Planning a road trip this summer? Why not a pilgrimage instead?

The 1926 neo-Romanesque church, known today as the Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill, located in Hubertus, Wisconsin, has 178 winding steps to an observation deck in one of its twin towers with a view that will take your breath away. According to lore, in the 1860s atop a steep hill near Hubertus, a hermit cried out to the Lord and was healed of a partial paralysis. PHOTO BY NEJDET DUZEN/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

by Susan Loyacono
Special to The Leaven

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — With quarantines lifting, how great would it feel to hit the road for a new kind of adventure? A trip where you don’t have to get on a plane and fly thousands of miles to get off the couch where you sat for a year! This is the kind of trip you might not have considered before. But your next trip can highlight Catholic history, architecture, culture and storytelling that surrounds you.

Grab your keys, pack up the kids and arm yourself with a new travel guide, “Monuments, Marvels and Miracles: A Traveler’s Guide to Catholic America,” by Marion Amberg (OSV, $27.95). The Santa Fe, New Mexico-based travel writer has mapped out more than 500 Catholic sites of interest throughout the United States, offering a fresh new way to explore the fascinating features of American Catholicism.

Amberg calls herself a “faith traveler,” because she gets wrapped up in religious sites and lore.

“The original book release date was last year, but when the pandemic hit, publication was delayed,” she explained. “But the timing is great because people seem ready to get out there to have new experiences.”

Submerged in 25 feet of water at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park near Key Largo, Florida, is “Christ of the Abyss” — a nearly nine-foot-tall, two-ton bronze statue of Christ that was placed there in 1965. PHOTO BY LAWRENCE CURCIANA/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Thinking about combining a pilgrimage with your vacation? The book is divided by region, then by state, making it easy to plan a day trip, a side trip while you are on a vacation or even to explore the character of your own community. Each section includes a map showing where each monument, marvel or miracle site is located, making it simple to plan your visit or see what’s close to where you happen to be traveling.

There is plenty of Kansas in the book, including St. Benedict’s Abbey Church in Atchison. Dubbed the “Ship of the Prairie,” the church resembles a boat: The tower is the mast, with the nave’s plank-like pews the rowing benches. The Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria — with its stupendous stained glass and five wooden altars painted to imitate marble — is so grand and so beautiful it was named one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas.

The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Little Flower in San Antonio has a lot to offer. It holds a large portrait of St. Thérèse of Lisieux painted by her blood sister and Carmelite nun Céline. Built during the Great Depression, the Beaux Arts church is a stained-glass paradise of Carmelite saints and lore. In the Tomb Chapel, there is a replica of Thérèse’s reliquary chapel in Lisieux, France, along with stained glass that documents events in St. Thérèse’s life. PHOTO BY JUSTPIX/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Amberg grew up on a farm in Minnesota, about 100 miles away from the so-called “Grasshopper Chapel.” As a child, she never knew it was there. Now, it is one of her favorite places to visit. The Assumption Chapel in Cold Spring, Minnesota, was erected at the height of a three-year-long locust plague that was devastating wheat fields in the Midwest. Days after the chapel was dedicated to Mary, the plague abruptly ended, and grasshoppers have not infested the fields since that day in 1877. 

Some of her own best adventures have happened when Amberg was just driving by something and simply decided to stop.

“Visiting churches, chapels and shrines helps us see the American melting pot,” she said. “We learn the faith stories of Native American, German, Irish cultures and beyond. We see the architecture of places that people tried to burn down but were saved by communities. You can see tiny chapels that can hold three people or grand cathedrals for thousands. This guide is a fun way to explore the country and feel the pride of being an American Catholic.”

The state of Texas owns the Presidio La Bahia (1749), which is an old fort where the Texas Revolution began. Dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, the chapel boasts a curious fresco: The archangel Gabriel appearing to Mary has a six-toed left foot. PHOTO BY WILLIAM SILVER/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Those who aren’t quite ready to hit the road can use the guide to virtually explore, as each entry includes a link to the site’s website. 

“There is nothing like visiting these places in person,” said Amberg, “but it’s still a way to see the country and learn about some fascinating places!”

Amberg is currently working on a new travel guide for sites relating to the Virgin Mary.

“Every site becomes your favorite as you write about them,” Amberg said cheerfully. She hasn’t visited every one in the book, but researches each in depth, and relies on multiple sources to help her make the cut.

“Monuments, Marvels and Miracles” is available from Our Sunday Visitor (OSVCatholicBookstore.com), Amazon (amazon.com) and Catholic bookstores and gift shops.

Check out these pilgrimage sites nearby

It’s important to know the Catholic monuments, marvels and miracles in your own community, but if you want to motor outside the archdiocese, here are a few suggestions. Whichever direction you are headed, there is something to behold for Catholic pilgrims.


St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska, was built in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style with 16th- century stained-glass windows and is constructed of three million bricks. This magnificent church comes with its own legend of how sculptor Albin Polasek was unsure how to finish his work of art. A carpenter came looking for work, and the sculptor was inspired by his appearance, using it as inspiration to carve Christ’s face looking up to heaven. The carpenter was never seen again.


Saint Patrick, Missouri, is reportedly the only town in the world named for the saint. For decades, Father Francis O’Duigan wrote letters to people with Irish surnames, requesting donations to build a shrine to St. Patrick. In 1956, the shrine, inspired by the Church of Four Masters in Donegal, Ireland, went up — featuring green marble altars and stained-glass from Dublin.


On your way through Tulsa, Oklahoma, you can stop at Christ the King Church to experience this Gothic- Byzantine-Art Deco gem. It’s said to be the world’s first church named for Christ the King, after Pope Pius XI instituted the liturgical feast in 1925. High walls and pinnacles are reminiscent of a king’s palace. The Art Deco-stained-glass features Old Testament kings.


Just a few miles into the Colorado Rocky Mountains, you’ll see an exit off I-70 to the Mother Cabrini Shrine. In 1912, the first U.S. citizen to become a saint was leading a project in Golden, Colorado. While working on the site, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus complained of thirst when the future saint showed them where to dig to uncover drinking water from a spring that still runs today. The site includes a Stairway of Prayer, a Rosary Garden and the Cabrini Museum.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

1 Comment

  • What a great article! Marion Amberg has discovered interesting facts and pointed out wonderful churches that undoubtedly can be found most anywhere in the United States. I have visited a few of these churches at times but did not know the background about how they came to be built and what they represent. Certainly a pilgrimage is worthwhile as we have had time to reflect about things that are most meaningful in life. Even though one cannot visit all the sites her book provides information that is certain to be of interest to Catholics.

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