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…?

Basilica #3 – Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill

We ended up visiting our third basilica – the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill (usually referred to as just Holy Hill) – right after our second (St. Josaphat) on September 4, 2011. You may recall that we stopped by here back in July, but this time we went for a longer visit. We’ll be back again in two weeks on April 28, 2012, when Cardinal Dolan celebrates Mass. Located out on its own in rural Hubertus, Wisconsin (northwest of Milwaukee), this basilica is certainly much more isolated than others and was a stark contrast to St. Josaphat’s, which is located in downtown Milwaukee. While I’ll write about some parts of the basilica’s history here, if you’re interested in a more thorough version, I suggest the History of the Basilica page hosted by Holy Hill.

As the name suggests, the basilica is built on top of what was initially a 289 foot high hill (it has since been leveled at the top for the current church). The hill’s association with Mary began in the 1670s, when tradition has it that Jesuit missionaries placed a cross and stone altar atop the hill, dedicating it to the Blessed Virgin. Later, in the mid-1800s, a hermit named Francois Soubrio was discovered living on the hill by local farmers. Soubrio had supposedly discovered a diary kept by one of the Jesuit missionaries, which described the hill in Wisconsin. Soubrio – who was originally from France – felt a longing to visit this hill, and left his job in Quebec to journey to Wisconsin.

The shrine has had three incarnations – first as a small log cabin (built in 1863), then as a shrine and retreat center (1880-1925), and finally the shrine as it is seen today, which was completed in 1931. In 1906, it was decided to have a group of religious run the shrine. The church is currently under the care of Discalced Carmelite monks, who initially came from Germany in 1906 at the invitation of the Archbishop. Since the current shrine was built after the Carmelites took custody of Holy Hill, there is a subtle Carmelite influence in the artwork throughout the buildings on the grounds.

While the grounds of the basilica are vast, there are four main areas I want to highlight: the upper sanctuary, the shrine, the lower sanctuary, and the tower. I’ll touch very briefly on the rest of the grounds at the end.

Starting from the parking lot, you have the option of climbing the stairs up to the church, or taking the elevator. I recommend the climb, but be sure you’re wearing the shoes for it. Given that we had just attended Mass at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, I was sporting a classy outfit and tennis shoes, having decided that this probably wasn’t a good place for heels. My boyfriend was fine in his dress shoes though.

You will eventually come to a small landing where you can enter the lower sanctuary or one of the towers (both of which are discussed below). Continuing up one more flight of stairs will bring you to the entrance for the upper sanctuary of the church.

You can see the umbraculum and tintinnabulum to the right and left of the altar respectively. The entire sanctuary is saturated in Marian images. The stained glass that lines the sanctuary depicts events in Mary’s life, while the stained glass at the back of the church honors Mary in her title as the Immaculate Conception, the patron of the US.

Off to the right of the upper sanctuary is the Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. Lining the entrance to the shrine are crutches and other physical aids left by those who have been healed by petitioning Our Lady for her intercession.

The statue depicts Mary presenting Christ to the world. Made in Germany, it was brought to the US in 1876 by a group attending the Philadelphia World Fair. At first, it resided in a nearby church, but was moved to Holy Hill (then a log cabin) in 1878. The stained glass lining the shrine depicts portions of the Hail, Holy Queen.

One of my favorite parts of this entire visit was the altar here:

At first glance, it didn’t look like much. But upon further inspection, it’s the lineage of Christ. The words above the depiction read “Hail Mary, Full of Grace,” while the bottom translates as “O Root of Jesse.” In the bottom left corner of the altar sits Abraham, dreaming of his many future descendants. If you look closely in the center, you can see a crown just above David’s name.

Immediately below the upper sanctuary is the lower sanctuary. The lower sanctuary is also called the Chapel of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, hinting at the Carmelite influence.

The chapel and side altars are decorated with roses and rose stems, symbolic of St. Therese.

The landing outside of the lower sanctuary features some artwork, news clippings, and historical displays related to the shrine. In particular, the replica of the church on the right below has moving parts that perform when you pay a small amount (25¢ or 50¢). It takes some artistic license, since the church is perched high on the hill, but it’s fun to watch.

It can be physically challenging to reach most parts of the church (lots of steep climbs!), but the most difficult is the tower. If you’re facing the church, the rightmost tower is open for visitors to climb – no elevator for this part. Keep in mind that it’s shut in the winter due to the Wisconsin snow. Reaching the summit after 178 steps offers you a wonderful panoramic view of southeastern Wisconsin. And if you look closely, you can even see the Milwaukee skyline off in the distance.

I mentioned on my previous post about Holy Hill that we were waiting for a more formal visit until the leaves had changed color. This view is why. If you want to try for the fall colors, I highly recommend checking out Wisconsin’s Fall Color Report ahead of time to gauge the progress of the trees. Since Holy Hill is a relatively short drive from where I am (as well as my closest basilica), my boyfriend and I are hoping to try again another fall.

While the two sanctuaries, the shrine, and the tower are the highlights of a trip to Holy Hill, there are several other aspects. The Discalced Carmelite monks have their living quarters behind the church. They also run a retreat center and cafeteria that is open for visitors to eat at. The Stations of the Cross line a long path around the grounds. There is the Marian hallway which connects the elevator to the lower church. Finally, there’s the gift shop, which is accessible on the same level as the parking lot. If you’re looking to take the elevator up to the various parts of the church, you can find it nearby the gift shop.

And finally, a picture in front of the church! Well, two – one from our first visit on the left, and another from this most recent visit on the right. Since the church is only accessible from a small platform in front of it, we went with an unusual angle to try and fit the church in there. If you look closely at the top of the tower on the far right, you can see someone with his arms raised looking out.

Apologies for the long delay between posts, as I know some people were looking forward to hearing about Holy Hill! I’m hoping to ramp up the frequency of posts to get my closer to where I currently am.

5 Basilicas

The exciting news: we officially hit five basilicas as of Sunday. I know they aren’t all up here yet, but they soon will be.

In other news, we’ll be traveling this weekend to several gorgeous churches in Kansas City and St. Louis: the Kansas City Missouri (Mormon) Temple, Old St. Patrick’s Oratory, St. Frances de Sales Oratory, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, and the Basilica of St. Louis the King. In addition to completing my two-year old goal of visiting the temple during its open house, we’ll have the pleasure of bringing our total basilica count up to seven, nearly doubling it in the span of a week.

To commemorate five basilicas, here are some pictures of those first five. I think the last one is my favorite.

Basilica and Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation (Carey, OH)

Basilica of St. Josaphat's (Milwaukee, WI)

Holy Hill (Hubertus, WI)

Basilica of St. Frances Xavier (Vincennes, IN)

Basilica of St. Frances Xavier (Dyserville, IA)

Google Maps – 8 Bit Religious Buildings Edition

This morning, I logged onto Google Maps to work on some parts of my master religious buildings map (which I’ll eventually add to the map page). I was busy piddling around and marking religious buildings, when I noticed an oddly pixelated option in the top right corner.

At first, I thought my computer was loading pages oddly. But upon closer inspection, I realized I had never seen a “Quest” option before. Clicking it yielded the following:

Wow. Being nostalgic for the days of simpler video games that my mind could actually process, I was all for an NES version of Google Maps. Of course, I checked out Madison first, and when I zoomed in far enough, I found an icon for Monona Terrace (photo attribution):

Very nice. What other icons could there be? I jumped to Washington DC, where I found some monuments. But as I proceeded to different US cities, I kept striking out – nothing in Indianapolis, or Milwaukee, or even the Alamo in San Antonio. It occurred to me that I should check outside of the country. Turns out there are quite a few religious buildings in icon form. First stop? Europe.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain (see photo attribution here):

The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Pisa, Italy (see photo attribution here):

The Acropolis in Athens, Greece (see photo attribution here):

Hopping over to Japan, I found the Floating Torii (Itsukushima Shrine) in Miyajima, Japan (see photo attribution here):

Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan (see photo attribution here):

St. Basil’s in Moscow, Russia (see photo attribution here):

In South America, you can find Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (see photo attribution here):

And in Africa, the Great Sphinx of Giza, Egypt (see photo attributions here and here):

I managed to also geek out quite a bit on my Twitter feed while meandering about the globe:

I later thought to Google around and see when Quest view went up, and I found this. Then I remembered that April 1 is tomorrow. Having experienced some of Google’s earlier pranks (like Gmail and Google Gulp), I am quite fond of these every year, but they always sneak up on me. Who can forget the absurdity of Gmail Motion? I lost a lot of time this morning hunting around for all sorts of icons, but it was grand fun. Probably my two favorite that aren’t religious are Buckingham Palace in London, England (they actually have the little guards out in front!) and Osaka Castle in Osaka, Japan:

Has anyone else played around in Quest view? If so, do you have a favorite icon you found (religious or otherwise)? Link it up in the comments to share with everyone!

Anniversary

As those of you who have ever kept a blog know, writing for the internet can be incredibly discouraging if your heart isn’t in the right place with it. With all the content there is online, each blog is only an infinitesimally small drop in a very vast sea of ideas. I have always had pretty flexible expectations for this blog – a place for me to chronicle the trips my boyfriend and I take, a way to improve my photography, a concrete hobby aside from my research, and a resource for those who are looking for information about religious sites. But my expectations have been greatly surpassed, and I want to thank three groups of people in particular.

First, those of you who follow the blog. I never envisioned this blog having followers, because who else is weird enough to want to read about the history of religious sites? You all are wonderful for your encouragement. Additionally, I’ve had several of you submit ideas of places to visit. Keep those ideas coming! I apologize for the lack of new content as of late though. This semester has hit very hard and is sapping most of my free time.

Second, those aggregates which have helped to spread my blog and create one of those things I cherish – an interfaith dialogue. They bring in wide set of viewpoints that help to keep this blog accurate. ThePulp.it has featured a few of my posts. Also, 7 Quick Takes at Conversion Diary has guided several people here who have introduced me to new places to visit or concepts to explore (like stave churches). I hope to restart 7 Quick Takes in the near future. Finally, my post concerning the opening of the Kansas City Missouri Temple was featured on Desert News, a Utah-based LDS news source.  Aside from the wonderful interaction with this influx of Mormons, it was great to have them reading all of my articles concerning their faith and offering helpful clarifications. You can read some of my tangential thoughts about that interaction in my fourth point here.

The third group of people are those who benefit or help contribute to this blog, and they probably won’t ever see this. One of the unique things this blog has offered which I never anticipated is communication with a diverse group of people on the places I have traveled to, particularly those with little online presence. It’s been interesting to see what others think of some of these sites.

For example, my post on St. Mary of the Oaks. I’ve had three people who are either descendants or in-laws of John Endres (the man who built the shrine) comment on that post. From what I’ve been able to gather from comments, emails, and where the hits are coming from, one of the relatives must have found this post after hearing about the shrine from a grandmother-in-law. Since then, the post seems to have been passed around the family. There’s talk of a family reunion near the shrine in the future, to allow these younger generations to see part of their heritage.

Another great example is the update I posted on the Shrine of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. I store all of my personal photos for this blog on Flickr in the hopes that others can benefit from them. About 3 months after I posted the pictures for the shrine, a commenter mentioned he knew of the church, and inquired about it (you may recall that I wasn’t able to get inside or find any history). We started a dialogue about the church, and it turns out he’s part of the Baptist congregation that now worships at the shrine. You can read our comments here. Additionally, an antique bookseller had a book about the history of the shrine, and found my post when doing some background checking. He left a link to a summary of the book, which provided some more details concerning the shrine’s history.

Remember my friend who is part of a church plant? Since writing about Awaken Church, it has actually become one of my most searched-for posts. My friend was talking to one of his church’s newer members a few months ago about my blog, and it turns out this man made his decision to visit Awaken in part because of that post.

Finally, I met a friend through all of this blogging. Technically, it was from posting over at IgnatiumToday, but had I never blogged here first, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to post there. She happened to recognize some identifying diocesan details, as well as my name from when I entered the Catholic Church in 2010. It turns out she works at the same parish church I attend. A few months after, she invited me out for coffee, and we have been keeping in touch ever since.

So, thanks to all of your for making my first year of blogging so memorable! Here’s to a fun and productive second year, brimming with adventure and learning (and, of course, basilicas!).