During the month of November, Linda Liebl has organized a unique pilgrimage — she’s attending 30 Masses in 30 days at 30 different churches.
“I always wanted to do a pilgrimage, like to Fatima or Guadalupe, but my health doesn’t allow for international travel anymore,” said Liebl, a member of St. Louis Parish in Paynesville. “Then I thought: ‘If I were going to make a trip, what would I do?’ I came up with my own kind of pilgrimage.
“It’s a pilgrimage of gratitude — I’m grateful to be alive and able to do it.”
For 25 years Liebl has been an English teacher at Rocori High School in Cold Spring. In 2008, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer, which was treated successfully. Then in 2016 it recurred, becoming Stage 3. In August 2018, it had progressed to Stage 4 and metastasized to masses in her brain and bones.
Because of her unpredictable health, she had to stop teaching.
“I would not have left teaching by choice, so it felt like I was expelled, a daily penance not to be back in school,” she said. “It’s hard to go from working full time to being at home.”
In mourning her health, she said she “wallowed” for a few days.
“Then I made an attitude adjustment and consciously decided not to use my days crying,” she said.
Liebl turned her focus to spiritual health and discerning her purpose. Last year, during chemo, she listened to podcasts by Father Mike Schmitz and attended daily Mass when she could, adding a weekly hour of adoration.
“When we were little girls, Mom brought my sister Patti and me to a movie about Fatima. Mom and I watched that same movie in 2016 and ended it with adoration.
“We discussed how we’d both love visiting Fatima, but Mom’s health was too fragile,” she said. “It planted the idea.”
To plan the pilgrimage, Liebl read bulletins and checked websites for daily Mass times at parishes within 35 minutes of Paynesville. She also worked around her therapy appointments and parish funeral arrangements. She hoped November’s weather would present fewer problems but, as a contingency plan, slotted in daily Mass at Christ Church Newman Center or St. Mary’s Cathedral in St. Cloud.
“Weekends are easy,” Liebl said, “but getting to a different parish every day has been a challenge. My book club meets in the evening, so that day I picked the 5 p.m. Mass at St. Ben’s [Monastery]. While Mass is the same at parishes, each one does things differently so it’s fun to visit other places.”
In addition, she invites family, friends and co-workers to join her occasionally for Mass and social time afterward.
Already there have been many high points. Though she’s been the only stranger at small parishes where parishioners know each other, she’s felt welcomed.
“A highlight was listening to Father Ron Weyrens ‘speak’ the Gospel at St. Wendelin Parish [in Luxemburg]. He had memorized the Gospel reading, and ‘delivered’ the Word. I’m eager to attend Mass at another of his parishes.”
At the St. Cloud Hospital, the priest gave her a special blessing.
Seeing the stunning St. John Church in Meire Grove, with gold and 52 angels around the altar, was an architectural wonder, Liebl said.
After Liebl mentioned the pilgrimage on her CaringBridge site, people asked for prayers for family members. Others — people she normally did not see often — asked to attend Mass with her.
“A year ago I didn’t feel well enough to take this on. Now it feels natural to be at Mass every day — it’s become my purpose and I feel fulfilled and grateful.”
English teachers assign writing projects, and Liebl set one for herself.
“Each day after I get home from Mass, I write my reflections, my ‘takeaway,’” she said. “It might be the Gospel or another reading, or a connection I make in my life, like visiting the church where Mom and Dad were married, or little things that remind me of them. My reflections include both now and looking back.
“I want to publish my ‘Month of Mass’ reflections, or ‘Church Crawl,’ as my son Mack calls it,” Liebl said.
She and her husband, Scott, will end the November pilgrimage with a Thanksgiving trip to Duluth — and three Masses.
“Our son Ben goes to college in Duluth so we’ll bring him Thanksgiving dinner,” Liebl said. “Since I graduated from St. Scholastica College in Duluth, I phoned their convent and the sister even offered to place my name on their prayer chain. We’ll also go to Mass at a church that we attended in college.”
“It depends on the weather and my appointments,” Liebl said. “I’ll attend Mass at St. Louis if I can walk because that feels good. I hope to get to the Latin Mass at St. John Cantius Church in St. Cloud, which hasn’t fit into my schedule.
“Maybe I’ll aim for 100 days,” she laughed.