Trail of the Saints

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

November 16, 2006

 

 

            My parish is pursuing holiness, by bus.

            We have started a program called “Trail of the Saints.”  Every month or so, we take a one or two day bus trip to learn about those who have gone before us in faith.

            Since our parish is located in Southern Maryland, where the Catholic Church first took root in the English speaking U.S., we have a lot to see nearby.  

            We have been to St. Mary’s County, where the English Catholics first landed. We saw the partially reconstructed “brick chapel” which was the first Catholic church in this part of the world. We have also visited two churches which both claim the title of oldest English speaking Catholic Church in the U.S.

            The “Trail of the Saints” isn’t just about learning history. It is about learning holiness.

            On the way, we pray and celebrate mass. We also learn a little about what motivated our ancestors in the faith. We try to understand their moral, social and religious problems and see how their faith formed them.

            We figure we have at least a year’s worth of short trips around us. Beyond Southern Maryland we have the newly restored Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, the religious houses in Washington DC, and the home of Mother Seton in Emmitsburg, Maryland. We also have all the Catholic sites in Annapolis, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. We keep discovering more places we want to go.

            The idea for this ministry came from our stained glass windows. A few years ago we built a new church. In the windows we included a history of American saints. This fall it occurred to me that it would be great fun to learn about each of these people and see where they lived.

            We probably won’t get everywhere shown in our windows. I doubt we can get a parish trip to Hawaii, to see the home of Blessed Damian of Molokai. But I would love to try.

            This idea of learning “on the go” has proved hugely popular. We have no trouble filling the bus. I think nearly every parish could do a “trail of the saints.”

            First you need a good leader and organizer.

            Our leader is Ginny Romero. She is the perfect hostess; happy, warm and welcoming. She loves to go places. She also loves to “do lunch” with the girls, which is an essential part of these trips.  

            Then you need places to go.

            Pilgrimage sites exist everywhere, because holy people have lived everywhere.

            In California there are all the wonderful missions and the great cities, with their diverse religious communities.

            In the Southwest you have more Spanish missions and beautiful monastic communities.

            In New England there are the great Catholic centers and the Canadian shrines.

            In the Midwest you have the trail of the pioneers of faith, the explorers of the west, and founders of religious orders.

            In Florida there are the Spanish missions and the Cuban and Haitian communities.

            On the Gulf Coast there is New Orleans with its great Catholic history of every race and culture.

            There are a lot of resources for this sort of holy travel. The U.S. Bishops Conference publishes a book about pilgrimage sites. There are numerous books about monasteries and retreat houses.

            No matter whose shrine you visit and no matter what history you pursue, the message is the same. Holiness exists in every age and in every place.  It can be found everywhere, if we look for it.

            Once we learn to recognize it in others, we may even find holiness in ourselves.

            Happy trails.