Deepen Your Faith While Vacationing in New York State
Catholic sites abound in and outside of the Big Apple.
With the easing of COVID-19 travel and venue capacity restrictions in New York state, summer 2021 is shaping up to be closer to normal. With the easing of these restrictions, individuals and families may want to venture away from places where they have been quarantined for the better part of a year.
This summer, vacations and travel within the state of New York and other nearby states may hold greater appeal for families looking to get away but are still hesitant to travel by air.
When planning closer-to-home drivable getaways, families could also consider including a stop at one or more of the many shrines, special Masses and churches in the Empire State. New York is blessed with a plethora of diverse natural and urban vacation destinations. The state is equally blessed with many shrines, churches and other Catholic sites that can be easily integrated into family travel plans; many of these sites are in proximity to the most popular state vacation destinations.
Creating memorable faith-filled experiences, such as attending church on vacation, visiting holy sites, and even paying a visit to an area Catholic church near your hotel/motel or campground, is carrying out what Catholic parents are called to do, educating their children about their faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2226).
Pope Francis said that summertime is a “providential moment to enhance our commitment to seek and encounter the Lord.”
During an Aug. 6, 2017, Angelus address, Pope Francis said this about summer: “In this period, students are free from scholastic duties, and many families are taking their vacation; it’s important that in the time of rest and detachment from daily concerns, they can reenergize the forces of body and spirit, deepening their spiritual path.”
Planning Your Trip
According to U.S. News & World Report, the top 15 vacation destinations in New York state include: 1) New York City, 2) Niagara Falls, 3) The Adirondacks, 4) The Catskills, 5) The Finger Lakes region, 6) Fire Island, 7) Rochester, 8) Saratoga, 9) Long Island, 10) Syracuse, 11) Letchworth State Park, 12) Cooperstown, 13) Thousand Islands, 14) Ithaca and 15) Shelter Island.
A family visiting these areas has options available to make a stop and spend some time at a unique and special Catholic destination.
If you are planning to visit New York City this summer either for a vacation or a day trip, there are many opportunities to connect vacation with encounters with your faith.
There are many historically and architecturally significant Catholic churches in the city, and, oftentimes, just happening upon a church tucked away as you walk around town can be an entry point to deepening your faith. To easily find a Catholic church in the city, visit MassTimes.org or use the easily navigable “parish finder” on the archdiocesan website: ArchNY.org/parish-finder/. Or simply Google “Catholic churches near me.”
Visitors should be sure to experience significant churches and shrines in the borough of Manhattan, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood.
The Catholic Big Apple
St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets, New York, N.Y., 10022) is in the heart of Midtown Manhattan and across from Rockefeller Center. Each year more than 5 million visitors enter the cathedral. Dedicated in 1879 and having been completely restored, St. Patrick’s is the magnificent mother Church of the Archdiocese of New York.
Currently, the number of daily Masses has been reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Masses are restricted to 50% capacity. Still, the cathedral is open, and visitors can download a free visitor pass or purchase an audio guided tour from the cathedral website. There is also a gift shop. Visitors should check the cathedral website for up-to-date Mass times.
Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral (263 Mulberry St., New York, N.Y., 10012) is in Lower Manhattan. The basilica was formally opened on Ascension Day, May 4, 1815, and was the original cathedral of the diocese and later the Archdiocese of New York, serving in that capacity for 70 years.
Tragically, a fire in 1866 destroyed all but the outer walls. The cathedral was rebuilt and consecrated only two years later, on the feast of St. Patrick, March 17, 1868. On March 17, 2010, Cardinal Timothy Dolan announced that Pope Benedict XVI had awarded basilica status to the Old Cathedral.
St. John Neumann was ordained a priest here, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton prayed here and established her first orphanage here, and Venerable Pierre Toussaint contributed to the building of the cathedral and was originally buried in the cathedral cemetery.
The cemetery, which can be visited, remains the only active cemetery in Manhattan. Visitors can tour the historic catacombs beneath the Old Cathedral via “Catacombs by Candlelight” tours. From the website, click on the “tours” link. There is also a visitor center and gift shop. Mass is celebrated daily in English and Spanish.
Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood (113 Baxter St., New York, N.Y., 10013) is in Lower Manhattan in Little Italy and is the home to the National Shrine of San Gennaro, which is contained within the church. It was completed in 1904. Inside are magnificent works of sacred art, including statues, icons and oil painting murals of religious scenes. Mass is celebrated on Wednesdays and Sundays. Check the church website for updates.
Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton at Our Lady of the Rosary Church (7 State St., New York, N.Y., 10004). The Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American-born saint, is located inside historic Our Lady of the Rosary Church. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lived here in an Irish immigrant mission on 8 State St. between 1801 and 1803 and grew up in New Yok City. Mass is celebrated on weekdays at 12:15pm and Sundays at 11am.
Long Island’s south shore is home to miles of fine sandy beaches. From state parks like Jones Beach to municipal-run beaches, Long Island draws many visitors to its shores.
The three parishes that serve the Barrier Island of Long Beach have some of the finest beaches. During the summer months, Father Brian Barr, pastor of this trio of parishes, of St. Mary of the Isle, St. Ignatius and Our Lady of Miraculous Medal, celebrates Mass on the beach of Long Beach each Sunday at 6:30pm (721 West Broadway, Long Beach, N.Y., 11561).
Massgoers come from area beaches, bringing chairs and blankets to sit on the sand, or stand on the boardwalk. Powerful audio equipment enables worshippers furthest from the altar to hear every word. Extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion bring Communion to worshippers on the boardwalk. For more information visit: BeachCatholic.com.
Approximately 61 miles to the east of Long Beach on Long Island sits the Shrine of Our Lady of the Island (258 Eastport Manor Rd., Manorville, N.Y., 11949). The shrine beckons travelers heading further east for final destinations in the Hamptons, Montauk Point or the many wineries of the North Fork. The shrine was established by the Missionaries of the Company of Mary (de Montfort Fathers) and is dedicated to Our Lady, the Queen of All Hearts.
The shrine is open daily, sunrise to sunset. Mass is celebrated daily except Monday at 11:30am, when it is offered at an outdoor chapel called “The Rock.” The shrine features a gift shop.
Travelers heading to popular Upstate New York vacation destinations, including the Catskills, the Adirondacks, Saratoga Springs, Cooperstown and Lake George, should consider making stops at two shrines.
Located in the Mohawk River Valley, the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs (136 Shrine Rd., #2, Fultonville, N.Y., 12072) is 33 miles from Saratoga Springs, 42 miles from Cooperstown, 22 miles from Schenectady and 61 miles from Lake George.
The shrine sits on the site of the 17th-century fortified Mohawk village of Ossernenon and is dedicated to three Jesuit missionaries who were martyred here as well as to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk/Algonquin woman born on this site. The Jesuit martyrs St. Isaac Jogues, St. Rene de Goupil and St. Jean de Lalande laid down their lives sharing the Gospel with the Mohawk Indians.
Pilgrims nationwide make the trek to this shrine. From 1885 to 2015, the Society of Jesus operated the shrine and built the colosseum church, with five separate altars grouped around the center and a capacity for 6,000 worshippers. Pilgrims can walk the grounds and journey to the ravine where the bones of St. Rene Goupil may lie buried. (Editor’s Note: Excerpts in this section have been taken from the “Saving the Shrine of the North American Martyrs” by Register staff writer Peter Jesserer Smith.)
The grounds are open daily from 9am to 3:30pm. Opening Mass is Sunday, May 9, at 3pm. Beginning Saturday, May 15, Masses will be celebrated Saturday at 11am and Sunday at 3pm. The shrine has a gift shop.
Five miles west of the shrine to the North American Martyrs, also along the Mohawk River, sits the St. Kateri Tekakwitha National Shrine and Historic Site (3636 NY-5, Fonda, N.Y., 12068). The shrine was founded and maintained by the Conventual Franciscan Friars. A museum containing Amerindian artifacts and St. Peter’s Chapel are housed in a 236-year-old barn renovated in 1938. The chapel commemorates where St. Kateri was baptized. Also on the grounds of the historic site is the only completely excavated Iroquois Indian village in the country. Mass is celebrated Saturday at 4:30pm and Sunday at 10:30am
For those traveling to the western part of New York state to visit Buffalo, to take in Niagara Falls or to continue north into Canada, there are two major shrines that draw many visitors each year.
Only 25 miles from Niagara Falls, the Our Lady of Victory Shrine and Basilica in Lackawanna (767 Ridge Road, Lackawanna, N.Y., 14218) is architecturally magnificent. Following a fire that destroyed the spire and damaged the assembly areas of then-St. Patrick’s Church, Father Nelson Baker, at the age of 74 — as his way of paying homage to his patroness, Our Lady of Victory — committed to building a beautiful shrine that would rival the majestic churches of Europe. While Father Baker did not have money set aside for this grand project, he did place his trust in the Blessed Mother. His calls for support were answered by thousands of donors.
Father Baker established a direct-mail fundraising program to raise needed funds. He then secured the help of the finest craftsmen and artisans worldwide and made it his goal to use the finest construction materials available. In four years’ time, by Christmas 1925, the Shrine of Our Lady of Victory was completed and fully paid for. Within two months, Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica was designated a minor basilica by Pope Pius XI.
Particularly noteworthy is the beauty of the sanctuary. As the apostolic decree by Pope Pius XI noted, “This sanctuary is truly a masterpiece, in the nobility of its lines, in the splendor of its marbles, in its massive solidarity, and in its artistic finish … .”
Open and guided tours of the shrine are conducted every Sunday at 1pm and 2pm (except on Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day). No appointment needed for tours. Tours of the breathtaking basilica are free of charge. Mass is celebrated daily. Donations are accepted and go toward the cost of ongoing renovations and maintenance. The basilica is wheelchair-accessible via ramps and an elevator.
Approximately 35 miles to the north of the Our Lady of Victory Shrine and only 9 miles from Niagara Falls is the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima (1023 Swann Road, Youngstown, N.Y., 14174).
Established in 1954 and located on the Niagara River, the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. The shrine features 15 acres of gardens and a glass-domed basilica topped with a 13-foot, 10-ton granite statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
Visitors can climb to the top of the dome. From the top, pilgrims can see the surrounding countryside. There are also more than 130 life-size marble and bronze statues of saints and a heart-shaped rosary pool. There is a gift and book shop and cafeteria. There is also a replica of the original Fatima chapel in Portugal.
Mass is celebrated Monday to Saturday, 11:30am and 4pm, and Sunday, at 9am, noon and 5pm. At present, there is a capacity limit of 133 persons for each Mass. For more information, visit the shrine website or call for up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 related restrictions.
Whether it is taking in all New York City has to offer or seeing the natural beauty of Niagara Falls, Lake George or the white sandy beaches of Long Island, consider building in a stop at one of the churches or shrines nearby. You might find that vacation time is a great time to enhance your faith journey.
Sean Dolan writes from Floral Park, New York.