket, her wooden writing desk.

Domini was particularly taken with a quote of Guerin’s: “What have we to do in order to become saints? Nothing more than we do every day. Only do it for the love of God.”

At the museum, Sister Jan Craven, who now runs the shrine, approached Domini.

“I swooped him under my wing to find out what brought him here,” Craven said.

Since CNN’s program on Mother Guerin ran last month, Craven said her workload has tripled as she’s received hundreds of calls, e-mails and letters. One couple from New England made a detour on their drive home from Florida.

“Another lady from Vegas called and asked me to send her everything I’ve got on Mother Theodore,” Craven said.

Craven said that many of Guerin’s new fans ask for help for sick friends, for lost jobs, for peace. Like Domini, many aren’t Catholic.

“I tell them I don’t think God is Catholic, and they look at me like I’m nuts,” Craven said. “God is much bigger than any one religion.”

When Craven asked Domini if he had anything to eat, he told her he’d been fasting. She took him to the dining hall to eat with the sisters and offered him a room in the men’s wing of the facility.

“I warned him he was going to be doted on by a lot of grandma-types,” Craven said.

Domini spent two days with the sisters, who told him about what Saint Guerin had meant to them and about their service.

“We’ve been told by a lot of people that when they come onto the grounds, they feel a real sense of peace that we are this oasis in this modern jungle,” Craven said. “We feel this, but because we live here sometimes we need a reminder. Andrew did just that.”

At the end of his stay, the sisters gave Domini some books, prayer cards and notes and asked him to come back soon.

Domini hadn’t been able to tell his friend, Fred Lewis, about his walk until Thursday. Lewis, in his 60s, had been too ill to receive visitors but was well enough Thursday to drive to see Domini after reading about his pilgrimage in a local newspaper.

Lewis still looked unwell, Domini said, but he thinks the trek was nonetheless worthwhile.

“I’ve been inspired,” Domini said. “I trusted in Providence to get me through this just like (Mother Guerin) did with her journey.

“We are here to make the world a better place,” he said, “just like the sisters do every day.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Journeys

soundoff (843 Responses)
  1. Elie

    Jeff, your comments are right on. Non believers are lost and they do desire everyone to follow them to emptiness and nowhere. May our hearts be open for tolerance and truth, for our sincere prayers to include believers and non believers alike.
    Domini, your story is a wakeup call to many. You will absolutely have a bright and a great life ahead of you. Your faith will let you reach so high that I personally envy you. Your faith is a blessed message to us all – believers and non believers. Non believers just don’t know it yet; but one day, they will.

    April 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • Nathan

      Who is Jeff?

      April 14, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      Elie,,,,,,,,,,,, ,.

      I've been waiting in the shadows a long time to hear the words of others who believe in God and His Sons and daughters and most importantly their King and our Redeemer Christ, the Lord Jesus! I cannot hold back the tears as I respond to your post Elie! Forgive me should I mispell or am not too rational! 🙂 😦 🙂

      April 14, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • Elie

      Jeff made a comment earlier. If you scroll to the next page you will read his comments.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Elie

      Have fun, say whatever you want. Hopefully you will see more clearly soon.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Elie

      I sincerely apologize if I did not understand what you meant exactly in your last sentence. Yes, Christ is our redeemer.

      April 15, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  2. alimarst

    It's really sad that those who choose not to believe in God believe they are somehow more intelligent than those who do. Not believing is easy: just close your mind. I personally know many, many people who are both intelligent and devout believers. It is also sad and somewhat disgusting that non-believers find it so easy to belittle and insult those who are believers. That shows true ignorance.

    April 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
    • Truth7

      Man's number is "6" in the Bible. They believe in MAN and place man above God. They believe man will solve their problems. Some have willingly chosen the darkness.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Pipe-Dreamer

      alimarst,,,,,,,,,,,, ,.

      Good post ! I salute you and pay honors to you and your Words! 🙂 😦 🙂

      April 14, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  3. Jerseygirl

    "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews11:1)
    It's wonderful what this young guy did, a selfless act. This would be a far better world if there were more people like him!
    I am sure this will change him, and I hope he has an effect on people around him, like a ripple on the water...

    April 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Anna1953

      Beautifully said, Jerseygirl. He has already had a positive influence on me.
      (P.S. I am a doctor, extremely well-educated, and I see "the divine" - call it God, call it Allah, call it Jehovah, call it Sita, call it Avilokiteshvara - at work, constantly, in my patients. I have been blessed to witness daily miracles for 30 years, now.)

      April 14, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  4. Joe Illiinois

    Mother Theodore and her followers have done such good things for the midwest and the USA. Thank you for all you've done. For many, acts like this help to settle ones heart, or have a spiritual conversion of sorts, before they get the true picture and become motivated to help the poor through charity. This is Providence in action. And for church haters, who blame a church of billions for the actions of a very small percentage, open your eyes. Abuse occurs all around you. Look at the educational system. Let he who has no dysfunction cast the first stone. For some of you, that means you will have to pry your fingers and eyes off your sticky keyboards and monitors.

    April 14, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  5. Nathan

    I don't get how "nothing was accomplished". Whenever I'm really struggling, or worried about something, I walk somewhere. It helps me think things through more than just sitting and thinking, for some reason. Concerning the prayer, I don't know if it did anything.

    April 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
    • alimarst

      The problem is that nonbelievers expect an immediate, dramatic change of some kind. When change does happen, it's not always the expected.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  6. IU student

    This is news? There is war going on in Africa, people dying of famine in North Korea, and average folks in the US struggling with the economy, paying for healthcare, etc. Some frat boy feels "enlightened" and goes on a pointless walk across the state and this is news?? It would have been nice if he worked at a food pantry or volunteered at the local Boys & Girls Club instead of going on a faux spiritual journey for a few days. But hey what do I know, this guy is a hero, what an inspiration!

    April 14, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Truth7

      Absence of God leads to what you see in the world. The last 50 years of attacks on God have now put this country under the same issues.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Marie

      One person, one kind act at a time...try it! You'll inspire others to try it, and that's how it all works.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  7. Every other poster

    . I don't believe what he believes so I am going to mock him. It will make me feel better about myself

    April 14, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  8. Every other poster

    I don't believe what he believes so I am going to mock him. It will make me feel better about myself.

    April 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  9. Every other poster

    I don't believe what he believes so I am going to mock him. It will make me feel better about myself

    April 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Truth7

      The darkness in their souls reveals who they are....may God redeem them back to the Light.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
  10. lorraine

    @reality check...any converts to your kingdom in these comments. there is no where to go but God dear. the sooner you learn that and do that... the less bitternness you will spread. if you don't beleive why r u playing here? could it b u really want to beleive? just need a little help, maybe? were u abused in the church? if so why don't u get help?

    April 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  11. Reality check

    ht tp://im gur. com/gallery/iX 6GP (omit spaces)

    April 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Nathan

      Be careful. You don't want to start an out-of-context verse quoting war.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
  12. Pipe-Dreamer

    Don't anyone dare get the "wrong ideas" but I do so love atheists much the way I love GLBT'ers! I do much of the time feel a sense of shamefulness for these groups because they seem to know no better. It seems to me that many an ill-person gets stuck on their physical adorations and sociological permeations of feel good pleasentries way too much and then they become the slaves of their sociological masteries. But in all relatives God knows no boundaries and He will make due with that which one was or is or even may become! In death's passageways God will take you to your promised pleasentries ever far away from the otherly folks He does ever keep safe from disharmonious divisionings! God is like that don't you know? Truly He works for miracles!

    April 14, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • Jake

      Lol you're delusional and quite stupid. Do you have many diagnosed mental disorders?

      April 14, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
  13. swohio

    QUOTE – It was also hard to find lodging that first night. “I asked for sanctuary at a couple of churches, but they told me they couldn’t do that,” Domini said. END QUOTE

    Imagine that. One of the very things a church is supposed to do...provide hospitality for those in need....and it turned him away. How embarassing to me as a Christian, and how pathetic of them to call themselves churches.

    April 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Reality check

      catholic church denied children so-do-mi-zed by orders of the vatican and bishops.

      April 14, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Truth7

      Read the parable of the Good Neighbor...the first two people to walk by the man lying on the side of the road were of the clergy. They did not stop to help. The third man who walked by, not of the clergy, stopped to help. That third man is your neighbor.

      Jesus already told us 2,000 years ago, and not many listen.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
    • Joe Illiinois

      You try opening the door to a total stranger late at night in this day and age. Not if you value your life. Churches have to lock their doors during the day because of the whackos vandalizing and assaulting church goers.

      April 14, 2012 at 6:09 pm |
  14. Alex

    sounds like hazing.

    April 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  15. Jake

    He should have brought his friend a bottle of bourbon and a Hustler magazine.

    April 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  16. VERY TRUE!

    “A little philosophy makes a man an Atheist: a great deal converts him to religion”
    ― David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

    April 14, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
    • Malevolution

      "Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge." – Stephen Hawking

      April 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  17. jason s

    religion is the opiate of the masses.

    April 14, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
  18. Dom

    And nothing of value was accomplished.

    April 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  19. Nancy M. B.

    But his friend didn't get any better.

    April 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
  20. Excuse to not think

    I saw this movie. I was called Forrest Gump.

    April 14, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
    • Reality check

      too funny

      April 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.