Miracle Hunter Reveals ‘Hidden Gems’ Across America

A Preview of EWTN’s New Shrine Show

Nell Andrzejewski is EWTN viewers’ guide to the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri.
Nell Andrzejewski is EWTN viewers’ guide to the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri. (photo: Courtesy of EWTN and Markkaempfer, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Eternal Word Television Network viewers will soon discover sacred treasures around the country. The title of a new series now in production identifies what they are: Hidden Gems: Catholic Shrines Across America. The creator and executive producer of the show is Michael O’Neill. Known as the “Miracle Hunter,” he has previously created and hosted two popular series on EWTN, They Might Be Saints and Explore With the Miracle Hunter.

The first episode of Hidden Gems: Catholic Shrines Across America takes viewers on a pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri.

O’Neill decided to make this series after considering much feedback from viewers of Explore With the Miracle Hunter. “I heard viewers express that they truly love seeing these famous worldwide places of miracles partly because they know they will never be able to travel there themselves,” he told the Register. “This new series, Hidden Gems, presents amazing shrines and places of pilgrimage here in America that people later will be able to visit and experience for themselves,” he explained. “I personally have a great interest in shrines and their backstories, and this series brings together the same teams for production, re-creations and post-production that bring to life my Explore and They Might Be Saints programs, with the additions of prolific Catholic author Marge Fenelon [author of My Mother, My Queen: A Marian Pilgrimage Across America and Register contributor] and host Nell Andrzejewski of Catholic Church Tours.” He said that the program has been supported and encouraged by the National Association of Shrine and Pilgrimage Apostolate since the earliest days of an idea for a shrine show was being hatched. 

O’Neill told the Register that he believes it will be important for people to watch the series. “For many people, including the most knowledgeable and faithful Catholics, these shrines will truly be hidden gems. The series will try to answer how and why they were built in those very places. We may naturally think of Catholicism and its impact on Europe, but these shrines remind us of the growth and influence of the Church here as well.”

New series host Andrzejewski is of similar mind. “One of the joys of this particular series is uncovering these places where you might have heard about, or maybe you didn’t know was there, and then being able to have an in-depth look at what we have in our country. We have really incredible holy places that are definitely worth exploring and learning about,” she said.

Looking at the history of each of these places is both universal and particular. “Not only does it go back to Christ, but it’s really embedded in our local area. And that is really exciting because it’s our United States churches that have impact with our local areas,” she said.

She believes this series will “encourage people to come see these places and pray there. Even if they can’t get out and about, this is a beautiful way to get there and connected” to the history. 

Some of the shrines that will be featured include the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche, in St. Augustine, Florida; the National Shrine of St. Jude in Chicago; the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion in Wisconsin; the National Shrine of St. Joseph, also in Wisconsin, and the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Massachusetts.

Andrzejewski’s background as longtime director of Catholic Church Tours, located in Chicago, means her role as host “dovetails perfectly because we are focused on the richness of what we’ve inherited here, within our communities, and then within the greater Church,” she said. “Our goal is to bring people to the churches in their backyard, to ones that are just beyond what they might routinely go to and to see something that draws them farther heavenward.”

She clarified that these pilgrimages are not arduous but filled with faith and will engage the intellect and fortify the imagination with the beauty, including evocative paintings and sculptures from new artists. At the same time, many older, magnificent places “were built with the craft and the skill of Europeans who were immigrants from different nations coming to build the faith quite tangibly.”

The first episode to air in the series will feature the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri. Thanks to splendid drone shots, viewers “fly” into Perryville and then “glide” to the church and the shrine.

This visit treats viewers to brief, nonverbal dramatizations that bring to life history, such as how the Vincentians were invited to Perryville by the settlers, then how the shrine came to be built in St. Mary’s of the Barrens Church. Other moving dramatizations show how the Miraculous Medal came to be as the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré.

Andrzejewski narrates, adding details, and then guides viewers through the shrine with its Renaissance designs, many paintings, and individual chapels honoring St. Joseph; St. Vincent de Paul; St. Louise de Marillac and her Daughters of Charity; and St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, that connect with the Vincentians, as the host explains.

“This first one was just beautiful,” Andrzejewski said of this episode, because she could speak about the Miraculous Medal that has affected the world positively and prayerfully.

The history of the Miraculous Medal is dramatized and also explained by the host through the shrine and church’s beautiful artwork. One example is a mural re-creating the original artwork in the Paris Motherhouse chapel visually teaching the origin of the Miraculous Medal as well as its early distribution. The dome features a copy of a painting in the motherhouse in Paris. The top of the painting presents Our Lady as she appears on the medal, and the bottom part shows St. Catherine giving out Miraculous Medals to the Parisian people of all ages and walks of life.

Members of the Association of the Miraculous Medal appear briefly to share how this devotion has helped them. They include the husband and wife who are parishioners of the church where the shrine is located, the woman whose husband was being healed through this devotion, and a senior woman who has been a member of the association since her childhood.

The host also brings viewers along the grounds to the various outdoor shrines and marble statuary of saints. 

These places beckon people to stop, pray, and contemplate the particular saint, such as the Vincentian ones and St. Joseph the Worker. Several statues depict Mary as she appeared in Church-approved apparitions from around the world. The stone grottos and the “Rosary Walk” are other prayerful places outside of the shrine.

Also appearing in the episode is Don Fulford, the president of the Association of the Miraculous Medal, who notes, “I think people underestimate the power of a shrine. The shrine itself is a place where people can come, reflect, maybe learn a little bit. When they walk through the door and look up, besides the amazing beauty of this church, it’s also a reflective space, whether they take a tour or just sit here in peace and just take a break from their chaotic lives.” 

For filming, Andrzejewski took a little silver-covered notebook with her to the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. 

In it, she had written the names of family and friends, along with their needs and prayer intentions. “It’s not just a show. It’s a real visit to the shrine,” she explained, adding a bonus for viewers: “I pray also to spiritually bring to the shrine whoever will be watching, so they can share in unique graces that they can obtain here.”  

Calling this series “fresh and new,” O’Neill shared his vision: “Overall, I hope that this new series inspires people with the stories and devotions that inspired the building of the shrines themselves.”

LEARN MORE The first episode of Hidden Gems will air April 20, at 9:30 a.m. ET, and April 24, 4:30 p.m. ET, on EWTN. This episode is also available on DVD from EWTNRC.com and by phone at (800) 854-6316; Item: HDGEM, $15.