Contemplative Rest Stops: 5 Churches to Visit this Summer

Josh Florence

Contemplative Rest Stops: 5 Churches to Visit this Summer

Summer is here! With that comes more opportunities to travel. While traveling to your favorite national park, beach, or historical place of interest, don’t forget to make time for Christ. While Christ makes himself available to us every day in the Eucharist, let’s not forget to keep a focus on Him while we are travelling. Below you will find five churches of interest you can visit this summer.

Some criteria before we begin. First, since I am writing this from the United States I kept this list to churches within the US. Of course, there are so many Catholic churches to see around the world but as I was discussing this with my wife, we ended up only listing ones inside the US. I suppose waiting for our passports to arrive had something to do with that.

Secondly, if a church is listed on here its architecture and interior must elevate the mind towards deeper prayer or, at least, not get in the way of deeper prayer. One could elaborate more on this but I will leave that topic of discussion for another day or someone else entirely.

Third, I wanted the churches I mentioned to be near a place of interest where families may already be for their vacation. I could throw a dart on a map, and I’m sure it’s possible that there’s a beautiful church nearby but if there wasn’t a decent chance a family would already be there on vacation, I tried not to include it. (I made one exception to this rule)

Without further ado, here is a short list of five churches you can visit this summer! 


1. Carmel Mission Basilica

Location: Carmel, CA

If you’re looking for an ocean view for your vacation then the Pacific coast town of Carmel can certainly accommodate you. Also located in Carmel is Mission San Carlos Borromeo one of the missions established by St. Junipero Serra. This church has been visited by many foreign dignitaries but most notable is a visit made by St. John Paull II in 1984. 

This basilica is of particular importance since it is the resting place of St. Junipero Serra, who established mission churches along the California coast. There is also a museum located on the grounds to learn more about local history and St. Junipero Serra.


2. Holy Family Shrine

Location: Gretna, NE

If you or your family enjoy road trips, then this shrine is perfect for you! Through my travels I have gone back and forth the entirety of I-80 at least twice in my life. As a main thoroughfare for the US it is heavily trafficked and used millions of times every year.

In the hope that you use I-80 in the near future, you may find in the distance a seemingly out-of-place shrine amidst the tall grasses and plains of eastern Nebraska. Don’t be hesitant to take a quick detour and check it out. My wife and I used it as a “contemplative rest station” while we were making our way east. (Don’t be put off by the dirt roads, you are not on someone’s driveway and will get there very soon!)

According to the story of its founding, it came about through the guidance of the Holy Spirit with the intention of being a “threshold for a prayerful encounter with The Lord.” Looking at their official website mass times are not on a regular schedule. However, a rest here will give your soul an opportunity to speak to God.


3.  St. Francis Xavier Basillica

Location: Dyersville, IA

“Is this heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa.” Not just any place in Iowa. Outside of Dyersville, IA is the filming location for the movie Field of Dreams. In case you do not know the premise of the movie at all, a farmer in the late eighties is told by a voice to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield. After he does, spirits of deceased baseball players come through the cornfield to play baseball. Oh yeah, the farmer and his family are the only ones who can see them.

After rereading my summary, it sounds like it could be a creepy horror film, but it’s not. It’s really more of a “How big is your faith?” type of film. It was nominated for best picture of the year in 1990 and if you like baseball, like myself, this is a place to visit. Major League Baseball has even gone to the extent of having professional games played at the field. They have players walk through the cornfield and everything!

Enough of me nerding out on the field and the movie. The real place of pilgrimage is down the road, within the town of Dyersville itself. There are only 53 Basilicas within the United States and one of them, The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, is located there. 

It was named a minor Basilica by Pope Pius XII in 1956 for its architecture and the faith of its people. The interior beauty of this place is spectacular. The high altar itself is worth the visit. According to the parish website, pamphlets are located in the back of the church for self-guided tours and guided tours can be arranged beforehand for groups of 15 or more with a suggested donation fee.


4. Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles

Location: Gower, MO

I broke my own criteria rule for this one. Maybe you wouldn’t go to Gower, MO in and of itself. (Although the American Jazz Museum is nearby in Kansas City) In recent weeks, The Benedictine Sisters of Mary Queen of Apostles have discovered that after four years of burial their foundress, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster, is incorrupt!

It has made national news and the sisters have now covered the body of Sister Wilhelmina in a glass. 

While the Church needs to conduct an official inquiry into all of this it would appear that this is an example of God demonstrating his reign over life and death itself along with hope in the Resurrection.


5. National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche

Location: St. Augustine, FL

Let’s end this discussion on the Atlantic coast since we started on the Pacific. On the grounds of Our Lady of La Leche, you will find the location for the first mass said in the first continuous settlement of the United States. The history of the Spanish in what is referred to as “The Sacred Acre” is filled with rich history and a true testament to the faith of missionaries sent to catechize the native people of the area.

Many of these missionaries gave their lives for the faith, some may have been martyred on the grounds themselves. The historic, ivy-covered, chapel may still be visited to this day. Within the historic chapel is an image of Our Lady of La Leche which received a Canonical Coronation. This means that the Holy Father sent a delegate to crown the image of Our Lady of La Leche and is only the fourth image of Mary to receive this honor in The United States of America.