Jonathan Liedl is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis studying at the Saint Paul Seminary. He has previously worked for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, Catholic Rural Life, and EWTN. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame, and an M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas.
A basilica; a major Catholic university; several religious houses, shrines, and monasteries; and the headquarters of Church bureaucracy.
It sounds like the features of a neighborhood in the Holy City, but it’s actually one in Washington. In fact, the concentration of all things Catholic has earned this area of Northeast DC the affectionate nickname of “Little Rome.”
Pope Francis celebrated Mass earlier today at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a massive, distinctive-looking church that combines elements of Byzantine and Romanesque architecture. The basilica, which was finished in 1959, is the largest church in America, and includes numerable side chapels depicting Marian apparitions from around the world.
The basilica blends in seamlessly to the campus of The Catholic University of America, which was founded in 1887 by the US bishops with the support of Pope Leo XIII. CUA is the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States. Although it serves a number of undergraduates today, it still sticks true to its original mission, and is the only American university with ecclesiastical faculties granting canonical degrees in three disciplines.
Just across the street is the Dominican House of Studies, or the “D-House” as DC’s young adult Catholic population calls it. The D-House is where Dominican brothers of the Eastern Province receive their education and further formation. It has an absolutely gorgeous chapel, with the public welcome to join the brothers for prayer and Mass.
South of the Dominicans you’ll find the offices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops themselves obviously are typically back in their home diocese, but an impressive staff dedicated to serving the Church in America does its works here, which includes everything from lobbying Congress to respect human dignity and promote the common good to developing more effective ways of catechizing our youth.
St. Pope John Paul the Great is also well represented in Little Rome. The Knights of Columbus operate a national shrine that contains first-class relics of the Polish pontiff, while the John Paul II Institute offers graduate degrees in marriage and the family, inspired by the pope’s teachings on the body and life.
And finally, my personal favorite spot in Little Rome, and the only one in the article located east of the metro tracks: the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Lands. Located atop a wooded hill, this beautiful Mediterranean-styled monastery offers peace and serenity in the midst of chaotic DC life. It’s lush gardens, impressive portico, and Marian grotto are all worth seeing—and those are only the sights outside the monastery! Inside, you’ll find shrines to many of the sites in the Holy Land. Donations to the monastery go the Franciscans ministries and services in that part of the world.
So next time you’re in Washington, why not also take a trip to Little Rome, a refreshing reminder that Catholicism is alive and well in the heart of our nation’s capital.