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St. Anthony teacher deepened knowledge of St. Francis de Sales with summer pilgrimage

Photo from St. Anthony of Padua School's Jennifer Cripps pilgrimage to Annecy, France.

WILMINGTON — Although she teaches at St. Anthony of Padua School, where the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales is part of the fabric of the building, Jennifer Cripps discovered a lot about the patron saint of the Diocese of Wilmington over the summer.

Cripps and two friends from high school joined approximately 80 others on a pilgrimage to Annecy, France, the home of Francis de Sales. The visit was organized by Father Ed Ogden and Kim Zitzner of the St. Thomas More Oratory on the campus of the University of Delaware. Father Ogden is an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

St. Francis de Sales, depicted in a stained glass window in Annecy.

“There was so much,” Cripps said recently at St. Anthony of Padua School, where she teaches fifth grade. “The very first day we went to Chateau de Sales, where he was born.”

Cripps said the two women with whom she traveled were friends from their days at Padua Academy. She attended Holy Angels School before that, but her friends are both graduates of Mount Aviat Academy in Childs, Md., which is owned and staffed by the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales. A group of Oblate sisters were on the pilgrimage. Despite a lifetime of Catholic education and working in a Catholic school, the trip was a learning experience.

She was not aware, for example, of the level of collaboration between Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, who founded the Visitation Sisters after the death of her husband. St. Francis de Sales was her spiritual director, and they are buried next to each other in the congregation’s convent in Annecy.

Jennifer Cripps

“It was really cool to learn about that connection,” she said.

Going inside churches that have stood for 1,000 years also was intriguing, especially when she considered that the oldest buildings in Delaware were constructed centuries later. Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, for example, was built in 1698 and ‘99. She also enjoyed the opportunity to walk the same streets where saints ministered to the people.

“It was very … enlightening, I think, is the best word I can use. A saint, someone I have learned about my entire life, was actually here, walked around, doing these things. I definitely think it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (to go to Annecy),” Cripps said.

After Annecy, Cripps, 35, and her friends spent two days in Paris and also visited other areas of France. The visit to Paris gave her the opportunity to attend Mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was a bonus experience for Cripps, a graduate of the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore.

They also ventured north to Normandy, which is the location of Utah and Omaha beaches, two of the landing points for American and other Allied soldiers on D-Day during World War II. They saw the houses where German soldiers stayed during the invasion, along with the cemeteries for Americans who lost their lives.

“The American flags there only have 48 stars instead of 50 because there were only 48 states then,” Cripps said.

She said she was unsure about whether to make the pilgrimage but figured she wouldn’t have many opportunities to do something like this too many times. Annecy isn’t usually on the top of the list for American tourists.

“I don’t think it’s a place a lot of people would think about going to,” Cripps said. “From what I heard from the people who live there, it’s more of a European vacation spot. It’s not where Americans go, but it was really an amazing experience.”