January 24, 2020

Catholic School Week Supplement

Pilgrimage brings teacher closer to students, family

Amy Kersey helps second-grader Jackson Boggs on Jan. 9 at St. Michael School in Brookville. Kersey is the school’s second-grade teacher. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Amy Kersey helps second-grader Jackson Boggs on Jan. 9 at St. Michael School in Brookville. Kersey is the school’s second-grade teacher. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

BROOKVILLE—As Amy Kersey walked amid many holy places in France during a pilgrimage in France last fall, she found that her heart sometimes reached across oceans to the people she loved.

The second-grade teacher at St. Michael School in Brookville often felt that her students, fellow school staff members and family were right there with her as she prayed for them.

The formation in faith that she received at St. Michael when she was a student prepared her for this chance-of-a-lifetime pilgrimage that has already had a positive effect on her work as a teacher.

The Sept. 29-Oct. 10 pilgrimage was led by Father Sean Danda, a former pastor of St. Michael, and was sponsored by St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg, which the priest now leads.

The pilgrimage’s itinerary included visits to Lourdes, where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Sourbirous in 1858; the beautiful gothic cathedral in Chartres; and the shrines of St. John Vianney, St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Catherine Labouré.

Kersey and the other pilgrims also viewed the places where these and other saints grew up and lived as adults.

“We saw how they grew up in their family life,” she said. “You get goose bumps. It was nice to see that these were normal people, but then they were called.”

That helped her appreciate her own call to Catholic education.

“I didn’t start out in education. I wanted to go into physical therapy,” Kersey said. “But I honestly feel that I have been called here, to a Catholic school. Just like they were called, I feel like I’ve been called.”

She’s also been called to be a wife and mother. That primary vocation in her life took center stage when she and the other pilgrims visited the Normandy beaches where Allied soldiers invaded France on June 6, 1944, D-Day, and the nearby cemetery where the thousands of American soldiers who died in the attack are buried.

This part of the pilgrimage was moving for Kersey because, at the time, her husband was deployed to Afghanistan as an employee of the U.S. Defense Department. He returned home to Brookville shortly after she came back from the pilgrimage.

“It made me think of all those people that gave their lives for us,” said Kersey through tears. “Growing up, I didn’t think about those things. But now I know how it feels as a wife and a mother. I prayed for those people who died for us, and for all the families who are currently going through what I was going through.”

For Kersey, the D-Day sites moved her as much as the shrines of saints.

“Jesus gave his life for us,” she said. “And these men and women gave their lives with no thought. They just did it for others and for our freedom.”

For Kersey, the community at St. Michael School and her work there to pass on the faith to its students cannot be separated from her life with her family.

“Some people have a job and they go home,” she said. “For me, it’s continuous. Me spreading God’s word, sharing it with my students all day is continuous with me having that with my family. I don’t have to put it aside when I go to work. I continue to do it all day long.”

And the students she serves feel close to her.

St. Michael’s third-grade students, who had Kersey as a teacher last year, made cards for her before she left on the pilgrimage

“I was kind of nervous because she was going to be gone for so long,” said third-grader Virginia Sacksteder. “It was kind of exciting. She went to France. That’s a really cool place.”

St. Michael is also like family for Kersey because it’s been a part of her family for generations.

Her mother, Janet Deutsch, was a student there in the 1950s. She and her three siblings attended school there. And her two sons also went to St. Michael.

Now she’s its second-grade teacher, helping to prepare her students for first reconciliation and first Communion. Her mom helps her, volunteering two days a week as a teacher’s aide in her classroom.

“I think she’s a very good religion teacher,” Deutsch said. “She instills in them that you need to go to Mass every Sunday. She’s determined. I just feel blessed that she’s doing it.”

Back in her classroom, Kersey noticed that the pilgrimage has had a lasting effect on her, helping her remain calm and trustful in God amid the many daily duties of a Catholic school teacher.

“The littlest things just don’t bother me anymore,” she said. “Now, I just know that it will all work out.” †

Local site Links: