Ready for some Catholic sightseeing? Based on culture, history, physical landscape and spirituality, the following…
The top 10 Catholic cities to visit in America
America’s got faith! You’ll find it in every state — in grand cathedrals and teeny chapels, in underwater statues and holy dirt. We’re even blessed with “Top 10 Cities of Faith.” Travel within a 150-mile radius of these 10 cities and you’ll discover oodles of unique and fascinating holy sites — some sprinkled with good humor and fun trivia!
The “Top 10 Cities” — as compiled from the brand-new book “Monuments, Marvels, and Miracles: A Traveler’s Guide to Catholic America” (OSV, $27.95) — are ranked by their respective number of holy sites and highlight several attractions in and around each city. “Seeing is believing,” the saying goes, but “faith-seeing” is even better!
Summer is here, and it’s time to travel Catholic America. Put the car in drive, and let’s go!
It’s a Rocky Mountain (spiritual) high at Denver’s Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Buffalo Bill prayed there, and Servant of God Julia Greeley, a freed slave and Denver’s “Angel of Charity,” was the first person entombed at the cathedral. The Mother Cabrini Shrine near Golden, Colorado, holds a miraculous spring, while the soaring steeple of Leadville’s Annunciation Catholic Church — the country’s highest steeple at 11,000 feet — could be a landing strip for angels. Next door in Wyoming, Cheyenne’s Cathedral of St. Mary is lauded for its stained-glass Sistine Madonna.
During the Civil War, Father Thomas O’Reilly warned General William T. Sherman, “Burn the Catholic church in Atlanta and every Catholic soldier in the Union army will mutiny!” His feisty legacy lives at Atlanta’s Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Bask in otherworldly light at Abbey Church of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit near Conyers; two tiers of stained-glass windows cast a blue aura over the nave, and a halo of golden light surrounds the sanctuary. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul hails a John 15:13 hero: Servant of God Patrick Ryan, who died tending to yellow fever victims so they might live.
8. Portland, Oregon
Begin your journey at The Grotto in Portland, famous for its five-story-tall grotto of Our Lady, hewn out of a rocky cliff. Take your angel for a stroll at Mount Angel Abbey in Saint Benedict, or admire a choir of stained-glass angels at St. Mary Catholic Church in Mount Angel. Just steps from the Pacific Ocean at Rockaway Beach, St. Mary by the Sea Catholic Church simulates a ship inside. More attractions beckon in southern Washington, including a Catholic Ladder — a totem pole-like teaching device — outside St. Francis Xavier Mission in Toledo.
7. Sacramento, California
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento began with a legend: Its builder, Bishop Patrick Manogue, settled more than one brawl with a pious punch! America’s most Irish church? St. Patrick Church in San Francisco. Dubbed the “Awesome Madonna,” the 32-foot stainless steel statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary stops traffic at Santa Clara’s Our Lady of Peace Church. Across the state line in Virginia City, Nevada, Saint Mary in the Mountains Catholic Church survived wind, fire and the “Mad Monks” who claimed the dazzling Gothic wooden interior was a distraction to prayer and tried to tone it down.
6. New Orleans
The New Orleans region is steeped in miracles — two wrought by Our Lady of Prompt Succor. She saved the Old Ursuline Convent Museum from the Great New Orleans Fire in 1788, when the inferno suddenly burned itself out. The National Votive Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor also celebrates her intercessory victory over the British in the Battle of New Orleans of 1815. For expedited answers to prayer, visit Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and International Shrine of St. Jude. St. Expedite will expedite your request, and St. Jude will do the impossible!
The mother church of the Acadians, Saint Martin de Tours in nearby St. Martinville is so French it has an indoor Lourdes grotto — constructed by freed slave Pierre Martinet of bousillage and plaster. Just down the road in Biloxi, Mississippi, you’ll “net” a beautiful visit to the maritime, clam-shaped St. Michael Catholic Church, with elongated stained-glass windows of the apostles gathering in their catch.
5. St. Louis
Need a miracle? Go to the Shrine of St. Joseph in St. Louis, where Ignatius Strecker’s miraculous healing in 1864 propelled Blessed Peter Claver to sainthood. If you love art, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis touts one of the world’s largest collections of mosaics: 83,000 square feet! The Abbey Church of Saint Louis Abbey in Creve Coeur is fit for a king: it’s shaped like a crown.
Hear stories of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne at Old St. Ferdinand Shrine in Florissant, where she slept in a closet under the convent stairs to be closer to the chapel. America’s “medieval” church, Old St. Vincent Church in Cape Girardeau, features over 130 plaster faces (inside and out) inspired by medieval mystery and morality plays. The summer heat getting to you? Take a drive to the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in nearby Belleville, Illinois.
4. San Antonio / Santa Fe, New Mexico (tie)
Remember the Alamo in San Antonio, but don’t forget that it began as a Spanish Franciscan mission — one of five Spanish colonial missions and a UNESCO World Heritage site gracing the Riverwalk City. Our Lady appears not once but twice at Lourdes Grotto and Tepeyac de San Antonio at Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate, while St. Thérèse of Lisieux lives in stained glass (even sneaking into the Roman Colosseum with Céline) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower.
Near the Gulf Coast, Goliad is a “twist of faith”: The State of Texas owns Mission Espíritu Santo and the Catholic Church (the Diocese of Victoria) a presidio. But Presidio La Bahía isn’t any old fort; this is where the Texas Revolution began. In central Texas, join the steeplechase to the Painted Churches of Schulenburg — four churches decked to the rafters in German-Czech folk art and ethnic lore.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the country’s oldest Marian statue, La Conquistadora (also called Our Lady of Peace), reigns from a 1714 adobe side chapel in the “Wild West” Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Who built Santa Fe’s miraculous staircase — a “floating” wooden spiral staircase — in the Loretto Chapel? Many believe it was St. Joseph the carpenter himself! At nearby Chimayo, pilgrims leave tiny shoes in a side room at Santo Niño de Atocha Chapel for the Christ Child to wear as he wanders the countryside healing the sick. A few paces away, El Santuario de Chimayo, erected of adobe around 1816, is known for its holy dirt and a miraculous crucifix unearthed on Good Friday in 1810.
Tales of the “Fastest Nun in the West” fly at Sister Blandina Convent in Albuquerque, while Mountainair’s Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument is home to another flying legend. In the early 1600s, Venerable María of Ágreda bilocated here from her cloistered convent in Spain to teach the Indians the Faith.
America’s oldest church isn’t American — it’s French. Erected around 1420, Milwaukee’s St. Joan of Arc Chapel, with the stone on which Joan of Arc reportedly prayed before going off to war, “immigrated” to America in the 1920s. At nearby Holy Hill in Hubertus, pilgrims climb 178 winding steps to an observation deck in one of the twin towers (and if that doesn’t take their breath away, the view will). Traveling north to Champion, you’re on holy ground at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, where Our Lady appeared to Adele Brise in 1859. For Truth and Wisdom (and Peace and Happy, too!), head west to Shullsburg, where Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli named the streets for godly virtues.
Can miracles strike twice? It happened at Holy Family Church in nearby Chicago. The Victorian Gothic church — with a spectacular five-story-tall wooden high altar — miraculously survived the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and a wrecking ball in 1990. Nicknamed the Joy of Chicago, Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica will take your breath and sorrows away. Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen is loaded with “windows to heaven”: Byzantine icons. At St. John, Indiana, walk with Christ at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion, where 40 life-size bronze sculptures recreate Jesus’ last days on earth.
2. New York City
The Big Apple is “Big Faith.” Dozens of attractions await within a 150-mile radius of New York City, including sites in six nearby states. All the world is a stage, except at St. Malachy’s Church in Manhattan’s Theater District, where actors and other entertainers come to pray. What’s better than one St. Patrick’s Cathedral? Two St. Patrick’s Cathedrals! When nativists threatened the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, loopholes were cut into the outer brick wall to defend the church. The “new” St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a mid-1800s Gothic masterpiece, boasts 330-foot spires, 15 altars, 19 bells and 9,000-pound bronze doors.
In Connecticut, come to Bethlehem and a 300-year-old Italian crèche with 68 miniature figures at the Abbey of Regina Laudis. Everything is massive at Hartford’s Cathedral of Saint Joseph — from the nearly seven-story-tall art-glass windows to the 40-by-80-foot ceramic tile mural Christ in Glory in the sanctuary.
The faith marches on in Philadelphia. The Miraculous Medal Shrine holds an exact replica of the French chair that Our Lady sat in during her visit to Saint Catherine Labouré in 1830. Lighting up Old St. Mary’s Church, built around 1763, are chandeliers that originally hung in Independence Hall. Impossible answers to prayer happen at the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, where her “impossible” life is portrayed in stained glass.
In New Jersey, St. Stephen’s Church in Kearny honors its World War II hero, Father John P. Washington, with the Four Chaplains Monument — a massive bronze sculpture of the torpedoed USAT Dorchester. Want to venerate the Holy Shroud of Turin? Summit’s Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary holds a 400-year-old certified true copy of the Holy Shroud, with a sacred story of its own.
The “faith hub” of Catholic America? Baltimore! Religious attractions in Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia and parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia all lie within a three-hour jaunt of this great city.
A 40-foot cross and a museum on St. Clement’s Island, Maryland, marks the historic 1634 landing site of the first English Catholic colonists in America. Baltimore’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary — the mother church of Catholic America — is uniquely American in design. The Neoclassical structure from 1806 represents both democracy and freedom of worship. Another Baltimore icon, the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, which is longer than a football field, boasts 385 sculptures, 398 panels of stained glass and four side altars.
More legends await at Charles Carroll House and Gardens in Annapolis and at Emmitsburg’s National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, where the widowed mother and founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph lived and was laid to rest. Agents of the Underground Railroad operated at Old St. Mary’s Church in Rockville.
Holy sites in the District of Columbia include the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, where President John F. Kennedy’s funeral Mass was held, and the Saint John Paul II National Shrine with floor-to-ceiling mosaics depicting his Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. No passport is needed to visit this Holy Land! The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America replicates the famous shrines of Christ’s life and more.
In Greenville, Delaware, St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church — dubbed the “DuPont Church” — got its distinctive yellow color when it was painted the same color as the DuPont homes. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a larger-than-life statue of Father William Corby of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, at Gettysburg National Military Park portrays the bearded Civil War chaplain granting general absolution to 530 soldiers. Near Hanover, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus tells tales of early Jesuits who went undercover (in Quaker garb even!) when Catholicism was outlawed during English colonial days.
So take to the highways and the byways this summer and visit the wonderful monuments, marvels and miracles of America’s Catholic faith! It’ll rev up your faith and be a road trip you won’t soon forget.
Marion Amberg is an award-winning journalist and the author of “Monuments, Marvels, and Miracles: A Traveler’s Guide to Catholic America” (OSV, $27.95).
|Plan your vacation!|
|Organized by state and region, “Monuments, Marvels, and Miracles: A Traveler’s Guide to Catholic America” (OSV $27.95) can help you easily plan your vacation or pilgrimage, and find sites close to you that you’ve never heard of. Chapters also include Catholic trivia and color photos. Websites, phone numbers, addresses, and other pertinent information are included.
Purchase at osvcatholicbooks.com.