Pursuing faith-filled vacations

Chancery staff share holy sites from their travels

By Gabrielle Nolan

Everyone can benefit from a vacation now and then. Vacations help weary souls to rest and recharge, learn and explore, and also break out of the usual routine at home.

But how often do faith and prayer take the back burner during times of vacation and travel? What if, instead, moments of faith were sought out during vacation? What if families explored what the Catholic faith looked like in different cities or in different countries?

For those who are traveling this summer, consider tacking on a day of the itinerary to explore a holy Catholic site, such as a shrine, church, or museum.

The staff at the Chancery in Knoxville have provided some ideas for where to travel based on their own family experiences.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Beth Parsons, the vocations office manager, drove with her husband and children to New Mexico in March to visit one of her sons, who is in the Air Force.

The Parsons family visits the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, N.M.

During their vacation, they visited the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, N.M.

“I had heard, over the years, a lot of people who had been out to see that,” Mrs. Parsons said. “We just decided this was the time we needed to go and see the Loretto Chapel and the miraculous staircase that’s inside.”

The chapel, built in 1873, was left incomplete without a staircase after the architect died. The Sisters of Loretto prayed a novena that someone would be sent to them to build a staircase to the choir loft.

“Tradition says that a mysterious person showed up, built the staircase with wood that was not from that region, and it was a spiral staircase that has no center pole and has no nails in it,” Mrs. Parsons explained. “At the end of the construction, the man disappeared without asking to be paid and without telling who he was. So, tradition says that they believe it was St. Joseph, who came and built the staircase.”

The Parsons family also decided to visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, which is the cathedral for the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

The cathedral includes a small adobe chapel that was built in 1714 and contains a 30-inch wooden statue of the Blessed Mother that was brought over from Spain.

“In the original part of the cathedral, which was 400 years old, there was a statue of Mary, which was 500 years old. It had been in the cathedral for 400 years, and it’s the oldest statue of Mary in the United States. It was very exciting,” Mrs. Parsons said.

“A lot of times we think there’s not a lot of history in our country because it’s still new compared to the European churches and everything,” she explained. “But it’s great to find out that there are older things and newer things that are still beautiful that we can visit in this country, as well.”

Golden, Colorado

Brittany García, director of youth, young adult, and pastoral juvenil ministry, went on a road trip with her family to Colorado in August 2020.

In addition to their visiting state and national parks, the Garcías stopped by the Mother Cabrini Shrine located outside of Denver.

“It wasn’t originally in our plans to visit there, but some FOCUS missionary friends we met up with while in Denver let us know that it was a worthwhile stop,” Mrs. García said.

Mother Cabrini, or St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, was an Italian religious Sister who came to the United States as a missionary to help the poor, sick, and immigrants.

“We discovered that St. Frances Cabrini is the patroness of immigrants, which really impacted us personally as we have so many family and friends who are recent immigrants to this country,” Mrs. García said. “We were able to ask for her intercession on behalf of all immigrants in such a beautiful and sacred space dedicated to honoring her life.”

The expansive property contains a famous spring, a grotto, a rosary garden, a stairway with the Stations of the Cross, a 22-foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a chapel, and a stone house that once served as an orphanage for girls.

“The shrine really is an unforgettable place on top of a mountain with nature all around,” Mrs. García said. “I recall it being so peaceful and prayer was so easy to enter into.”

Mrs. García noted that while on vacation her family enjoys “learning the different ways the Catholic faith is displayed in the local culture and learning about the active ministries in each community.” Her family often will pray a rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet during their long drives.

“It is important to us that God remain the center of our lives, even while on vacation and outside the normal routine,” she said. “We figure it is right and just to thank Him for the gift of being able to get to go on a vacation, as well as for the beauty of His creation we so admire.”

Salt Lake City, Utah

Cathedral of the Madeleine

Allison DiGennaro, assistant director of stewardship and strategic planning, visited Utah with her family during summer 2019.

“We had a wonderful vacation week of visiting family and exploring the area—from the Great Salt Lake to the Wasatch Mountains in Park City. We were able to see so many beautiful sites while we were in town,” Mrs. DiGennaro said.

While in Salt Lake City, the DiGennaro family visited the Cathedral of the Madeleine, located in the heart of downtown.

“Before we go on a vacation, we look online for local Catholic churches to visit in the area so that we know when and where a local Mass is being held,” Mrs. DiGennaro said.

Built in the early 1900s, the Cathedral of the Madeleine is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It is a place of historical significance for the Catholic faith in the United States as well as a place of beauty that draws us more deeply into a relationship with Jesus Christ,” she said.

“Taking time to pray in the cathedral was a beautiful experience,” she continued. “We were amazed by the architecture as well as the many breathtaking stained-glass windows, which tell the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Mrs. DiGennaro noted that U.S. Catholic parishes are “centers for evangelization.”

“They offer the hope of Jesus Christ through the sacraments and are often the first place that a person may come to know Him,” she said. “It is important to our family that we support and celebrate the missionary work of Catholic parishes, both in our diocese and while we travel.  We are so very blessed to be able to participate in our faith no matter where we may travel while we are away from home.”

New York City

Deacon Sean Smith, Diocese of Knoxville chancellor and chief operating officer, visited New York City with his family this past March.

The Smith family visits St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.

“My son was running in a national championship meet in New York City,” Deacon Smith said. “It just so happened that the following week was spring break, and so we decided instead of going somewhere on the beach, we would just stay in New York.”

Deacon Smith shared that they visited the “typical New York things,” such as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

However, Deacon Smith also is a longtime friend of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and was invited to visit the cardinal’s residence at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on St. Patrick’s Day morning.

“To be able to be in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for the beautiful Mass…to hear the music, it was just beautiful,” Deacon Smith said. “And it’s the first time my son has ever been.”

After the Mass ended, Deacon Smith, his wife, Melissa, and son Keegan got to witness something that most people only see on television.

“I got to stand on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and watch the St. Patrick’s Day parade, which is a famous parade. That was a highlight of that trip by far,” he said.

In addition to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Smith family also visited several other churches during their time in New York City: a small parish on the New Jersey side of the Washington Bridge, a Franciscan church in Manhattan, and even a Ukrainian Orthodox cathedral.

“There was this beautiful, beautiful church and all these flags and flowers and candles… it was the Ukrainian church,” Deacon Smith said. “We were able to pray for peace. That was complete luck! We had no idea that the church even existed, but we were walking and there it was. It was very meaningful for all of us just because of the timing (with the ongoing war).”

Deacon Smith is adamant about going to Mass while on vacation.

“I don’t care what it is, everybody can go to Mass,” Deacon Smith said. “People say, ‘Oh well.’” If you’re on a cruise line, then pick a cruise line that has a priest and a Mass on it. That’s how we’ve done it. It’s just what you prioritize, and there’s always something to see—always—that impacts you.”

“The key for us is, everywhere there’s something that you can go see. Churches or shrines, there’s always something you can do. I just like having Mass at different places,” he added.

For families traveling this summer, here are some suggestions for a spiritual packing list:

  • Holy water: Bless yourself and your family members before you travel, asking for God’s protection. Sprinkle some holy water on the car, cruise ship, plane, or train.
  • Bible: God’s Word is always available to us, no matter the situation or location. Reading the Bible while on vacation can remind families to not take a break from prayer just because they’re away from home.
  • Rosary: Sitting in the car for five hours on a road trip? It’s the perfect time to pray the mysteries of the rosary! You can also use your rosary to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet.
  • List of local parishes: Ahead of time, look up the closest Catholic churches to your destination and write down the weekend Mass times. Even while on vacation, Catholics are obliged to attend Sunday Mass.

Happy, safe, and blessed travels this summer!

Comments 1

  1. Wow, this is a great article! If one ever ends up in Western Montana, pleas visit the historic St. Mary’s Mission and St. If stupid Missions in the way from Missoula to Glacier. There are other Missions to see as well. The frescoes on the ceilings are breathtaking.

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