Journeys of Faith: new guide takes us to Catholic historic sites

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By Timothy Walch

“Monuments, Mar­vels, and Miracles: A Traveler’s Guide to Catholic America,” by Marion Amberg, Our Sunday Visitor, 477 pages, $27.95

“America’s got faith,” writes Marion Amberg in this unusual new travel guide. “It’s all around us,” she continues, “in grand cathedrals and tiny chapels, in miracle shrines and underwater statues, and even in blessed dirt.”

“Finding these sacred places hasn’t been easy until now,” Amberg is quick to add. Her new book “takes you to more than 500 of the country’s most intriguing Catholic holy sites, each with a riveting story to tell.”

It’s rare that a book succinctly captures its purpose and value in the opening paragraph but Amberg knows how to get to the point. This book will lead any person of faith with an urge to travel to many of the monuments, marvels and miracles across the United States. It is both an invitation and a road map to pilgrimage.

The book is divided into seven chapters, each covering a different region of the country. Of particular interest to Catholic Messenger readers will be the section on the Midwest. The 13 states covered here include a diverse variety of churches and shrines from the French missionary sites in northern Michigan, to the National Shrine of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Chicago, to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in western Missouri, and on to Boys Town in eastern Nebraska. All the descriptions are crisp, clear and inviting.

So, what about sites in Iowa? The 10 entries for our state are ones that are familiar to many Iowa Catholics. Not surprisingly, Amberg singles out the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville, Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend. Also included are St. Anthony of Padua Chapel in Festina and St. Patrick Catholic Church in Imogene.

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One surprise, at least for me, is the entry for the Church of the Land, the location of St. John Paul II’s historic message on land stewardship and feeding the hungry. This church in Urbandale marks the spot where 350,000 pilgrims heard the pope’s historic sermon.

Also surprising is the omission of entries for the New Melleray Abbey in Peosta and the Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, just south of Dubuque. The New Melleray Abbey was established in 1849 and is known today for its beautiful wooden caskets and urns. The Mississippi Abbey is beloved for both contemplative prayer and for the caramels and sweets the community makes to support their work. We can hope that future editions will correct these oversights.

Each state is divided into geographic sections and each holy site is marked with a unique number. Although the descriptive text for individual sites is brief, they all include vital information such as website address, telephone number, hours of operations and Mass times. Amberg encourages travelers to call ahead to ensure that the information has not changed.

One of the distinctive features in the book is the “Finding Faith” sidebars that appear at the end of each state entry. Did you know, for example, that northeast Iowa has one of the highest concentrations of women religious and motherhouses per capita in the country? “Collectively,” adds Amberg, “about 9,600 sisters have professed final vows — the equivalent of a good-sized Iowa town!”

“Monuments, Marvels, and Miracles” is a wonderful book that will be useful to anyone with an interest in our American Catholic heritage. It is both a triptych and a textbook — a guide to both the faithful and the merely curious. So “go with God” as you plan your late summer travels. This book will guide you on your journey.

(Timothy Walch is a lay director at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and a member of the The Catholic Messenger Board of Directors. He writes columns and reviews for the Messenger and other Catholic publications.)


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