The Stella Maris pilgrimage to Holy Island
Stella Maris celebrates 20th anniversary Holy Island pilgrimage

“I wouldn’t miss Stella Maris’ annual Day of Pilgrimage and Prayer in Holy Island for anything,” says Brenda Bland, a volunteer ship visitor with Catholic maritime charity Stella Maris.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the pilgrimage, and Hartlepool-based Brenda has been organising coaches to ferry Stella Maris supporters from County Durham for 15 years.

She always looks forward to this annual opportunity to escape the business of daily life and spend a day in a peaceful place.

“It’s called Holy Island for a reason. It’s a chance to walk in the footsteps of some of the great Northern Saints. The whole place speaks of the presence of God: St Cuthbert’s Island, the priory, being cut off from the mainland, a time to reflect on life. Plus, there’s time to pray, sing and share a few laughs together.”

This year’s pilgrimage will be led by Paul Mason, Bishop of the Forces and Stella Maris bishop promoter.

The idea of holding an annual Stella Maris (then known as Apostleship of the Sea) pilgrimage in each UK region was first mooted in 2024.

Here in the North-East, the mantle was picked up by Monsignor Ronnie Brown, together with Tony McAvoy, former Stella Maris port chaplain for an area that included the Tees, followed by recently retired port chaplain Paul Atkinson.

“We came up with the original idea of holding Celtic prayers on the beach followed by Mass later in the day, giving pilgrims time to walk and enjoy this special and holy place,” says Paul, who has been involved with organising from the start.

The pilgrimage was seen as a way of raising awareness of Stella Maris at a time when the charity was expanding.

Fast forward 20 years and the pilgrimage remains as more popular as ever, if not more so, and bus-loads of pilgrims join in from throughout the UK. There is great support from North-East volunteer ship visitors, who work all day to make the pilgrimage a success.

Deacon Peter Barrigan, Stella Maris’ regional port chaplain for Tees and Hartlepool, has been involved since 2006.

He said: “I like that we set aside a day to come together to pray for seafarers and to give thanks to God and Our Lady Star of the Sea for our ministry. Having the Celtic prayers on the green early in the day creates the right atmosphere for the day, it’s a prayerful pilgrimage.

“Even the visitors to the island stop to see what we are doing and then ask about our work with seafarers. It’s a chance to catch up with our supporters and thank them for their continual support over the year.

“For anyone reading this who hasn’t been to the island ever or for a few years, please come along to help us celebrate 20 years of this special pilgrimage. I’m sure you will enjoy the day with Mass. Plus we have a wonderful piper to lead a procession to the church.”

This year’s pilgrimage is on Saturday June 29. A light lunch will be provided. For more information, or to register, contact Deacon Peter Barrigan at or 07713 924 504.

stella: The Stella Maris team, with regional port chaplain for Tees and Hartlepool Deacon Peter Barrigan on the left and St Aidan behind them

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