For many people pilgrimages are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but for Margaret Colasurdo, they’re a way of life.
Colasurdo, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde, is preparing for her 56th pilgrimage to three Canadian religious sites. Colasurdo doesn’t just participate in these pilgrimages, however; she plans them from start to finish, making bus and hotel reservations and recruiting fellow travelers.
In the 1940s Colasurdo’s fellow parishioners traveled to the Canadian shrines by car or train each year, but this made for a long and tiring trip. In 1950, Father Joseph Curtain, who was then pastor of St. John’s, asked Colasurdo if she would arrange a pilgrimage to the shrines by bus. Colasurdo had never even been to the shrines before and was unsure about arranging the trip, but she agreed, and a legacy was born.
“The first year it was lousy. We didn’t have places to sleep. The women slept in convents and the men slept on the hillsides in blankets,” recalled Colasurdo, 88. Pilgrims now sleep in hotels, and Catholics from Rochester and Geneva join St. John’s parishioners on the trip, she noted. “Every year we noticed the differences. There have been a lot of changes. Even the people that go with me have changed.”
After 56 years Colasurdo is familiar with the areas around the three shrines, sometimes sitting in the front of the bus and telling the bus driver where to turn. It wasn’t always like that, however.
“When I started the first year I didn’t know anything. We had to go by ear or go by maps. Once I got started for the first two years, then I knew the ropes,” Colasurdo said.
Over the years Colasurdo developed friendships with some of the Trailways bus drivers. One driver’s wife even scheduled her vacation from work so she could make the pilgrimage each year with her husband, who drove Colasurdo’s group for 15 years.
It was concern for the bus drivers that originally led Colasurdo to plan the order in which the group visits the shrines. The group always travels to Cap de la Madeleine and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Cape first, spending two days there before heading to the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec for two more days. After leaving Quebec, the group heads back to Cap de la Madeleine before going to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.
This route gives the bus drivers the most rest, she said. If you try to visit the shrines in a different order, “you’re pushing the bus driver. The bus driver can’t be on the road for more than 15 hours. That’s why we break it so we’re going to be back to the Cape,” Colasurdo said.
Colasurdo also heads up another annual pilgrimage, but she doesn’t have to travel anywhere for this one. The destination is Colasurdo’s back yard, where her late husband, Joseph, built a shrine around a 36-inch statue of Mary with St. Anne when the family moved into the house 50 years ago.
Each July 17-26, Colasurdo leads a novena to St. Anne by her shrine. On the last day of the novena, the pastor from St. John’s says Mass at the shrine. The Mass is usually attended by between 60 and 140 people and has almost always been blessed with good weather, Colasurdo said.
“This year I’ll be celebrating my 50 years here. Of all the 50 years, I’ve only had to have the Mass in church three times,” she said, recalling one year when a downpour threatened the Mass. “We had the Mass outdoors, and we kept looking at the clouds. Right after the Mass, it poured.”
Father Jim Hewes, pastor of St. John’s and St. Patrick’s Parish in Savannah, has been the presider at the novena’s culminating Mass for the past few years. Colasurdo is a very loyal person who is faithful to her family, friends, community and religious beliefs, he said.
“She’s a very compassionate person. If there’s somebody in need, she will go out of her way” to help, Father Hewes said.
Colasurdo is an active volunteer in her parish and community. She belongs to the Catholic Daughters of the Americas and has run her parish’s food cupboard since 1974, recently providing Christmas baskets to 67 needy families in the area. She also helps the parish put on ziti dinners, is a member of the Clyde Fire Department’s Ladies Auxiliary and serves meals to senior citizens with the Wayne County Department of Aging and Youth.
“It’s amazing what she does,” Father Hewes said. “She doesn’t like the limelight. She kind of likes to be working behind the scenes. She’s a pretty unassuming person.”
When asked why she’s so involved in her parish and community, Colasurdo simply replied, “I’ve belonged to the parish for 88 years. I was brought up here, brought up a Catholic.”
She also brought up her three sons Catholic, and when she’s not volunteering or organizing pilgrimages, her eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren keep her busy, she added.