Five million visitors crowd into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York each year. Hundreds of thousands annually pay homage to the Blessed Virgin at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. But Catholic travelers don’t always realize that every state in the Union contains unique shrines, retreat houses, missions and other significant holy places. In 101 Places to Pray Before You Die, you’ll discover the unexpected, the somber, the whimsical and the inspiring spots that, at times, are hidden in plain sight.
- Every American has heard of the Battle of the Alamo, the heroic-but-hopeless defense put up by a few dozen Texans against an army from Mexico that numbered in the thousands. But most visitors overlook the fact that the Alamo was actually founded by a Franciscan priest as a mission, to bring the local Native American tribe into the Catholic faith.
- A drive through Cullman, Alabama, will lead you to four acres of quirky miniature reproductions depicting some of the world’s most famous religious structures.
- Nuns who nursed the wounded on both sides of the Civil War are honored at Washington, D.C.’s Nuns of the Battlefield monument.
- Dorothy Day, the social activist and champion of the poor, left her mark across New York City—and you can follow in her footsteps.
- The book also bears witness to the legacy of European, Latin, African and Asian immigrants and Native Americans, tracing their distinctive influence on the history and practice of Catholicism in America.
Conveniently organized by state, 101 Places to Pray Before You Die will enhance your travel experiences—whether it’s a day trip to explore a spot you’ve breezed past a hundred times, a quick detour on a business trip or a family vacation dedicated to more intensive spiritual searching. Each entry contains details about the location’s significance to American Catholics, along with the address, contact information and hours of operation (if applicable).
A 2018 Catholic Press Association Book Award winner.
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About the Author
Thomas J. Craughwell has been self-employed as a writer for 24 years. He is the author of more than 40 books on history, religion, and popular culture, including Saints Behaving Badly (Doubleday), This Saint Will Save Your Life (Quirk Books), St. Peter’s Bones (Doubleday), and Stealing Lincoln’s Body (Harvard University Press), which the History Channel produced as a two-hour documentary. Tom served as the ghostwriter for Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, the companion volume to Norris Chumley’s PBS documentary of the same name. Tom has written articles for The Wall Street Journal, The American Spectator, U.S. News and World Report, Emmy magazine, Inside the Vatican, National Catholic Register, The Catholic Herald (UK), Reality Magazine (Ireland), and Our Sunday Visitor. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, the BBC, FOX, EWTN, and the Discovery Channel. Tom writes from his home in Bethel, Connecticut.
Read an Excerpt
101 Place to Pray Before You Die
A Roamin' Catholic's Guide
By Thomas J. Craughwell
Franciscan MediaCopyright © 2017 Thomas J. Craughwell
All rights reserved.
Cullman | Ave Maria Grotto, St. Bernard's Abbey
1600 St. Bernard Dr. SE Cullman, AL 35055 (256) 734-4110 www.avemariagrotto.com
When he was only fourteen years old, Michael Zoettl left his family in Bavaria in southern Germany to travel to the United States with Fr. Gamelbert Brunner and enter St. Bernard's Abbey in Alabama. After he concluded his studies, Michael made his vows as a Benedictine monk and took the name "Joseph." He was assigned to the menial tasks necessary to keep the monastery running, including shoveling coal for the abbey's power plant. Although Joseph was obedient to his superiors and did his best, he found the work tedious. For relief, in his spare time, he began to build miniature shrines that held little holy statues. These miniatures were sold at the abbey gift shop and the proceeds sent to the missions.
Soon, Brother Joseph had expanded into a new line of miniatures — building replicas of holy sites from around the world. Between 1932 and 1958 — the year he retired — Brother Joseph created more than 125 little models of famous churches and sacred sites. But Brother Joseph also had a patriotic side — he designed minimemorials to fallen veterans of World War II, a tribute to the Statue of Liberty, and a replica of the Alamo. He also made a model of the abbey power plant that he knew so well.
As is true of folk art — and folk art was Brother Joseph's specialty — there is a naïve, whimsical charm to his creations. First, as a monk vowed to poverty, he had no money to buy materials for his miniatures; instead he relied on what he could find and what people gave him. Visitors to the Grotto will discover that Brother Joseph used concrete, ceramic tiles, and seashells, among other materials, for his little structures and embellished them with bits of costume jewelry, plastic animals, and marbles (the toy, not the stone). His models are not to scale, and often the perspective is off, but he can be forgiven — Brother Joseph never saw Jerusalem or St. Peter's Basilica in person, so he relied on postcards of these sites. Postcards rarely show the rear of a famous landmark, but rather than leave the back of his models blank, Joseph filled them in by imagining what they might look like.
The arrangement of the miniatures is also a bit offbeat. For example, located just above the replica of St. Peter's Basilica is the model of the Abbey of Monte Cassino, and to one side of St. Peter's is the replica of the Alamo.
To display Brother Joseph's ever-growing body of work, his brother monks set aside three wooded acres of the abbey grounds. Visitors still come to admire these quirky little creations, including Brother Joseph's final work, a model of the Lourdes Basilica, completed when he was eighty years old.
Before you head over to the gift shop, or back to your car, visit the abbey church and say a prayer for the repose of the soul of Brother Joseph, whose work has touched the hearts of so many pilgrims. Add another prayer for amateur artists and artisans who bring joy and inspiration into other people's lives.
For days and times when the Grotto and abbey are open to visitors, consult the website.
Irondale | Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House
3721 Belmont Rd. Irondale, AL 35210 205-956-6760 www.sisterservants.org
Irondale, Alabama, seems attract a fair amount of holiness. It was here that Mother Angelica launched her round-the-clock cable network, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). She founded a new community of priests and brothers. And now, about a block and a half from EWTN's studios, is an order of women religious, the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word.
The nuns, most of them in their twenties and thirties, dress in ankle-length habits, wearing veils, and with St. Dominic's fifteen-decade rosary hanging from their belts. They follow a life that balances the active with the contemplative. Their work in the world is to teach the Catholic faith to children and adults, and to host religious retreats, led by such renowned preachers and teachers as Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ, and Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR. There is a wide selection of retreats to choose from — for men, women, couples, mothers and daughters, as well as retreats that correspond with the liturgical year, such as a retreat to prepare for Lent, Holy Week, and the great solemnity of the resurrection at Easter.
The convent and retreat house are very attractive — a whitewashed exterior with red tile roof, which gives the place a Spanish feel. The grounds are lovely — part landscaped garden beds, part untamed woodland where the sisters let nature be nature.
The sisters schedule — and retreatants are welcome to join them in their chapel for all of these services — begins with a Holy Hour at 6 AM and concludes at "lights out" at 10 PM. Mass is offered daily. The sisters recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet daily, and they pray the rosary three times a day. The sisters cultivate among themselves and share with their visitors their great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, particularly under her title, Our Lady of Fatima. In addition, the sisters are committed to reviving the Church's treasury of great liturgical music.
Casa Maria is a growing community, and as tends to be the case with religious orders that are still new and growing, living space for the nuns is in short supply, and accommodations for guests is limited. If you would like to make a retreat at the convent, it is essential that you call well in advance. There is a suggested donation for retreats — please consult the Casa Maria website for details.
And during your retreat's downtime, take the short walk over to EWTN and see the place where Mother Angelica's Catholic cable empire began and is still going strong.
Casa Maria Convent and Retreat House is a place where you can revitalize your faith.CHAPTER 2
Juneau | Shrine of St. Thérèse
21425 Glacier Highway Juneau, AK 907-586-2227 www.shrineofsainttherese.org
In terms of settings, the Shrine of St. Thérèse may enjoy the finest view in the United States. It is located in the Tongass National Forest, overlooking an inlet of the Inside Passage. The shrine, including a stone chapel, crypt, and labyrinth, looks out on jagged, snow-covered mountain peaks rising above the opposite shore. To walk the shrine's grounds is to be filled with wonder at the magnificence of God's creation.
The shrine was the brainchild of Fr. William G. LeVasseur, SJ. At a time when there was no Catholic retreat center in Alaska, Fr. LeVasseur intended this shrine to fill that void. Bishop Joseph Raphael Crimont, who served as vicar apostolic of all of Alaska, gave his permission for the project, and decided to dedicate it to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who had just been canonized in 1925, The bishop had a deep devotion to Thérèse and was even acquainted with members of her family. Work on the beautiful stone chapel began in 1937.
To be honest, it is not easy to reach the shrine. It lies twenty-two miles outside Juneau, and there is no public transportation to it. Your only options are to rent a car (the best choice if you plan to make a retreat), rent a cab (the driver will charge by the hour), or join a tour via bus, but bear in mind that most tour groups rarely stay longer than thirty minutes.
Retreatants have a choice of accommodations: the Lodge, which sleeps twentyfour; the Jubilee Cabin, which sleeps fourteen; and, the lovely Little Flower Cabin, which sleeps four. There is also the one-room Hermitage cabin, which has no electricity or running water, so it is a much more ascetical experience than the Lodge and cabins.
In her brief life, St. Thérèse dedicated herself to contemplation and deepening her love for God. When you're visiting the island, ask her to intercede for you that God will grant you those gifts.
Open daily, weather permitting, 8:30 AM to 10:00 PM (April to September), 8:30 AM to 8:00 PM (October to March).CHAPTER 3
Tucson | Redemptorist Renewal Center
7101 Picture Rocks Rd. Tucson, AZ 520-744-3400 www.desertrenewal.org
Set amid the arid but dramatic Sonoran Desert, the Redemptorist Fathers dedicated their church, appropriately, to Our Lady of the Desert. It is built low to the ground, with a wide arch that welcomes worshippers into the sanctuary. It is constructed of stone and large wooden beams, so the interior is austere but very handsome.
Third- and fourth-century Christians went into the desert of Egypt to find God in silence and solitude. That's what the Redemptorists offer at their retreat center. They welcome day visitors — as well as those who want to stay for a while — to restore their spiritual equilibrium (tough to do in this world, where there is so much noise and so many distractions). Check with the center in advance about availability of a room in the retreat house.
The Redemptorists offer Mass every morning. On Saturday, they pray the Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and they hear confessions and offer anointing of the sick. If you have never invoked the Mother of Perpetual Help, this is an excellent place to learn about her title, the meaning of her image, and the many graces that have been granted to those who have asked for her intercession.
Tucson | San Xavier del Bac Mission
1950 W. San Xavier Rd. Tucson, AZ 85746 520-294-2624 www.sanxaviermission.org
Since the 1500s, the American Southwest has been blessed with a bumper crop of missions. Of those that have survived the centuries, many are very beautiful, but in terms of aesthetics, it's hard to beat San Xavier del Bac Mission. The pure white towers of the mission church set against the endless blue sky of Arizona is an unforgettable sight. But the experience gets even better when you step through the exuberantly carved, three-story-tall, terra cotta–colored portal.
Fr. Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary, established a mission here among the Tohono O'odham nation in 1692, but a host of circumstances prevented him from ever building a suitable church. The church you see today was begun in 1783 by Franciscan Father Juan Bautista Velderrain, who brought an architect up from Mexico, and hired a large number of O'odham craftsmen to construct a house of worship so lovely that it came to be called "The White Dove of the Missions."
The church interior is virtually unchanged from the late eighteenth century, when all these wonderful works of art, all of them dedicated to the greater glory of God, were installed. The paintings, sculptures, and other treasures you see inside the church were created by artists in Queretaro, Mexico. Prominent above the high altar is the sculpture of the mission's patron, St. Francis Xavier (1506–1552). The first missionary priest of the newly founded Society of Jesus (Jesuits), he spent his life planting the Catholic faith in India, the Moluccas, and Japan, where he converted and baptized thousands, perhaps tens of thousands.
Best of all, San Xavier is not some sterile historic site — it is a working, living parish where Mass is said daily, confessions are heard, and the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for public adoration. And there is a parish school. When you visit San Xavier, you are not a tourist, you are the welcome guest of a community of Native Americans, Latinos, and Anglos who have been worshipping together in this glorious church for more than two hundred years. Give yourself time not only to explore this mission, but to pray and meditate in this remarkable holy place on the dedication and sacrifice Fr. Kino and the countless other missionaries who planted the faith in the American Southwest.
Open daily from 7 AM to 5 PM, except during certain special religious services. For regular Mass times and schedule of special services, consult the website.CHAPTER 4
Altus | Church of St. Mary
5118 St. Mary's Lane Altus, AR 72821 479 468-2585 www.stmarysaltus.org
It's unusual to run into a church with three names. The parish calls itself — and just about everyone in Altus, Catholics and non-Catholics alike —"St. Mary's." But it has two more dedications: Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Our Lady Help of Christians. No one seems to know why the dedication is under two titles of the Blessed Mother, but it's a safe bet that St. Mary's became the shorthand way to refer to the church.
When you think of large Catholic populations in the United States, Arkansas is probably not going to be the state that springs to mind. Yet, according to a study by the Glenmary Research Center (operated by the Glenmary Home Missioners), there are about 122,000 Catholics in Arkansas, which places them as a distant fourth among denominations in the state.
One of the glories of Catholic Arkansas is the Church of St. Mary. It makes an impression even before you step inside — built of golden sandstone in the Romanesque style, it crowns a hill on the outskirts of Altus.
Now that you've admired the exterior, it's time to experience the interior. The only word for the church decoration is "exuberant." There is color everywhere — glorious stained glass windows and decorative flourishes on the ceiling, the choir loft, and along the upper parts of the wall.
But the stars of the church are the painted Stations of the Cross and the powerful murals, which have reminded so many visitors of the dramatic murals Michelangelo painted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Are they masterpieces like Michelangelo's? No. But they are impressive nonetheless. And against this riot of color and sacred images is the wooden high altar and communion rail, stained a rich walnut. With so many things distracting the eye, the dark wooden altar and rail draws the worshippers' attention to what is most important in the church — the place where Mass is said and where the faithful receive Communion.
They don't build churches like this anymore. But at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, this style could be found across America. In the case of St. Mary's, the lavish decoration was a cultural necessity: the founders of the parish were Germans and German-speaking Swiss. This rich style was what they were used to in their homelands, and they recreated it in Arkansas.
Wander about the church slowly, and you'll encounter all manner of surprises. For example, the depiction of the Fifth Station in which Simon of Cyrene and a little boy, perhaps Simon's son, help Jesus carry the cross.
Once you've finished your tour, it's time to kneel down and pray. And as you do, remember the immigrants who sacrificed to build this glorious church, the priests — most of them Benedictine monks — who served the parishioners faithfully, and the artists who offered their best to God.
The church is open most days from 8:00 PM to 4:30 PM. Check the website to confirm that Mass is not being said at the time you would like to visit.CHAPTER 5
Carmel | Carmel Mission Basilica
3080 Rio Rd. Carmel, CA 93923 831-624-1271 www.carmelmission.org
The full name of this mission is San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo. St. Junipero Serra founded it in 1771. Of the nine missions Fr. Serra established in California, this was his favorite. He is buried here, and since his canonization, the mission church is home to his shrine.
The mission itself is glorious. The church is the focal point, of course, and it is hard to convey just how lovely it is. An arch of beautifully carved stone draws you through the main doors and into the church. To one side, rising above the entrance is a bell tower crowned by a unique dome, shaped like an oval cut in half. It's not unusual for there be a rose window above the main door of a Catholic church. But, at Carmel, instead of a rose, the window is in the shape of a starburst.
The church is filled with works of art imported from Spain, Mexico, and Italy. Naturally, the reredos, or altarpiece, grabs every visitor's attention. It stands thirty feet high and covers the entire sanctuary wall. At the center is a large crucifix with statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist standing beside Christ on the cross. Images of other saints, all of them painted in the vivid colors Spanish and Mexican artists favored, fill niches in the reredos.
Beside the church is a quadrangle, with lovely plantings. The mission church can be crowded, so the mission garden is a good place to retire and give yourself a little time for contemplation.
On September 23, 2015, during his visit to Washington, Pope Francis led a canonization ceremony and declared Fr. Serra a saint. A canonization is a joyful event, but in some quarters, controversy is swirling around Fr. Serra. Some Native American activists and their supporters charge Serra with flogging Native American converts who tried to leave the missions and with damaging the ecosystem of California by introducing European livestock that destroyed much of the plant-life and drove off the wild game the Native Americans depended on for food. Some see Serra as an agent of Spanish imperialism who abused the Native Americans he converted to the Catholic faith. Furthermore, Native Americans who became part of the mission system eventually lost their culture and even forgot their tribe's language.
Excerpted from 101 Place to Pray Before You Die by Thomas J. Craughwell. Copyright © 2017 Thomas J. Craughwell. Excerpted by permission of Franciscan Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Washington, DC, 28,
New Hampshire, 129,
New Jersey, 132,
New Mexico, 135,
New York, 142,
North Carolina, 160,
North Dakota, 164,
Rhode Island, 184,
South Carolina, 189,
South Dakota, 191,
West Virginia, 212,