When we think “Catholic pilgrimage” our minds often go big — to places like Jerusalem or Rome, Lourdes, or Fatima. As amazing as those would be, traveling that far isn’t always an option. Thankfully, there are amazing Catholic sites we can visit in the United States, many within driving distance of our homes.
Shrine of Our Lady of Peace
Santa Clara, California
Also known as the Shrine to Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara celebrates a Mass dedicated to Mary on the 13th of each month from May through October. Twenty-seven Masses are offered each week with 5,000 people attending, and the shrine is open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. Adoration is available constantly – with the exception of during Mass.
Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche
St. Augustine, Florida
The first Mass in America was celebrated at the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios and there’s actually an outdoor altar marking the location of that first Mass. It’s the first shrine in the U.S. to be dedicated to the Blessed Mother and features shrines dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, as well. Fenelon has visited the site and says that for older adults it is very accessible.
Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine
Auriesville, New York
Our Lady of Martyrs is a shrine dedicated to three Jesuit missionaries martyred there. It’s also the site of the 17th-century Mohawk village where St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born. While the shrine is considered easily accessible for older adults, there are parts that might be difficult to reach. Golf carts are available to help anyone who may need assistance, but you must call to secure one in advance.
National Shrine of the Divine Mercy
The National Shrine of the Divine Mercy resides on 375 acres in the Berkshire Mountains and is open 365 days a year. While some of the site is not easily accessible because of the terrain, the national shrine has elevator access, as does Memorial Hall. Our Lady of Mercy Oratory has a wheelchair ramp and other areas, such as the gift shop, and the Shrine of the Holy Innocents are on ground level. There’s a guest house on the site and in addition to daily Mass, confession, Adoration, the blessing of religious articles and a blessing with a first-class relic of St. Faustina are available.
National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help
Our Lady of Good Help is recommended by Fenelon for two main reasons. First, it’s “easy walking.” Second, this is the only church in the United States which has had an approved Marian apparition — which seems to be a well-kept secret, says Fenelon. While the Catholic Church officially confirmed the apparitions in 2010, people have been visiting the site for more than 150 years. Though unauthenticated, the site has multiple stories of healings attached to it.
St. Mary’s Mission and Museum
St. Mary’s Mission was founded in 1841 by Jesuits and the buildings and artifacts are well-preserved. The buildings have the original hand carved furnishings, and the apple tree planted in 1869 still bears fruit. Tours are recommended and the site is ADA approved and very accessible.
“If you like American history, explorers’ kind of history, in terms of Jesuits bringing the faith to this continent, St. Mary’s Mission and Museum is really astounding because they have it preserved just as it was when the missionaries were still there,” Fenelon explained. “It’s not just the building, but the furniture and the utensils, it’s all there as if they just stepped away for a few minutes.”
Tips from Marge Steinhage Fenelon
Before you go
- Visit websites or call for the days and hours of operation.
- Speak with the shrine director or shrine historian about accessibility at the shrines or any special accommodations you may need for your visit.
Where to stay
While some shrines will have lodging available, others don’t and are in remote locations. Hotels may be far. In these instances, Fenelon suggests staying at an Airbnb.
“I had great experiences with Airbnb,” she said. “For the most part they were close — about a half-hour drive from the shrines. I like Airbnbs because I felt safer because the hosts occupy the same dwelling. They are going to be a lot more careful about security. Airbnb hosts know everything about the area. They can tell you where to eat, what areas to stay away from, and they can tell you the best routes. They can tell you about extra side trips to stop and see.”
What to bring
- Notebook to jot down anything you may want to look up later
- Water, protein snacks
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, and layers of clothing including rain gear
- Rosary, prayer books, devotionals. “You’re going to want to pray on the way and when there. You never know how the Blessed Mother is going to speak to you when you go to these places. And you may be suddenly called to drop to your knees or sit in the pew and pray and you don’t know why.”