And with that sigh of relief, Andrew Domini went to his knees and crawled the last 90-plus feet of his journey toward the sanctuary of the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute.
Yes, crawled; not that he couldn't walk. He was fully capable, even after walking the greater portion of 70-plus miles -- from Crawfordsville down U.S. 231 through Greencastle and out U.S. 40 to Terre Haute -- on a pilgrimage of sacrifice and prayer so he could ask for the intervention of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence.
"On my knees, I crawled to the altar," Domini said. "I think I was just thankful that I finally made it. I didn't cry, but I got emotional. And then I just prayed for my friend, and that I got here and all of that."
The Wabash College sophomore had watched a recent documentary on Cable News Network (CNN) that featured the pathway to sainthood for Saint Mother Theodore. He decided he wanted to make the journey from Crawfordsville to Terre Haute, ending at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
"I think one of the sisters caught my attention, just hearing her talk about Mother Theodore. An example, the guy with the eye problems. You hear stories about how people are healed. Well, maybe that's what I need to do," Domini said.
"Terre Haute was close enough that I could make it in a couple days' walk. If this place was located in southern Missouri, I don't think I would have walked. But, since it was Terre Haute, it was enough of a sacrifice to walk, but it wasn't going to kill me."
Domini committed to the pilgrimage for a friend who has stage-four pancreatic cancer.
"He's one of those human beings that the world would not be the same place without him," he said. "He's a member of the Mormon Church. I had visited him at his church. I know him from town. He's the kind of guy that, if you're in need and you need his help, he'll help. No questions. Nothing."
Domini did not tell his friend of the pilgrimage, but plans to do so.
"I haven't thought about what I'm going to say. But, I hope I can tell him. I'm not sure how he will react. I think he will be grateful. I don't think he will mind."
Domini, 19, is a native of Long Island, N.Y. He left the comfort of a fraternity house at Wabash College where is majoring in American studies, at about 5 a.m. the day of his journey.
He recalls maybe saying a quick prayer for a safe, beneficial journey.
"It was beautiful. I just decided to go. I got my backpack, two pairs of socks, shirt, candy bar, almost no money, maybe a couple dollars. I just left it up to Providence, that God would take care of it and everything would work out.
"I had no idea where I would sleep in Greencastle. I had no idea how I would get to Saint Mary's. I had no idea how I would get back. It didn't concern me. There's a quote from Mother Theodore. It goes something like this: 'I trust in Providence because, as of yet, it has never failed me.' I am the same way," Domini said.
By late afternoon, he had made it to Greencastle. He asked two local churches for overnight sanctuary and both declined, although Domini said they were polite.
He found a sofa in the DePauw University Union Building and slept for a couple hours, moved to a park bench on the courthosue square, then saw a light in an old building.
Perhaps it was the light of Providence.
Domini decided that if the door to the building were unlocked, he would sleep there until someone kicked him out. It was and he did.
Back on his feet the next morning, several miles outside Greencastle, he talked with a local man and woman who offered him a ride. He thought, OK, maybe a couple of miles just to get a break. He said he was walking like a penguin because blisters were beginning to form.
Turns out his new friends were headed for Terre Haute. They took him to the southern part of the city, but he still had several miles to go.
"Saint Mary's, up that hill. I saw the sign that said St. Mary's, and I thought 'I'm so close.' I saw the sandstone spire. I cut across the grass, straight for the church. I went to the front doors, but they were locked. I went around to Providence Center. Once I got inside the church, I put down the backpack and just crawled to the altar. I prayed for my friend," Domini said.
Later that afternoon, he sat in a guest room with his feet soaking in a pan of Epsom salts. The sisters offered him hospitality, and he chose to spend an additional day at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
He talked about his faith and his trust in Providence and how he acquired that trust.
"It leads to a more exciting spiritual life. I guess the examples I see of people trusting in Providence like Mother Theodore and everyday people. Observing them and seeing how they trust. Trust in Providence and you will live a more spiritual and exciting life," he said.
"Providence gives hope. Someone said once that 90 percent of the things you worry about most never happen. I think that's true. So, why worry about things. I trusted that things would work out and they did. I was content all along the way and there was very little to complain about, actually," Domini added.
The Sisters of Providence provided Andrew with transportation back to Crawfordsville.