Following is my August column that appears in this issue of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
Back when blogs were just becoming a thing, I had a great idea for a blog: Catholic Family Traveler. The blog would help families incorporate Catholic locations (churches, shrines, and other sites) into a family’s travel, so they could easily stop by on their travel either to popular non-religious destinations.
That’s because I’m a huge fan of travel of any kind, especially with our entire family—I’m our family “travel agent.” That means I relish the opportunity to figure out places to go, to stay, and to eat while we’re on the road. When we are traveling, my husband and I try to add in some Catholic places, whether it’s a church visit on a Sunday or for daily Mass, a Catholic college or historical site, or some Shrine or other location. And we’ve always been surprised at the huge variety of locales, large and small, that have a religious context and are worth a visit. I know we are not the only family to do this, since we get good suggestions from friends & family.
Obviously, that blog never came to be, though we still visit Catholic places when traveling. So it’s no surprise that I love a new book that combines travel & unique Catholic sites: 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic Guide by Thomas J. Craughwell.
Craughwell, a prolific author and editor, offers in 101 Places a well-researched and clearly organized companion for anyone who travels in the United States, or wants to know more about the Catholic culture, quirky sites, and unusual places that make up the great United States.
Our family, for instance, was in New Mexico for a family trip earlier this summer. Friends who live in Colorado encouraged us to visit the Cathedral in Santa Fe, which we of course did, but also recommended the not-very-well-known “El Santuario de Chimayo” an unusual shrine built in the mid-1800s and visited by thousands of pilgrims each year in rural northern New Mexico. We were very impressed with the setting and learning more about how the shrine came to be and collecting some of the “blessed earth” that pilgrims connect at the site of the chapel. We’d have gotten even more out of it if we had read Craughwell’s several-page story of the newer chapel before our visit, but we were all glad to hear the story. And now that we’ve read the entry for Chimayo, we have retroactively gotten even more out of our visit.
The book is organized alphabetically by states, and each state includes at least one and up to five sites for each state that are worth a clever, engaging description, history, and other details. Websites are often provided so readers can do more up-to-date research on Mass times or other details of a particular site, and readers are encouraged to search for the most up-to-date visitor info online.
101 Places to Pray Before You Die is not comprehensive look at Catholic sites in the U.S.—that would be a book more like 5001 Places to Pray Before You Die. Still, that is fine for several reasons.
One, the opportunity for sequels, based on the authors own research and suggestions by local travelers (I’d like to make a case for two of many in the diocese of Peoria: El Paso, the hometown of Venerable Fulton Sheen, and Corpus Christi Church in Galesburg, which houses the body of early martyr St. Crescent.). Second, the book offers a “taste” to inspire readers, to search out Catholic sites in their own communities, or wherever they travel. Finally, the book may encourage dioceses to make known their unusual or visit-worthy sites so that people can take advantage of the opportunity to experience Catholic culture without going to Europe.
Readers could consider 101 Places to Pray Before You Die a kind of “wish list” of sites to visit. Or, if a family is traveling in a certain direction, a detour to one of the interesting locations might be in order. Finally, I’ve been inspired to try to visit the sites listed for Illinois, our state. Even though I’m a “Catholic traveler,” I’ve only visited one of the four sites listed for Illinois, but my interest is piqued in the others, and we hope to visit them in the future.
I’m sure anyone reading 101 Places to Pray Before You Die will have their own additions to the book, and it’s likely Craughwell may plan some sequels to this book (tip: consider Canada—so many Catholic pilgrimage site!), but what a wonderful way to travel virtually through the pages of this book, and perhaps take a trip or two to in reality see some of these sites.
You might also be interested in:
There is no “Catholic Family Traveler” blog (my interests have focused more on the travel than on the writing), but here are some other resources for those intrigued in Catholic travel and culture:
*There may not be a Catholic Family Traveler site, but there is a Catholic Traveler website, the popular tour guide Mountain Butorac, a Rome-based American who leads tours in Rome, in Europe, and in the Holy Land. His Instagram feed is especially interesting.
*Rick Steves has a lock on all things European travel, from places to stay and eat, to what to see. He doesn’t approach things from a faith perspective, but in my experience with his television shows & some web research, he’s very respectful and curious of the myriad Catholic sites around Europe.
*Diana von Glahn’s The Faithful Traveler, is a great site for video series on US & European travel from a Catholic perspective. She’s an appealing host who educates and entertains viewers with lots of Catholic trivia and interesting notes. Some of her series have been broadcast on EWTN.
*Bishop Robert Barron’s video series, Catholicism: The Pivotal Players is not a travelogue per se, but all of his videos have a quality of seeing the world in the way a traveler does. In profiling various saints in the Church, Bishop Barron travels through Europe, and therefore viewers get to see some great sites that have been instrumental in Catholic culture. I’d love to see Bishop Barron do a series on North American Catholicism.
What are some of your favorite Catholic travel resources or sites?