Shrines in the United States

Although there are shrines and holy places all over the world, the next few pages will offer a small sampling of a few best-loved sites, both in the United States and abroad. Many of these places have rich historical and cultural traditions associated with them, and some are reported to be sites of apparitions of the Virgin Mary. If a person were to make a pilgrimage, he could expect to come away changed in ways that cannot be imagined or anticipated beforehand.

Washington, D.C.

The Roman Catholic patron saint of America is Mary. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington is a fascinating complex. The basilica there is the largest Roman Catholic church in the Western Hemisphere. It is Romanesque and Byzantine in style and is highlighted by a blue-domed roof.

The bell tower is reminiscent of St. Mark's in Venice, and holds a fifty-bell carillon. Regularly scheduled carillon concerts increase in number during the summer tourism months. The shrine also houses the largest collection of contemporary Christian art in the United States, most in honor of Mary. Some fifty-plus chapels are part of the complex, each of them also featuring an aspect of Mary or her life. This basilica offers the opportunity to come to know Mary better by learning about the different phases of her life. There is also a garden dedicated to Mary, offering a quiet place for prayer, retreat, and reflection.

Baltimore, Maryland

A well-worn path leads to the St. Jude Shrine, which honors the patron saint of lost causes and desperate situations. Located in the heart of Baltimore, the shrine has been open since 1917. Besides areas for prayer and gratitude, it features a Millennium Room in the visitors' center that offers a unique mix of history of the shrine and futuristic interactivity, including a virtual Wall of Honor, which memorializes friends and family, and celebrates birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones.

Emmitsburg, Maryland

In the northwestern part of this state, just below the Pennsylvania border, is the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. It was built in 1965, a full decade before Mother Seton's canonization.

This basilica holds the relics of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The grounds feature the Stone House where she lived with her companions in 1809 and the White House where they resided after 1810. It was here that she founded the first parochial school in the country.

There is also a museum dedicated to her life and work, and an information center. The nearby cemetery marks the place where Mother Seton was originally buried after her death in 1821.

A handful of miles from the Seton shrine is the Grotto of Lourdes, at the foot of the Catoctin Mountains. This is a shrine to Mary, a simple mountain sanctuary that was much loved by Mother Seton, who called it “wild and picturesque.” This shrine offers ample opportunity for meditation on this woman's exceptional life. Stone and bronze Stations of the Cross lead the way along original pathways to the Grotto and the Corpus Christi Chapel.

St. Augustine, Florida

This town of 20,000 along Florida's northeast coast, just off Interstate 95, is the oldest permanent European settlement in the United States, dating from 1565. St. Augustine is commonly called America's oldest city, and was also home to the first Catholic Mass in the United States.

The mass was held in 1565 at the waterfront Mission of Nombre de Dios. The mission is topped by a huge cross, rising 200 feet and viewable from several miles around. The mission also includes a shrine to “Our Lady of la Leche” or “Our Lady of the Milk” dating back to 1615. This particular name for Mary is related to piety associated with the Virgin Mary's role as a nursing mother. There is also a charming, very small ivy-shrouded chapel, built in 1918.

Cicero, Illinois

At St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, an icon of the Virgin Mary holding her infant son began to weep on April 24, 1994. Since that date, tens of thousands of people have come to the church to pray before the icon. Some report healing as a result. Others believe that the weeping icon is a call to prayer, particularly for the troubled Middle East.

“I am a Palestinian. Most in our Church are from the Middle East. This is a very troubled part of the world. I believe the icon is giving us a wake-up call — telling us to pray for the world. The world is not doing very well.” –Fr. Nicholas Dahdal, priest at St. George's.

Although the icon is not currently weeping, one can still glimpse four tear-streaks, two from the Virgin Mary's eyes and two from the eyes of her son. Many continue to come to the church to pray before the icon. In 1997, there was a fire in the church that destroyed much of the interior. The icon, however, remained virtually unharmed.

Darien, Illinois

The National Shrine of St. Thérèse is situated in this town west of Chicago. Contemporary in design, it features a chapel and museum dedicated to the “Little Flower,” as well as special programs honoring Thérèse of Lisieux.

Libertyville, Illinois

The St. Maximilian Kolbe Shrine is situated in the Marytown friary, home of the Conventual Franciscan Friars of St. Bonaventure Province. The shrine honors the Polish saint who died in a Nazi prison camp in World War II. The unique community of Marytown is also the center of the Militia of the Immaculata Marian consecration movement, which was founded by that saint in 1917 (to learn more about St. Maximilian Kolbe and other Holocaust saints, see Chapter 15).

Golden, Colorado

The Mother Cabrini Shrine can be found just beyond the foothills of Golden, a western suburb of Denver. At this location, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini created a summer refuge for orphans. Mother Cabrini arranged large white stones in the shape of a heart, surrounded by a smaller stone cross and a crown of thorns. Nearly 800 steps lead to a 22-foot-high statue of the Sacred Heart. The steps are adorned by the Stations of the Cross, the Mysteries of the Rosary, and the Ten Commandments. It was here that Mother Cabrini discovered a spring of water on a barren hilltop, and the water still flows.

The shrine is administered by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, founded by Mother Cabrini, the first naturalized American citizen to be canonized.

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