7 summer road trips featuring America’s Catholic landmarks

By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick | OSV News

Summer is a time of freedom, of escape from the usual routines of work and school. This escape often takes the form of vacation, but Catholics in the United States, whether or not they realize or appreciate it, have the opportunity to put their summer at the service of their faith.

Every region of the country is rich with churches, shrines and other points of interest for Catholics — as this roundup of regional routes for Catholic road trips make evident. Even if taking a trip is not realistic, learning about the heritage of the church all over the country is a rewarding exercise in knowing and appreciating the faith.

A file photo shows the sandstone chapel at the Mother Cabrini Shrine near Golden, Colo., amid the trees in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Inside, visitors can light candles for their prayer intentions near a statue of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be named a saint. (OSV News photo/CNS file, Joanne Asher)

• Southwest route: The full route, replete with miraculous histories, is best suited for a weeklong road trip, while weekend travelers can make their way directly to Santa Fe. This trek begins at the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colorado. In 1909, Mother Frances X. Cabrini purchased this land for her charges at the orphanage in Denver, despite the fact that no known water source existed on the property. A few years later, after sisters complained to her that they were dying of thirst, she answered, “Lift that rock over there and start to dig. You will find water fresh enough to drink and clean enough to wash.” The spring has never stopped running and a replica of the Grotto in Lourdes, France, was built on the site.

After visiting the Mother Cabrini Shrine, glimpse Benedictine life and devotions at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico, for a day visit or a personal retreat — minimum of two nights. Next, visit the pilgrimage site of the miraculous healing dirt of Chimayo. From there, journey through the desert to Santa Fe for a visit to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Asissi, the staircase with no nails at Loretto Chapel, and the San Miguel Mission.

West Coast route: In Seattle, begin with 8 a.m. daily Mass at St. James Cathedral, with its beautiful stained glass dating to 1918. Head south to be immersed in the beauty of the woods at The Grotto, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Sorrows, in Portland. Stop for a mini-retreat or Benedictine beer at Mt. Angel Abbey on your way to San Francisco for the first of the Spanish missions, Mission de San Francisco de Asis.

Continue south for additional missions founded by St. Junipero Serra and his fellow Franciscans: Mission Santa Clara de Asis in Santa Clara, Mission Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Mission Carmel in Carmel-By-The-Sea, Mission San Miguel in San Miguel, Mission Santa Barbara in Santa Barbara, Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside and Mission San Diego de Alcala in San Diego.

• Lake Michigan route: Begin in the towering woods of northern Wisconsin at the only approved Marian apparition site in the United States, Our Lady of Champion outside of Green Bay, and then drive south to Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin, for peace and beauty at a site long dedicated to Mary. In Milwaukee, attend mass at a 15th-century Gothic chapel, St. Joan of Arc Chapel. Visit the Basilica of St. Josaphat, built by Polish immigrants and a German architect out of rescued materials from the old Chicago post office. Venerate the relics of St. Maximilian Kolbe in Libertyville, Illinois, which are particularly amazing since he was incinerated at Auschwitz. (See Route 66 for Chicago sites.) Pray the Stations of the Cross at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John, Indiana, then drive along the south side of Lake Michigan to pray at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and light a candle at the Grotto, both on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

The The St. Louis Cathedral and a statue of Andrew Jackson are seen in New Orleans June 3, 2019. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

• Route 66: The ultimate cross-country road trip with stops at shrines, relics and monasteries, Route 66 begins in Chicago, where the faithful can venerate the arm of St. Jude the Apostle at the National Shrine of St. Jude before journeying southwest to St. Louis to the Shrine of St. Joseph, site of the miracle of St. Peter Claver. While there, light a candle at one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the country, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

On the way through Oklahoma, you can take a slight detour to visit Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Hulbert, Oklahoma, a growing monastery that developed indirectly out of the work of three professors at the University of Kansas in the late 1960s. Or head straight to Oklahoma City for the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine to venerate the martyr’s relics, before heading to his home parish, Holy Trinity in Okarche. See the Southwest Route for holy places in and around Santa Fe, before reaching the West Coast and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

• Texas Hill route: A weekend drive through the Texas Hill Country highlights the area’s history, from the early Spanish missionaries to Texas independence to the influx of German and Czech immigrants. The largest concentration of missions in North America are located along the San Antonio River. Hike or bike between Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan and Mission Espada, which make up San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and continue to celebrate Mass. The Alamo, formerly Mission San Antonio de Valerio, exists as a museum commemorating the Battle of the Alamo and the period of Texas independence from Mexico.

From San Antonio, enter into the settlements of immigrants from Eastern Europe, beginning with the oldest Polish settlement in the United States, Panna Maria, and its Immaculate Conception Parish. From there, head to Shiner, Texas, for a tour of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. Visit St. Mary’s High Hill in Schulenburg, Texas, another Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church in Dubina, Texas, and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in La Grange, Texas, to complete your tour of the Painted Churches.

A file photo shows the exterior of the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, N.M., which was designed by George Nakashima. (OSV News photo/Teresa L. Tamura, Monastery of Christ in the Desert)

• Southeast route: A diverse route through the South, this trek has everything from the location of the first Mass in our country to the home of a Catholic literary giant. Begin in Florida by venerating a relic of St. Padre Pio at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Sarasota. Then head to the site of the first Mass in America, the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida.

Here the trip turns literary: Visit the childhood home of famed Catholic fiction writer Flannery O’Connor in Savannah, Georgia. Then swing over to Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, where she lived as an adult, completing two novels and 32 short stories. Make a mini-retreat — or a weekend retreat — at the Trappist Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia.

In Alabama, pray at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, and marvel at the miniature reproductions of historic buildings and shrines throughout the world built by Benedictine Brother Joseph Zoettl at the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman. End your trip with a taste of Europe at New Orleans’ Jackson Square, visiting St. Louis Cathedral for Mass and prayer.

• Northeast route: Travel from our nation’s capital to the early roots of the faith in upstate New York while meeting some saints along the way. Begin your pilgrimage in the nation’s capital with replicas of Holy Land sites at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Washington, D.C., the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the St. John Paul II National Shrine. In Emmitsburg, Maryland, visit the relics of the first American-born saint, moved to conversion by a Corpus Christi procession, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson J. Perez delivers the homily at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia April 6, 2020. (OSV Newsphoto/Sarah Webb, CatholicPhilly.com)

In Philadelphia, venerate the bodies of St. John Neumann at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, and then St. Katharine Drexel at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul. Built beginning in 1846 when a need for a larger cathedral was determined, the church took nearly 20 years to complete due to the bishop’s debt avoidance. With construction commencing less than two years after the Philadelphia Nativists Riots, the building’s windows were placed just above a stone’s throw to avoid anti-Catholic vandalism. Among the cathedral’s eight side chapels is one currently dedicated to St. Katharine that was originally donated by the saint herself, along with her sisters, in honor of their parents. Her body was moved to the church in 2017.

Heading north, visit more saints, blesseds and venerables, including Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, New Jersey, and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini at the St. Frances Cabrini Shrine in New York.

Journeying northward, stop at the Blessed Michael McGivney Pilgrimage Center in New Haven, Connecticut, and at least one of the immigrant churches built by millworkers at the turn of the 20th century, such as St. Ann’s in Woonsocket, Rhode Island (now a cultural center and no longer an active church). In Boston, be sure to visit Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the site of many documented healings, and spend time with our Lord in adoration at St. Clement’s Shrine.

End your trip at the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs (aka Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine) in Fultonville, New York, and the St. Kateri Tekakwitha National Shrine and Historic Site in Fonda, New York, to visit the only canonized martyrs of the United States, French Jesuit missionaries, near the site of their death — the place of St. Kateri’s birth.

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Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick writes from Oklahoma.

Author: OSV News

OSV News is a national and international wire service reporting on Catholic issues and issues that affect Catholics.

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