A VIP

There is an extraordinary similarity between Angela O’Connor and Bernadette Soubirous. The expressive eyes, the sense of humour, the simplicity yet maturity, the clarity of thought and expression, the understanding of human suffering, the acceptance of God’s will, pain and disability born bravely from birth, the gaiety, the mischievous smile, but above all, the deep love for the Grotto and the “Lovely Lady.”

Angela was born with cystic fibrosis and so from a baby had to endure four times daily the pummelling of the chest and back to vibrate and loosen the fluid and mucous which collects in the lungs – exhausting enough for the physiotherapist, yet far more exhausting for the recipient. The subsequent coughing up of the fluid often caused Angela to retch and vomit back her food, causing loss of nourishment so necessary for a growing child. 

It showed in the condition of her fingertips and in the pitiable thinness of her arms and legs. Yet she never complained, but rather counted her blessings, consoling other handicapped or sick children in the hospital, just like young Andrew who helped build Jumbulance Mark 1.

Four times Angela went to Lourdes, the third time in October 1975 she was very ill and had been on a drip for several weeks.   Mass was offered in her room by her friend, Fr Stuart, and she received the Blessing of the Sick.   The day before departure, Angela told her mother that during the night she had heard a voice, deep down inside her. It woke her up and afterwards she was too frightened to sleep. She would not know until she got to the Grotto whether she would be cured or not, but if she died in Lourdes there were to be no tears, her mementoes of Lourdes should be kept, but all her clothes should be given to the Children’s Hospital where she had spent so much of her life. God, she felt, wanted her to do something but she did not know what it was. Her mother kept these and other confidences in her heart.

On this pilgrimage Angela became very ill while in Lourdes and was confined to a bed and placed on a drip. Outwardly, she was cheerful, inwardly she was sad, not because of her illness, but because she had been to the Grotto only twice since her arrival and on both occasions Our Lady did not seem to be there.   With tears in her eyes, she told this to a helper who had experienced the same loss of the presence of Our Lady at the Grotto.   Perhaps Our Lady was not pleased with them, or perhaps there was something she was trying to tell them, something they should do.   The only way was to visit the Grotto and ask. No time like the present!   The Jumbulance had arrived to take the group back and was immediately pressed into service to transport Angela, a doctor, a nurse along with the helper down to the Grotto itself. Complete with oxygen and drip Angela was lowered on the tail lift of the Jumbulance and wheeled on the trolley bed into the Grotto. She was so weak that ten minutes in the cold air was all that she could endure, but ten minutes was enough. She was lifted back into the vehicle which then drew round in front of the Crowned Virgin statue so that Angela could look through the window at the statue and say three Hail Marys that she might one day return to her beloved Lourdes.  Had she felt the presence of Our Lady at the Grotto? Yes. So had the helper! What had they promised Our Lady?  That if She would make Angela a little better a third Jumbulance would be built to carry even more sick and handicapped to Lourdes, and Angela in her own special way would help to build it. Perhaps, as a reward, Our Lady would spare her long enough to return one day to Lourdes. That night Angela slept well. Next morning she was taken off the drip, travelled comfortably on the Jumbulance returning home, and on arrival at Folkestone was sitting up in her bed, smiling at the welcoming committee of her mother and representatives of the UCM Folkestone who presented her with a thirteen candled cake. It was her birthday!

Editor’s note: Thrice, Our Lady did not appear to Bernadette at the Grotto. Now as then, Our Lady has a purpose for seeming, sometimes to be absent from the Grotto, or from the hearts of those she especially loves.

The Last Time

When Bernadette visited the Grotto with the Sister Superior before departing to enter the Convent at Nevers, she was loathe to leave and wept openly.  The sister expressed her surprise.  Surely, she said, Our Lady would always remain with her.  Bernadette readily agreed but said she was sad to leave the Grotto where she had spent so many happy hours.

Angela’s last visit to the Grotto was, on the contrary, a very happy one.    It took place on Saturday 6 March, 1976.  She was taken on a trolley bed to the baths in the afternoon and late that same evening, around 11 o’clock, she visited the Grotto accompanied by her doctor and friends.  The Grotto is empty, the air is still and warm, all the candles on the great candelabra are alight. Taking oxygen, almost continuously, Angela stayed conversing with Our Lady for almost an hour.   She lit two large candles, one for her family, and the other for her ACROSS group before retiring.   Next day she returned home to tell her family all about her visit to Lourdes. She told her mother, and her sister separately, that this visit to the Grotto was the happiest she had ever experienced. Our Lady, Angela said, seemed to be happy and smiled at her, but on this occasion was not wearing her blue sash.  Our Lady was dressed all in white, and there seemed to e a brilliance of light around her head, at the back of the niche.  It may of course, Angela added, have been a trick of the eyes caused by her looking at the statue for a long time, yet she was sure Our Lady was not wearing her blue sash.  She also told her mother in her quiet and matter of fact 

way, that her time was near.  On the morning of Wednesday March 10, with her mother and her friend Father Stuart at her side, Angela died.

Lourdes by Angela

"Lourdes is a wonderful place. I love going to Lourdes because I feel much closer to God and Our Lady. I believe that Our Lady brings us to Lourdes for a reason, she might bring us to Lourdes to help us pray more to her, and God, and to help us when we are suffering or unhappy.   When I am in Lourdes I feel as if Our Lady is with me all the time, it’s as if she is inside me and standing by my side. When I am in Lourdes, I see people who suffer much more than I do and it makes me very grateful to God for the good health he has given me.   I am very grateful to God and Our Lady for bringing me to Lourdes, because when I get home I feel I can cope much better in the outside world. Whenever anything goes wrong or when I get ill, I always pray to God and Our Lady for their help, I ask them to help me carry on in life, and to do what I think God wants me to do. 

I suffer from Cystic Fibrosis and the first time I went to Lourdes was in February 1975 with my sister, Mary, on an all night vigil group by aeroplane. At the time I was not very well so Mary and I had a bedr

oom to ourselves and we could not do the all night vigil, so we went to bed.   While we were in Lourdes we went to the Grotto a few times and we had to walk all the way from the hotel. Then we went into the Bath of Holy water, it was so cold I nearly cried and I could not sit right down in the water. I got out and Mary helped me to get dressed, then she went in. When everyone had been in we had Mass in one of the churches but we had to climb an awful lot of steps to get to it. I was very tired and my legs were hurting when I got to the top. I had to stop to get my breath back.   When we were having Mass I was very cold.   I could not stop shivering and all my muscles felt tight.   

After Mass we did the Stations of the Cross. We walked from the Grotto up the hill to the start of the Stations. When we started to go up the hill, I walked some of the way on my own but then I got tired and a man gave me a piggy back some of the way. On Sunday we had Mass and on our way out a man said to us if you say three Hail Marys at the Crown Virgin statue she will bring you back again, so I did. When the time came for us to leave we were all very sad. I felt like crying. I didn’t want to go at all. When I went home and went to bed, all I could think about was Lourdes, and every time when I closed my eyes to go to sleep I could see Our Lady in my mind.   Days and weeks went by until I went into hospital again, and while I was there I met a young nurse called Katherine Tucker.   I told her all about when I went to Lourdes for the weekend on an all night vigil with my sister Mary, and she asked me if I would like to go again, and I said, “Oh Yes”.   A few days later Katherine told my mum that her father saved up Green Shield stamps to help send sick and handicapped people to Lourdes. About a week later I went home and just went on as usual, until one day we were sitting down having our tea when the phone rang, it was Mrs Tucker, she rang up to say that a school was helping to send me to Lourdes, and I was going on a special bus called the Jumbulance.   At the time I did not know just how special and wonderful  that bus is. Mrs Tucker told mum she would send some leaflets about the Jumbulance. So a few days later we got some leaflets through the post.   I was really looking forward to going to Lourdes again, but when I saw the pictures of the Jumbulance I was looking forward to it even more.

Little did I know then I was going to meet the most wonderful people in the world I know, and that I was going to have the happiest time of my life.   A few weeks before I went to Lourdes Angela Glithero came to my house to see me and to learn how to do my physiotherapy, and she gave me my ACROSS travel wallet and then she showed me some photographs of other groups she had been on.   At last the big day was here, I was going to Lourdes on the Jumbulance with group 70. Mum and I were waiting outside Westminster Cathedral for the Jumbulance to come. I was so excited., it seemed as though I was waiting for hours.  
 
At last it came, the Jumbulance came round the corner, it was a wonderful sight and a wonderful feeling. We set off for Dover and then went across on the ferry. When we got to France we travelled all night, the next day we arrived in Lourdes about 12 o’clock in the afternoon.   I felt so happy to be back in Lourdes again, I felt like Lourdes was my home and I went away but now I have come back again. I was looking forward to going down to the Grotto, there was so much I wanted to say to Our Lady, and I wanted to thank her very much for bringing me back again. When we all got settled in at the convent, all the group went down to the Grotto.  Before I went to Lourdes I never liked being pushed in a wheelchair, but when I was in Lourdes I didn’t mind being pushed in a chair at all, because I saw people who suffer much more than I do, and I felt grateful to God for the good health and happiness he has given me.  
 
As I was being pushed towards the Grotto in my wheelchair I looked at the Grotto and as I got closer I had a wonderful feeling inside of me. I felt very happy. I felt like crying with happiness and sorrow but no tears would come. I felt sorry for the people who were ill and suffered a lot, but at the same time I was happy for them because I know they will go to heaven and be with God and Our Lady and then they will be happy for ever and they will never suffer again.   At first I hoped God would make me better, but after I had been to the Grotto a few times, seen other people and listened to the Masses I found I just could not ask Our Lady and God to make me well. I felt I must do this for God.  I told him I was in his hands, and I asked Our Lady to help me in my hours of weakness, and to help me to stay close to her, and God. Nearly everyone who goes to the Grotto loves it and would like to back again. When I went to Lourdes with the ACROSS Group 70, I had a lovely time, and I met some of the nicest people in the world.  
 
The helpers were so kind and we all made friends. We were there for about nine days so we went down to the Grotto every day and we went into the baths of Holy water twice.  This time when I came out of the water I was not a bit cold. I got dressed and went outside.   Then we did the Stations of the Cross, this time I wanted to do them all by myself without any help if I could, because I promised Our Lady I would try and I would offer it up for all the sick, handicapped and suffering people and for all sinners in the world. 
 
I did the Stations of the Cross by myself I climbed all the way up and down again and I did not get tired. At any time you wanted to go to the Grotto whether it was night or day the helpers would take you, they did not mind. One time I went to the Grotto at four o’clock in the morning.   I loved it when the group got together to have Mass and because it was just a group of you, you could hear everything the priest was saying. You can learn such a lot from the Mass and we said some of our own bidding prayers. We sang songs and hymns together.   We felt like one big family. All the people I have met through the ACROSS are like brothers and sisters to me; I love them, I don’t just look upon them as good friends because they mean more than that to me. As the time got near for us to go home I felt sad, I was looking forward to going home again, but I felt sad that we had to leave Lourdes and the Grotto behind us, but we didn’t really, we brought Lourdes and the Grotto back in our memories and Our Lady and her love back in our hearts. When we got back to Westminster Cathedral I got off the Jumbulance I said goodbye to everyone. I felt so sad, I was going to miss everyone so much but I was so glad I met them because they are so nice. I was so happy after my second journey to Lourdes. I didn’t get so f……."
 
Editor’s note: The above account by Angela was written clearly in her own hand and was found after her death by her mother. Only a few small spelling mistakes have been corrected – as Angela would have wished. She died before recounting the story of her third visit to Lourdes by Jumbulance.
 
A Promise Kept
 
Little Angie promised Our Lady she would help to build Jumbulance Mark III. She kept that promise. She has left for posterity her own simple description of her love for Lourdes, Our Lady, the Jumbulance and – for the suffering. This, coupled with the many pictures of Angela on the Jumbulance and in Lourdes, ensures that all who learn of the love of little Angie will also learn of the need for the severely handicapped, the chronic sick, the dying to visit Lourdes to obtain the courage to face life, or meet death.   For most, the only way possible is by Jumbulance, in comfort and safety, with a doctor, nurses and all the medical facilities and amenities necessary. Jumbulance Mark III went into operation on 22 July 1976, taking a group of sick and handicapped pilgrims from Merseyside to Lourdes. Since then it has been in constant use, ferrying groups to Lourdes.
 
 The above story is a reprint of a leaflet first published by the original organisation, called The ACROSS Trust, which devised and operated the Jumbulance from 1973 to 2001. The ACROSS Trust no longer exists although its aims and objectives, and the ethos on which it was created continues with the present organisation which is an entirely separate concern.
 
As an after note to the story of “The Love of Little Angie” Jumbulance Mark III continued in service for more than twenty years and for the last few years of its life was based in Stirling taking regular pilgrimage groups by Jumbulance from Scotland for the first time. It was retired in 1997.


Printer Printable Version