"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Non-Fiction Book: 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide by Thomas J. Craughwell

I wanted to post on this book, 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide by Thomas J. Craughwell, I read earlier in the year. It’s essentially a travel guide book of interesting Catholic sites across the country that might be a place for a pilgrimage.  It’s arranged by state, and every state has a least one site highlighted.  New York State I think has the most with ten.  Let me give you a couple of examples.

From New York State:

National St. Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine:

At age ten, Tekakwitha (Kateri—Catherine—was the name she would take at her baptism), along with the rest of the people of her village, moved from Ossermenon to a place they called Caughnawaga, near the present-day town of Fonda, New York, about forty-five miles west of Albany.

Nine years later, in 1675, a Jesuit missionary, Fr. Jacques de Lamberville, arrived in the village.  While the Jesuits had enjoyed tremendous success converting the Hurons, the Mohawks did not welcome the priests.  Fr. de Lamberville made only one convert at Caughnawaga—Kateri, whom he baptized on Easter 1676. 

Kateri’s conversion outraged her family and her neighbors.  They kicked her, beat her, and on one occasion, a Mohawk warrior charged at her with hatchet raised as if he were about to kill, but at the last moment he lowered his weapon and left her in peace. 

With Kateri’s life in danger, Fr. de Lamberville urged her to travel north about 350 miles to Kahnawake, a village of Christian Native Americans just south of Montreal.  Here, safe among like-minded Native Americans, she settled into a routine of prayer and good works that included, typically, attending Mass twice a day, spending time before the Blessed Sacrament, teaching the basics of the faith to small children, and caring for the sick and the elderly.
Almost immediately after her death in 1680, the Jesuit priests at the mission, French settlers, and the Christian Native Americans began to hold Kateri in special veneration.  In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Kateri, the first Native American from the United States to join the vast company of those recognized as saints.

In 1938, a Conventual Franciscan friar, Fr. Thomas Grassman, a man who was part archeologist, part champion of Kateri, discovered and excavated the site at Caughnawaga and erected a shrine chapel to Kateri in a 200-year-old barn.  The site of the village where Kateri was converted and baptized can be found atop a hill above the shrine.  The upper level of the barn is the chapel, the lower level is a museum of Native American artifacts, many of them from the Mohawks and other tribes who comprised the six-nation Iroquois Confederacy. 
The barn chapel is simple and rustic, with a painting of St. Kateri over the altar.  The shrine also possesses a relic of the saint.

The shrine is open only during the warm weather months.  Special events are held at the shrine during the summer, culminating with the Feast of St. Kateri, celebrated for several days around July 14.  Check the shrine website for dates and times of special events and hours of operation.

That site is only four or five hours from me.  I can easily make that pilgrimage, and I will one day.

The entry provides the address, phone number, and a website.  That is a typical entry, some longer, some shorter.  It provides the background and history of a site, some description, and some key information.  What it doesn’t provide are pictures.  There are no photos in the book, and I think that’s to keep the price of the book down.  Just like in any travel book, you can get all this information online, but who knew?  The rationale for getting the book I think is for the list, many of which seem off the beaten path.  Let me give you another example entry, a shorter since I don’t feel like typing much.

From Michigan:

Bishop Frederic Baraga Driving Tour:

Venerable Frederic Baraga was a Slovenian priest who emigrated to America to work among the Native American tribes of the Upper Midwest.  He came from a well-to-do family and had been trained to be a gentleman, to enjoy all the comforts and cultural sophistication that the Austro-Hungarian empire offered to the upper classes.

He gave all that up, renounced his inheritance, and took up residence in what was still a wilderness.  Fr. Baraga worked first among the Ottawa, then relocated to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to live among the Ojibwa.  Winters were terrible, yet when he was called upon to bring the sacraments to any member of his flock, he put on his snowshoes and made his way through subfreezing temperature and deep snowdrifts.  In his old age, he put aside his snowshoes and traveled by dog sled.  He suffered from iolation—for years Fr. Baraga was the only Catholic priest on the southern shore of Lake Superior—and was often dispirited by the vast, empty country that had taken as his mission field.  Yet he would not ask his superiors for another assignment, particularly after he was named bishop of Upper Michigan.

While attending a church council in Baltimore, Bishop Baraga suffered a stroke  Even under these circumstances, he insisted on being taken home, rather than remaining in a city where he would have received the finest medical attention and been well cared for in a hospital or private home.  He survived the journey back to Upper Peninsula, dying in Marquette, Michigan, where you can find his tomb and shrine.

For information about the sites on this driving tour, including addresses and phone numbers, consult the Baraga page on the Diocese of Marquette website.

It goes on to give a paragraph or two about five stops of a driving tour around Fr. Baraga’s mission rage.

The entries have a range of variety.  It includes the EWTN studios in Irondale, Alabama, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in Los Angeles California, the first African-American seminary (St. Augustine Seminary) for Catholic priests in Mississippi, Nuns of the Battlefield Monument (dedicated to the over 600 sisters who nursed the wounded in the Civil War) in Washington D.C., the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico, the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, and Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma.  I know the author missed quite of few in New York City, but New York already had ten entries.  Croughwell tried to provide something for every state, and that limits you elsewhere.

Still, this is a nice little book for Catholics to have.  Next time I travel I’m going to look up the closest pilgrimage site and see if I can make a stop there.  If anyone wants me to look up any entries in places near them, just ask.


  1. Interesting book. I wonder if there's a similar one for other countries.

    God bless.

  2. What's it say about Utah? I can't imagine....I'm betting on the Huntsville Abbey, which is closed, btw, or maybe the cathedreal?

    1. Now why did I think you might ask? LOL. I thought you might. Utah has one entry, the Cathedral of the Madeleine. It's a rather long entry or I would type it out for you. Some highlights:
      Beautiful art, "It is very much like stepping inside in Italy where Renaissance masters labored."
      Designed by the most prominent architect of his day, John Theodore Comes who designed the shrine of St. Mary Magdalene and the other shrines in the church to a "complex-but-harmonious" effect.
      Visitors may find the Stations of the Cross "a bit jarring" (post Vatican II inspired).
      Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is covered with paintings of saints and angels, "with a vault painted with a dazzling array of golden stars. The tabernacle is a soaring tower like in German churches from the Middle Ages.

      Sounds wonderful Guided tours are offered. If I'm ever in Salt Lake again I will have to check it out.

  3. Cathedreal? Good heavens.