St. Thomas Newsroom

A Pilgrim’s Heart

Rachelle de la Cruz '15 CSMA (right) and Cristina Maillet, CSMA candidate, in Lourdes, France. Photo by Eric Wuebben '17

Throughout the London Underground riders are confronted with warnings to “mind the gap” between the platform where they stand and the train they will board. George Weigel, author of Letters to a Young Catholic, talks of this experience as a metaphor for the gap between the person we are and the person God wants us to become.

“Living in and closing the gap – better: living in and letting God’s grace, at work in our lives, close this gap – is a matter of becoming the kind of people who can live with God forever, the kind of people for whom heaven is a (super)natural pleasure, not an acquired taste,” Weigel wrote.

For Rachelle de la Cruz ’15 CSMA it was that desire to discover who God wants her to become that brought her to the University of St. Thomas’ Master of Arts in Catholic Studies (CSMA) program.

Service becomes mission

De la Cruz grew up in a Filipino-American family that ran a restaurant in Chicago. Like most restaurant-family kids, she was immersed in the hospitality industry from an early age. It was her love of hosting and serving others that led her to the University of Illinois to earn a Bachelor of Science in hospitality and management in 2008.

After her time at U of I, she served as a FOCUS missionary, where she discovered hospitality was not only a service.

De la Cruz was preparing for a mission trip when she first heard of the Catholic Studies project. As part of her mission trip orientation, de la Cruz attended the Benedict XVI Institute, a leadership formation partnership between the Center for Catholic Studies’ Habiger Institute for Catholic Leadership and FOCUS.

At the institute she met Dr. Michael Naughton and learned the term “integral human development.” She discovered a “different reality of charity, and [saw] that instead of throwing money at the problem, the world ought to see that what is really at the heart and the source of poverty: a person.”

Naughton introduced a way of viewing reality as an integrated whole, an integral ecology. De la Cruz wanted to know “‘How could that be done?’ ‘How do you view life through the lens of Christ?’”

De la Cruz was eager to explore these questions more and applied for the CSMA program and enrolled that fall. During her studies she developed a paper with Naughton that gave her the opportunity to explore integral human development in a deeper way: “The Need for Deeper Roots: Making a Mission-Driven Case for Poverty Related Issues in Business Education,” which was delivered at the UN PRME Conference on Poverty and Business Education (INCAE Business School, Managua, Nicaragua, July 2014).

Minding the gap

While studying in Rome during the fall 2014 semester, de la Cruz connected her love of hospitality and interest in integral human development in an unexpected way: She planned a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, for some of her Bernardi Campus housemates.

Pope Francis refers to pilgrimage as one of the most eloquent expressions of faith and an opportunity for evangelization. And, during a Jan. 21 audience with pilgrimage organizers and shrine rectors, he said, “Whoever he is, young or old, rich or poor, sick and troubled, or a curious tourist, must be able to find due welcome, because in each one there is a heart that seeks God, sometimes without fully realizing it.”

While Pope Francis didn’t speak those exact words until 2016, the idea behind them already had resonated with de la Cruz as she planned her own pilgrimage. “We are always searching, seeking, and when we travel we have an opportunity to immerse ourselves in our surroundings. A pilgrimage creates a pause in our life for Jesus to call us to something bigger than ourselves,” de la Cruz said.

In fall 2015, with her studies nearly complete, de la Cruz was faced with entering the workforce once again.

A friend from de la Cruz’s Lourdes pilgrimage heard that Corporate Travel Service, a custom tour, event management and personal travel firm in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, was hiring and passed the news along. The following day, another friend emailed the same job opportunity to her and encouraged her to apply. Her interest was piqued.

De la Cruz joined the Corporate Travel Service pilgrimage department shortly after graduating in December 2015 and felt at home from day one. “I find myself smiling every time I realize how this work is closing the gap between all of the relationships I’ve made throughout my life. I have the opportunity to serve in ways I never imagined I would,” she said.

From hospitality to missionary work, to exploring Catholic business leadership and discovering the gift of pilgrimage, for de la Cruz, her experiences have become grace-filled building blocks – moments along the way from the person she is to the person God is helping her become.