Updated Map

About a year and a half ago, I started working on an updated map for the site. I wanted it to not only have the basilicas, but any other religious site I had an interest in visiting. I also wanted the icons to be indicative of what type of site they represented.

I did manage to complete those goals, although I was hoping to also make the map filterable. For example, if you were only interested in Jewish sites, you could clear all the others off the map. I never did quite figure out if WordPress (or even Google Maps) supports that, and the project fell by the wayside.

I took some time recently to update the map so I could post it on the site. Although there is no filtering, this map is an improvement over its predecessor. You can see little umbraculums for the basilicas, little Stars of David for Jewish sites, and so on. And, those places I have yet to visit are transparent, to help better separate where I have and haven’t been.

So, click around. See if there’s anything nearby that you might want to visit. And of course, I would love feedback on how to make the map more useful.

What I’ve Been Up To

Oh, you know…just getting married.

0325 (2)

At basilica #3.

0868 (2)

That’s us in November 2013 right after our wedding on the left, and us in September 2011 during our “official” visit on the right.

We even revisited basilica #19 (yes, I am that behind) on our honeymoon – to our surprise, we were just 15 minutes away.


Life is beautiful. He proposed just outside the church after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve in 2012, and we were married on November 16, 2013. Although we still love visiting basilicas, we’re no longer long distance.

While that update has been the highlight (and the most pertinent to this blog!), it’s just been a busy year with numerous big events. But now that I have some research published, achieved dissertator status in my Ph.D. program, and have one conference visit for this spring out of the way, I’m hoping to start getting some more of these basilicas posted, since I’m approaching two years behind on some.

Or, at the very least, I’ve committed to blogging every day for a week, starting today. The guilt (and my now-husband) have been prodding me to get started again, and this challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity. I might taper out towards the end, courtesy of a conference trip to Germany (hello, Cologne Cathedral), but hopefully I’ll start the monumental task of tackling my backlog of posts!

The first and second photos in this post are courtesy of our fantastic wedding photographer.

Candlelit Vatican

A short clip of 1930s video footage showing how St. Peter’s Basilica was illuminated by candles. Stunning:

Basilica #4 – Basilica of St. Francis Xavier (The Old Cathedral)

After a very stressful start to the year (many things due for my doctoral program), my boyfriend and I celebrated on February 18, 2012 with a day trip to Vincennes, Indiana to see the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, also known as the Old Cathedral. This is the first basilica we’ve visited that has a rather anemic Wikipedia page (gasp!), and – in general – not much of an online presence.

The parish community was founded in 1749 around a settlement of French Canadian fur traders and local Indians. The church underwent two previous buildings prior to its current incarnation in 1826. When the new Diocese of Vincennes was created in 1834, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church became the diocese’s new cathedral.

Basilica of St. Francis Xavier

In 1970, the church was raised to the status of basilica due to its important history in Vincennes and the surrounding areas.

Inside of St. Francis Xavier

Umbraculum and Altar Candles

To the left of the altar is a painting of the patron saints of the first four bishops of Vincennes (Saints Simon, Celestine, Stephen, and Maurice) adoring the Madonna and child. To the right is St. Francis Xavier during his ministry.


Along the walls are gorgeous stained glass windows from Columbus, Ohio that were installed in 1908.

Back of St. Francis Xavier

St. Francis Xavier Organ

On either side of the front of the church is a staircase leading down to the crypt area.

Crypt Church

Encased in the base of the altar there are the remains of a third century martyr, a 12 year-old Roman boy canonized as St. Aufidia. St. Aufidia’s remains were brought here by the first bishop of the new diocese, the Most Reverend Simon William Gabriel Bruté de Rémur, whose remains are included in the crypt. In fact, the first four bishops of the diocese—Simon Bruté (1834-1839), Celestine de la Hailandière (1839-1847), John Stephen Bazin (1847-1848), and Maurice de St. Palais—are all buried here in the crypt.


Over the years, the parish community here has belonged to six different sovereign groups: the Indians, French, Spanish, British, Vincennes (when conquered by George Rogers Clark), and the United States. The below painting—which can be seen on the ceiling of the crypt—commemorates the different groups the church has served under.

Sovereign Jurisdiction

The front of the church holds three statues above the doorways. From left to right are St. Joan of Arc, St. Francis Xavier, and St. Patrick.

Exterior Statues

Also on the basilica’s grounds are the rectory, an old building from the now-defunct St. Gabriel’s College, a cemetery, and the old Catholic grade school. The library for which the basilica is well known is next door to the church, and was started by Bishop Bruté’s personal collection of over 5,000 books.

Bird's Eye View of the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier Grounds

Just next door to the basilica, along the Wabash River, is the George Rogers Clark Memorial, a United States National Park.

George Rogers Clark Memorial

And here we are!

Us in Front of the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier

Finally, on a side note, we stopped at this wonderful little burger store on our way here. If you’re going to be nearby Moonshine, IL for breakfast or lunch, you have to stop by this town of population 2 to grab one of their renowned burgers! You can see a CBS Sunday Morning Show segment here, or the store’s webpage here, for more information.


Tomorrow (Friday), my boyfriend and I leave for one of our most anticipated trips of the year. We will be leaving from his place at 4 AM, driving to Virginia Beach to visit friends from college for about 36 hours, followed by a week in Northern Virginia visiting my family, and then another two days in Cleveland, visiting his family. Why am I telling you? Well, look at all the basilicas we hope to visit. Amazingly, these almost all fall right along our route:

  • Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Covington, KY (June 8)
  • Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Charleston, WV (June 8)
  • Basilica of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, Norfolk, VA (June 10)
  • Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC (June 11-16)
  • Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore, MD (June 11-16)
  • Basilica and National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, MD (June 11-16)
  • Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Hanover, PA (June 11-16)

That’s an optimistic list. We’re planning for visiting the ones in bold. Charleston will be challenging, given that we’ll be having such a long drive that day, so that’s a maybe. The last two just depend how our week in Northern Virginia falls out. But if we make them all, we’ll be visiting almost 10% of all basilicas.

Even more exciting is the prospect of vacation! Taking a second job this semester has meant that downtime was hard to come by, but I’m looking forward to finishing up posts for all the basilicas we’ve visited thus far this year (which is seven!). Indeed, my boyfriend said I better start getting those out, or I’ll never catch up! And with all the opportunities we’ve had in 2012, he is quite right.

Random Thoughts Roundup

A thoughtful piece on modern day architecture in the Catholic Church. Although there are many churches which have adopted the minimalist approach that is often criticized by more traditional Catholics, there are also some which are looking to integrate the grandeur of the Church’s architectural history with the clean leans of modernism.

Epic Systems is the local (to Madison) software company that builds healthcare products. When they were researching how to build their new auditorium (it’s still under construction, but will seat 11,000+ when it’s done), they actually flew their designers out to the Salt Lake City (Mormon) Tabernacle for inspiration. If you’re not familiar with Epic, they’re a company that will draw inspiration from anywhere. Their campus is whimsical, with decoration themes ranging from the circus to Indiana Jones to Dungeons and Dragons. You can see pictures of their campus here.

Finally, Father Z had a post earlier this month about an invaluable relic that the Cathedral Shrine in St. Paul, Minnesota recently came in possession of – a piece of the stone from St. Paul’s sarcophagus! And if that wasn’t amazing enough, he has an update at the top of the post about how Catholics will be able to receive the same indulgences by visiting the church as visiting St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls, a major basilica. Sounds like they have become an affiliated basilica to me…

Darth Vader on Washington National Cathedral

My boyfriend and I were having a spontaneous and rather long Skype conversation last night. It started with Darlene’s suggestions about churches to see in Chicago, followed by my boyfriend’s love of Gothic architecture. I mentioned that he would probably love the Washington National Cathedral (OK, it’s neogothic…and Anglican), and that we should go see it this summer. Of course, I ended up trolling Wikipedia for interesting information on the church’s architecture, as it’s been over 10 years since I last visited. But I happened upon this little gem: the National Cathedral has the helmet of Darth Vader in place of one of its gargoyles on the outside:

Now, as a sworn fanatic of Star Trek who isn’t really impressed with Star Wars, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. Either way, I’m pretty sure my field trip here in the fifth grade never mentioned Darth Vader up on the building; I think we all would have been a lot more interested.

It turns out when the National Cathedral was under construction (a laborious process taking from 1907-1990), National Geographic had a contest in 1980 for what four of the small gargoyles should look like. Darth Vader placed third. As Wikipedia says: “The Cathedral boasts what is probably the world’s only sculpture of Darth Vader on a religious building.” Yeah, probably.

Mass with Cardinal Dolan at Holy Hill

I think this is the longest post I’ve ever written, so if you’re not interested in reading my personal experience about getting to and participating in this Mass, you can read news about it here (we sat just in front of the Heinz family mentioned) and here. If you are interested but don’t want all the details, you can jump to the parts where Cardinal Dolan visited where we were sitting, we received communion from Cardinal Dolan, and we met frequent commenter Darlene and her husband. Those were probably my highlights anyway, but you won’t get the full experience of exactly how spectacular it was that it all fell that way unless you read the whole thing. ^_~

So. Guess what I did on Saturday?

Mass with Cardinal Dolan at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians.

Mass with Cardinal Dolan was amazing. For those of you who are not familiar with Cardinal Dolan’s time as bishop, he was first assigned to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009. When he found out that he would be elevated to cardinal, he felt it appropriate to come back and visit the people of Milwaukee who helped shape him into the bishop he is today. Cardinal Dolan’s love of Holy Hill is obviously deep, as so evidenced throughout his homily and time on the grounds.

When we found out Cardinal Dolan would be just a stone’s throw away from Madison, my boyfriend and I knew we had to at least try to go. In the time leading up to this past weekend, we were getting a little discouraged by others. Although it would be fun, they said, they didn’t think it would be worth all the effort to go out there when you probably would just have to stare at a red speck at the altar, or even just on a TV.

Well, that didn’t stop us! We got to Holy Hill around 12:45 or so the windy and rainy Saturday. A shuttle bus driver picked us up from the parking lot and drove us to the tent in the upper parking lot, where wristbands would be given out for the event. As we funneled into the tent, I was surprised it wasn’t full yet. This is likely a result of the miserable weather, and while I wish it had been nicer, I was thankful for the easy wait. We settled into row number 14, near by some sisters in their beautiful habits, a young man by himself, and an older couple. Since we were showing up around lunchtime, we broke out a little picnic of sorts to eat on our laps.

Around 1:10, they started handing out wristbands, a full 20 minutes early. The first row stood up, received their wristbands, and was escorted up to the church. As each row was called, they would all cheer, thrilled to score a spot in the upper church. It was getting closer and closer to us – row 11, 12, 13…

And then they stopped.

They only had another 6 or so wristbands, so the first few people in my row were taken up to the church. For the next 15 minutes, we waited for the verdict: are there any extra seats in the church? We chatted with the young man immediately in front of us (who has lived on property near Holy Hill his whole life), and the three Schoenstatt sisters in front of him (they were the late arrivals from a larger group that was already in the church), speculating that with all the babies in front of us who also needed wristbands, there may be a few extra spots. However, with the way the screen was set up, you could only see the front third or so of the church. This was the reserved section for the handicapped, hearing impaired, special guests, and the friars at Holy Hill. As a result, we had no good gauge as to whether there would be any extra room for us. Honestly, I was thinking that if we hadn’t taken the five minutes to stop for gas a few miles away from the church, or had we left just a little bit earlier, we would’ve made it.

Finally, they announced that there would be 20 more wristbands distributed for the upper church, but we would be sitting in the Shrine of Our Lady, Help of Christians, just off of the sanctuary. My boyfriend and I didn’t spend much time pondering it – sounded good to us. The sisters and the man in front of us agreed, so off we ventured. They had no one guiding us, which made the trip an adventure, as our usual path – taking the outdoor stairs upwards – was closed due to the weather.

As we made our way to the upper church, one of the sisters – Sister Jennifer, as I later learned – asked if we had met before, as I looked familiar. She was raised in Wisconsin and then transferred to the shrine in Nebraska recently, and I’m an Army child who had never visited Wisconsin until I decided to attend school there a few years ago, so we couldn’t find a connection. But after she said that, I had this feeling that I had seen her somewhere. My boyfriend felt the same thing, which made it all the stranger. With living in different places, we have very few people outside of undergrad who we share in our lives. It’s something I will need to ponder more.

The church was packed fairly full. You can tell where the reserved section is by all the empty pews.

Once we got into the shrine, we settled into the remaining seats. They had removed the usual chairs and set up several white ones facing forwards, towards the entrance of the shrine from the church. A TV and speaker was set up in front for us to watch Mass on, although we were actually not terribly far from the altar. We decided to sit next to the Schoenstatt sisters after a larger family needed the row we currently occupied.

At this point, it was just after 2. Mass would start at 4:30, with the Rosary being held first at 4. I spent some time snapping a few pictures of where we were and the multitude of people in the upper church. Navigating the church was a challenge, with so many people coming and going, trying to find their seats. My boyfriend and I then spent some time reading – The Catholic Controversy for him, apologetics for me (we were prepared for the wait). I eventually gave up reading – apologetics and the constant noise from everyone was not a good mix for me! Sister Jennifer (who I was seated next to) struck up a conversation with us, and so we talked about her community, her interests, our studies in graduate school, and a host of other details. Two of Sister Jennifer’s blood sisters are also a part of Schoenstatt. Additionally, Sister Jennifer will be making her final profession this upcoming year! Please pray for an increase of vocations for the Schoenstatt sisters – Sister Jennifer mentioned how much their services are wanted throughout the country, but how their group (while growing) cannot keep pace with the demand.

Sister Jennifer was eventually went with the two other sisters with her to go visit the group in the sanctuary. As we were sitting there, watching the TV, we heard a murmur from the group in the church. Several camera flashes were going off on the left side. Sure enough, a small, red blob on the TV could be seen making its way across the front pews, greeting everyone.

Yup, it was Cardinal Dolan.

We stood at the entrance of the shrine for a moment, just to catch a glimpse. Eventually, they started rolling streaming footage on the TV, so we sat back down. Cardinal Dolan was a treasure to watch. His love of everyone was palpable.

I figured he would make his way across the width of the church, then disappear down one of the side doors to get ready for Mass. But no, as I watched him, he wound his way around the the end up the pew and started up the side aisle. The shrine entrance is on the right side, so I was excited to catch a glimpse of him live as he walked by, thinking he must be trying to head to the back of the church. See the red hat below?

He surprised me again – when he got to the entrance, someone asked the people blocking it to sit down, and Cardinal Dolan came in to greet the 50 of us or so seated there!

He mentioned that he hoped our seating arrangement would be agreeable for us, opining that we had the best seats in the house to be sitting in this beautiful room with our Blessed Mother, and then he started greeting everyone in the shrine.

Don’t you just love this one of the little boy wearing the biretta? He was from the family sitting right behind us. I wish I had been standing on the other side to get a picture of his face!

By the time he had made his way to the back of the shrine, I had wiggled into the aisle to get some pictures of him interacting with everyone. Eventually, Cardinal Dolan stopped and turned around. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but the gist of it was “Of course I am so glad to visit all of you, but I also came here to visit our Blessed Mother”.

And with that, we all bowed our heads, he removed his biretta, and he lead us in the Hail Mary.

At the forefront of the above picture are two of the security guards tailing Cardinal Dolan. Just by the comments they were making, you could tell they were getting a bit antsy about how far off schedule they were in getting Cardinal Dolan prepared for Mass. However, that did not deter the good Cardinal one bit – he kept going around and chatting with everyone!

At some point during all this, one of the small boys sitting behind us had managed to grab our umbrella and was chewing pretty vicariously on the handle. No one in his family noticed he had swiped it for a while, although we were getting a kick out of this 1 year-old wielding a full size umbrella about.

The Schoenstatt sisters, who had the chance to actually greet Cardinal Dolan, urged my boyfriend and I to just push forward and shake his hand after praying. Alas, we’re awkward, and he was greeting people on the other side of the aisle, so we settled for just being near him. After we had initially been seated in the shrine, my boyfriend suggested we would be about 100 feet away from Cardinal Dolan when he processed in down the center aisle, and we were thrilled about that. When he was in front of the shrine entrance, we were able to cut our estimate to less than 50 feet. But then we had the chance to see him up close – 3 feet.

After explaining to the sisters that – being computer scientists – we can be the definition of awkward in social situations, we sat back down. About 10 minutes later, the rosary started.

The rosary was wonderfully done. Holy Hill is run by Carmelites, so they had asked Carmelite sisters from five different convents to each write a meditation on one of the joyful mysteries. These convents corresponded to places that had been important in Cardinal Dolan’s life as a priest. The first mystery went to the sisters in St. Louis (where he was born, raised, and ordained), the second to the sisters in DC (where he served as the secretary to the Apostolic Nunciature), the third mystery to the sisters in Rome (where he served as rector of the Pontifical North American College), the fourth mystery to the sisters in Pewaukee, WI (for his seven years as Archbishop of the Diocese of Milwaukee), and the fifth mystery to the sisters in NYC (where he is currently Archbishop).

Just before the rosary started, the three Schoenstatt sisters next to us were “upgraded” (as we were calling it) to the main sanctuary. Some space had been made amongst their many other sisters, so they went to join them. During the rosary, one of our original seating companions came back to let my boyfriend and I know that they had room for the two of us as well out there, if we wanted to move. We were content where we were, and thought we would see better on the TV anyway, so we politely declined. This turned out to be an excellent decision.

Not long after we finished the rosary, Mass began. The procession was streaming from a side door to the right of the altar, up the right aisle (right past the shrine), and to the back of the church. We watched as the Knights of Columbus, a multitude of priests, and several bishops filed past. Bishops were present from the Dioceses of Milwaukee, Green Bay, and La Crosse – three of the five Wisconsin dioceses. I understand why the Bishop of Superior may not have been there (that’s the far, northwestern part of the state), but I was missing my own Bishop Morlino from Madison, right next door (he had other obligations). Finally, Cardinal Dolan walked by. He stopped at the entrance to the shrine, and I missed the beginning of what he said – all I caught was enthusiastic gesturing and “I need to be back in time for Mass on Sunday!”.Probably something about wanting to stay longer in the shrine. Whatever it was, it got a good laugh from those in the shrine.

There isn’t much to say about most of Mass. Mass is Mass, after all. It was the Sunday of the Good Shepard – perhaps why Cardinal Dolan picked this day to celebrate his elevation to cardinal? The archbishop of Milwaukee (Archbishop Listecki) opened with some wonderful words about Cardinal Dolan, and how excited we all were for his homecoming, particularly since it was his efforts that elevated Holy Hill to a basilica.

His homily was well done. He started off by recognizing those who had helped to make this day possible, as well as civic leaders in attendance. We hadn’t realized that several prominent politicians were there, including Governor Scott Walker (an evangelical Christian), Paul Ryan, former Governor Thompson, and a few others I missed. Father Cruz, his secretary, came out to hand Cardinal Dolan his biretta toward the beginning, and Cardinal Dolan was extolling this young man. At one point though, he said “He’s from the Bronx! The Bronx! So for God’s sake, I hope you locked your cars.” (I suppose the Bronx is very exotic in Wisconsin). Later, when noting what a wonderful job Archbishop Listecki had done with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Cardinal Dolan said “I would give this hat to you, you deserve it, but being a native of Chicago, I know you’d keep it.”

After the consecration of the hosts and wine, Cardinal Dolan took a ciborium and exited off the right side of the altar area. As we were watching on TV, I thought he was going to make his way to the front row of pews, but all of us in the shrine watched as he headed down the right aisle past the front section. The woman sitting next to me murmured “I wonder if he is coming here.” I remember audibly (but quietly) saying “no way” – I’m hoping no one heard that! And sure enough, we watched on the TV as he turned left out of the sanctuary and was in the shrine in front of us to distribute communion.

Cardinal Dolan first distributed to the men and women sitting in the front rows of seats, as some of them would have had difficulty coming up for communion. Then we filed down the center aisle to receive. A second priest showed up to the left of Cardinal Dolan to help out, but the poor guy was somewhat rejected – some of the people on the left side of the shrine were jumping into Cardinal Dolan’s line, although the ushers eventually funneled people into the line of the second priest. Luckily for us, we were on the right side, and were blessed enough to receive the Eucharist from Cardinal Dolan. I know they were recording footage of this part, and while I hope I didn’t end up on there, if I am, I probably look awestruck (the nice way of saying terrified), although I tried not to.

After Mass, Cardinal Dolan went to the lower church to see those in the overflow area. My boyfriend and I waited a few minutes for the crowd to thin out, and then started packing up our belongings. As we were doing so, a woman approached and asked if I was Allie. It turns out she was frequent commenter Darlene from Chicago! We had both been in the shrine for the entire Mass, which was a wonderful coincidence. Her husband was with her, who just entered the church this Easter. After hearing so much about them wanting to come visit Holy Hill, it was definitely surreal to get to meet them here – what are the odds?

(As an aside for Darlene, my boyfriend and I will be in Chicago for a wedding in May, and we appreciate all your advice and help for churches to see in Chicago – we’re trying to incorporate as many as we can into our itinerary! There’s no way we’ll see them all, so I’m sure we’ll be back a few more times.)

Governor Walker stuck around for a bit after Mass to greet people in the church (that’s the mass of people in the center of the above picture), so we tried to snap a few photographs of him. We also saw Rep. Ryan on our way to the shuttle, but my camera was already tucked away.

Leaving wasn’t nearly as bad traffic-wise as I thought it may be. It turns out Darlene was parked only a few cars down from us, and we had a chance to wave bye to the Schoenstatt sisters we had originally been sitting next to. We had no problem leaving the grounds, and we ended up stopping for dinner at an Applebees, where we just sat there, going “Wow. I mean, Cardinal Dolan. Seriously. Awesome.” to each other. I’m sure everyone thought we were crazy.

And that is it! A very long and busy day, but completely worth it.

Weekend Report

Well, our trip was pretty successful! Busy, but successful. Probably the three biggest hitches were (1) the constant wind that kept threatening to render me indecent in my skirts when taking pictures outdoors (many thanks to my boyfriend, who would step on them while I was crouching down to keep them from flying up), (2) Old St. Patrick’s Oratory was closed, and (3) Eucharistic Adoration ended up being scheduled for the rest of the day after Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (perhaps for Divine Mercy Sunday?), so I only have a few pictures from before Mass. Luckily, St. Louis is a day’s trip from my boyfriend’s, so we will most definitely be back to put together a more thorough post!

Also, the weather was about as wonderful as we could have hoped for given the forecast, so many thanks for those who prayed. Aside from four hours of nasty rain during the initial drive to Kansas City, we just had ominous clouds the whole weekend. At least until we pulled into the driveway when we got home – then it poured. Couldn’t have asked for better timing!

Severe Weather

If you’re the praying type, could you please keep my boyfriend and I in your prayers as we travel this weekend? This weather update does not look friendly toward our trip – the key words I got were “tornadoes,” “hail,” and “severe thunderstorms.” We will be driving to Kansas City on Saturday morning, backtracking to St. Louis Saturday evening, spending most of Sunday in St. Louis, and then returning to Illinois on Sunday night. Basically, driving into the storm, stewing in the storm, driving away from the storm, and then having the storm catch up with us for all day Sunday.

We’ve been very lucky thus far with weather. Our worst days were simply overcast, and our best were gorgeous. At the very least, this weekend should prove to be interesting! Particularly taking those photos in front of the basilicas – we always just mount the camera to a tripod and time it. Perhaps we should tape an umbrella to it this time…?