Parks, pools, prairies, and peaks no doubt have their claim on our affections, but some of the best adventures for family field trips are the Catholic shrines located all around the country. These shrines are sometimes tucked into the smallest slivers of land in the middle of cities, surrounded on all sides by soaring skyscrapers.
Sometimes they are just off the main highway and millions pass by unknowing each day. And sometimes they are so far down abandoned and forgotten roads that having but a quarter tank of gas seems a potential hazard.
Wherever they are, these shrines speak of the need for God’s people to bring Him with them wherever they go—and of His own desire to be with His people. Though all the shrines speak the same message, they also all bear a unique witness. Each of them has its own story and its own history. Each of them tells us something about the Catholic experience in this world, while pointing our way to the next.
National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation
In northern Ohio, between Cleveland and Toledo, one can find the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio. Our Lady of Consolation was a revered title of Our Lady in Luxembourg, and when the shrine was built in the 1870s, a statue of Our Lady was copied from the Cathedral of Luxembourg and placed in the church.
Soon after the shrine was completed, it became famous for miraculous cures. All around the shrine are scores of crutches and other medical devices left by pilgrims who came to the site seeking healing. The shrine website maintains an archive of letters going back to the 1800s in which pilgrims detail favors and graces received either during or after a visit to the shrine.
In a letter from 1911, a parent writes, “Myself and son, age seven, visited the church of Our Lady of Consolation. At that time my son was unable to hear or talk. I have made two visits since that time. One in May and one in August of 1911, and am proud to inform you now that my son is almost entirely well. He is now going to school and talks nearly as well as the others, for which I am very thankful to God for His kindness.”
Seton Families at Catholic Shrines around the World
Where have you been? Share your Pilgrimage in the comments below and share a photo if you can!
National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
We could not write an article on shrines without giving pride of place to the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The shrine is actually an entire complex developed around the land where Mother Seton established the mother house of the Sisters of Charity in 1809. The site includes a breathtakingly beautiful Basilica, which offers Mass and Confession most days. You may also tour the “Stone House” where Mother Seton lived with 15 others in four rooms, and the White House, into which the sisters moved as their numbers grew.
The Mother Seton shrine tells the story of the beginnings of Catholic education in the United States, but since it is only a few miles removed from the Gettysburg Battlefield, it also tells the wider history of the nation. In the midst of the carnage, nuns of Mother Seton’s order ministered to the sick and wounded of both sides.
With all the beauty and history at the shrine, it is perhaps the cemetery which is the most moving place. Mother Seton is buried there, along with several of her children. In row upon row, on all sides of Mother Seton’s resting place, are headstones of the holy women who followed her over the years as Sisters of Charity.
If you should arrive at the shrine and find a newly-dug grave, it is not a cause for sadness but for joy, because it means that women are still giving their energy and their lives to fulfill the mission which Mother Seton began. The cemetery is a silent testimony to the truth that Mother Seton did not arrive empty-handed in Heaven, but brought with her scores of others who heard her call and walked the path she had blazed.
If you find yourself in Emmitsburg, you may also wish to stop by the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, which is located at Mount St. Mary’s University, and is “the oldest known replica of the revered French shrine.”
Our Lady of Good Hope
One of the most intriguing shrines in the United States is Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin. In 2010, Bishop David Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay gave official approval to the Marian apparitions at the site of that shrine. These are the only Church-approved apparitions in the United States.
In 1859, the year after the Marian apparitions in Lourdes, Adele Brise of Champion, Wisconsin, had a similar experience: “[Adele] was going to the grist mill about four miles from here [Champion] with a sack of wheat on her head. … As Adele came near the place, she saw a lady all in white standing between two trees, one a maple, the other a hemlock. Adele was frightened and stood still.
The vision slowly disappeared, leaving a white cloud after it. Adele continued on her errand and returned home without seeing anything more. She told her parents what had happened, and they wondered what it could be — maybe a poor soul who needed prayers?”
Passing by the same place, Adele saw the vision several more times. She finally asked the lady her name, and the lady responded, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” The Lady went on to ask Adele to devote herself to teaching the Faith to the children in the wilderness.
As news of the vision and message spread, the local Belgian settlers soon built a chapel on the site. In 1880, a larger church was built and in 1885 a convent and school were added. The current, even larger, chapel was built in 1942.
Today the shrine grounds include the main church, the school from 1885, and the cemetery in which Sr. Adele is buried. For a good stretch of the legs, in the back of the grounds is a Rosary walk, which includes a Lourdes Grotto and Stations of the Cross.
Mother Cabrini Shrine
High on Lookout Mountain west of Denver, Colorado, stands a lovely shrine that honors the first canonized American citizen, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, and points the way to our Lord, Who was beloved of Mother Cabrini under his title of the Sacred Heart. The shrine is built on land first purchased by Mother Cabrini as a summer camp for the girls in her care at the Queen of Heaven Orphanage in Denver.
The story goes that after two years of hauling water from the stream at the bottom of the canyon to the camp at the top of the mountain, the sisters complained of the burden to Mother Cabrini. In a miraculous moment, she bade them dig beneath a rock near the camp, and to this day, the spring they discovered continues to run, providing sufficient water for the needs of the shrine.
Today, the Mother Cabrini shrine is home to a chapel, a convent for the resident sisters, a retreat center in the original stone house built by Mother Cabrini with her nuns and orphan girls, a replica grotto of Lourdes, France, and what is known as the Stairway of Prayer.
This Stairway of Prayer consists of nearly 400 stairs that climb from the center of the shrine’s property on Lookout Mountain to the summit of the highest hill nearby, called the Mount of the Sacred Heart by Mother Cabrini. The Stations of the Cross take pilgrims up the stairway, followed by the mysteries of the Rosary.
If one has undertaken the journey in a spirit of prayer, the arrival at the top provides not only a welcome rest from the rigors of the climb, but also a welcoming peace that seems to emanate from the waiting arms of the Sacred Heart statue.
National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi
The National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi can be found very aptly, in San Francisco, California. While other shrines are located out in the countryside, this shrine is located in the heart of San Francisco, just blocks away from Fisherman’s Wharf and the iconic pyramid of the Transamerica Building.
The shrine started out as a parish church, which was begun in 1859 and completed in 1860. The church is actually the oldest Catholic church in California other than the Spanish missions. No longer a parish church, the shrine is run by the Capuchin Franciscans of the West American Province.
In the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the interior of the church was consumed by the fires, but the stone exterior remained intact.
The shrine grounds also include a 3/4 scale replica of the Porziuncola, which is the small church just outside of Assisi that St. Francis worked to restore after his call from God. Much of the artwork and stonework of the replica Porziuncola was done by artists from Assisi and surrounding areas.
These are just a tiny representative of the many wonderful and beautiful shrines available to us. There are shrines and basilicas and places of pilgrimage all over the world, and probably there are some near you.
You can read about their architecture and the history on the Internet, but wouldn’t you rather go there and experience them for yourself?
What’s the most recent Shrine you’ve visited?