Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
Think of pilgrimage locations and you’ll think Rome, the Camino de Santiago, Lourdes, or Fatima. Those are special destinations for our faith, but going on a pilgrimage doesn’t mean you need a passport and a wad of disposable cash to spare. Actually, pilgrimages like this are great for that bucket list, but fantastic places of faith are right here in the United States. In fact, I wrote an article years ago showcasing the 100 best pilgrimage sites in the U.S., and every single state has something incredible to offer.
But which of these are the absolute best? Which one’s can you not afford to miss, but can afford?
Mission Trail of California
Heard the phrase “El Camino Real?” The mission trail in California started July 16, 1769, when St. Junípero Serra dug a hole eight feet into the beachhead near the mouth of the San Diego River and planted a large cross. The missionaries moved northward along the coast from there and built some of the country’s most precious churches. Tons of history and art, and artifacts and relics galore await pilgrims. There are 21 official stops in all from San Diego to San Francisco, with several amazing and historic churches. Some are minor basilicas.
Anyone within earshot of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno or Redding can make this journey in 4-6 hours for some walking in the footsteps of saints.
National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help
The only approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the United States is located in the woods of east central Wisconsin. Does that mean Our Lady is a Packers fan? This is the hill I die on.
In 1859, the Virgin Mary appeared to the Belgian immigrant Adele Brise and instructed her to “gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation." The apparition occurred twice more and for the rest of Adele’s life, she was devote to the instruction of children in the Christian Faith. The Marian apparition site is quiet and lovely—the perfect place for contemplation and reflection. Fun facts: the current shrine is built on the site where Brise’s father, Lambert, had built a small chapel. Other unbelievable fact: the worst fire disaster in U.S. history, which killed over 2000 Wisconsin residents and destroyed of an estimated 1.2 million acres, bore no damage at all to the brick chapel where Brise led a procession in petition of the Virgin Mary’s help. She, and everyone hunkered down in the chapel that night, got the “Good Help” they needed.
Pilgrims as far as Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, upper Illinois and Indiana can seek the peaceful setting of this historic shrine in Champion, Wisconsin.
Famous for serving as a fortress during the 18th century in the Battle of the Alamo, few realize that the Alamo is actually a Mission and shrine. The Spanish missions to Texas built the mission for the education of local American Indians after their conversion to Christianity, but was secularized in 1793 and then abandoned. For decades it served as an army garrison and for other military needs after the annexation of Texas it was rented by the Roman Catholic Church for $150 per month. A number of years later, the chapel was sold to the state. It is one of five missions in the San Antonio area that were built hundreds of years ago, all within a few miles of each other.
Even if it is no longer a place of worship, the shrine should not be forgotten to history: it is first and foremost a mission and shrine, and worth the visit of every Catholic. After all, with its original patron being St. Anthony of Padua, its value and meaning should never be lost in the conscience of good Catholics. If after visiting you’re looking for a church, don’t worry: it’s San Antonio, and home to several incredible parish churches, including the wonderful Cathedral of San Fernando.
Texas isn’t that big: anyone in the state and close to its borders should make the trek to the Alamo.
Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery
Say that 10 times fast. Better yet, save your breath, and save a trip to Umbria, or Tuscany, or Lazio, or Veneto, or Italy in general and get to Hanceville, Alabama. Why? There’s an incredible Italian-style monastery there, and guess who built it? Mother Angelica! She found the donors and, from what I’ve gathered, oversaw the design and construction of the site modeled entirely after a 15th century Italian architecture. I’ve lived in Italy for two years now, and I can tell you this is really a piece of Italy right in the South—and anyone in that part of the country should visit as soon as possible.
This is just four spots in the United States, but there’s plenty more. Near New York? Get to Long Island and see the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception. Near Montana? Did you know Our Lady of the Rockies is the fourth tallest statue in the United States?