This week I have to agree with the movie title “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” How do we cope with the anxiety and the frustration brought on by world events? We might take refuge in one of the lovely Catholic sanctuaries our country boasts, breathe deeply, relax, and pray to the God in whose hands we are. If you need help locating such a place, the following book makes an excellent resource for you . . .
101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide Thomas J. Craughwell
Franciscan Media, $18.99
In more ways than one, this book is a unique, fascinating read. A virtual tour of the United States, it is a handbook of sacred sites for every state: churches, shrines, missions, abbeys, retreat centers, museums, and hallowed grounds. The sites range from famous buildings like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York to obscure ones like the Convent of St. Birgitta, which at one time was supported by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
There are surprising entries, like the East Room of the White House where John Kennedy was laid out, the farm in Georgia where Flannery O’Connor lived, and the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art in Florida, where four Ruben paintings in honor of the Blessed Sacrament hang.
All of the places are described in detail: their architecture, furnishings, statues, stained glass windows, paintings, grounds, and treasures, such as the skeletons of two Roman martyrs St. Martin of Tours Church houses and the rare medieval manuscripts found in the library of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon.
A fair bit of American history is gleaned from the pages of this book. Readers will discover historical tidbits: the first shrine to Our Lady in the United States (Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida); the Great Elm monument in Boston in memory of Ann Glover, hanged for being a Catholic when Philadelphia was the only state where Catholicism was allowed; St. Augustine Seminary in St. Louis, Mississippi, the first to train African Americans for the priesthood; and Our Lady’s appearance to Adele Brise in Wisconsin, the only apparition in the United States declared authentic.
The descriptions of the sites often entail a short biography of notable Catholics, such as St. Damien, St. Kateri, Fr. Emil Kapaun, Venerable Henriette Delille, Michigan’s valiant priests Fr. Gabriel Richard and Venerable Fredric Baraga, Anton Dvořák, and Danny Thomas.
Anecdotes hold the reader’s attention. For example, after John Adams visited Old Saint Mary’s Church in Philadelphia, he wrote his wife Abigail: “Here is everything that can lay hold of eye, ear and imagination. . . . I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.”
The book also introduces several Catholic devotions, such as the Virgin of the Poor, Our Lady of La Vang, and the Holy Child of Atocha.
A practical travel guide, the book begins each entry with the site’s address, phone number, and website address and concludes with practical information, such as the times and seasons the site is open and even the price of retreats; the sacraments and devotions found there, and whether guided tours are available.
The reader will probably first look up the entries for his or her own state and then either dip into this book at random or read it straight through. No doubt, the book will awaken a desire to visit many, if not all, of the sites described.
Where is your favorite holy spot to soothe your soul and connect with God?