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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.