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A Pilgrimage to Honor St. Anne, the Grandmother of God…

A Pilgrimage to Honor St. Anne, the Grandmother of God…

The opportunities for spiritual engagement, even in the doldrums of summer, are there if we are creative.

Catholics have always had a special devotion to Sts. Anne and Joachim, in no small part because people have always had a special relationship with their grandparents. Grandparents were often the kinds of parents kids hoped they’d have: more relaxed than their own parents because less immersed in the day-to-day demands of parenting, and usually more indulgent. Grandma said “yes” to what Mommy said “no.” It’s not accidental that the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim has, in recent years, been retooled with a focus on grandparents, a process abetted by the efforts of Pope Francis.

Yes, all Catholics have had a special devotion to St. Anne. But French Catholics have always had a particular devotion to the grandmother of Jesus. And that fact brings back memories, as well as a plea for the future.


As a child growing up in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, I remember Holy Trinity, the Slovak parish, always organized a bus in July when no small number of local women headed north to Canada. The pilgrimage was targeted at members of the Rosary societies in the different parishes in town. It headed to the Basilica of St. Anne-de-Beaupré in Québec City. The Shrine was the culminating point the ladies reached on July 26. But it was a broader pilgrimage because it also included stops at the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montréal and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Cape in Trois-Riviêres. 

My next-door aunt Nellie went every year. It was her spiritual exercise but it was also her vacation. It was a week to grow closer to God but also to get out of the ceramic factory where she worked and out of our little central New Jersey town. She was always impressed by and would tell me about the nighttime candlelight procession over the Rosary Bridge at Our Lady of the Cape. For her, it was a window to God and a window to the bigger world. I’m sure it was the same for many of the working-class women that piled into the bus every summer for the 10-ish hour ride to Canada.

It was a window on the world to me, especially when I got a postcard with a picture of the candlelight procession and a stamp from another country on it.

I spent two weeks with my family in 2007 traveling the St. Lawrence River valley. We visited those three shrines. We also stopped in multiple small, beautiful churches along the way. They dated from a time when the faith was vibrant in Québec. Today, 60 years after the “Quiet Revolution,” the Church there is marginalized. Many of those churches survive more on tourist visits. That was apparent to me during that 2007 visit: finding a church with Masses celebrated on the Solemnity of the Assumption took some digging. I can’t imagine that being the case years before in Québec. 

Take a ride along the south, then the north sides of the River. Drop into towns like Trois-Pistoles or Kamouraska or the Indian church in Tadoussac. The beauty of what was once offered to God even in little towns will continue to impress you. It’s telling one of the best sources to identify these churches is a state website about the religious patrimony of Québec, here.


I have long argued for parishes to be creative in connecting religious activities with social functions to build a community that is spiritually based. I’ve suggested, for example, that parishes restore the idea of Communion breakfasts as a way for adults to worship together, socialize, and perhaps even gain some religious education. I’ve proposed parishes consider how they might combine a New Year’s Eve party with a religious welcome of the New Year. 

Let me recommend that parishes — especially in the Northeast, at least New England and the New York metropolitan area — consider reviving the “St. Anne Canada Marian pilgrimage” I discussed above. The trip can be done over 4-5 days and visits three major shrines. Depending on the travel route to Canada, additional pilgrimage sites can be identified along the way, e.g., the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville/Fultonville, New York; the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts; or the beautiful but simple summer shrine of St. Anne in La Motte, Vermont. 

I’ll wager that if some parishes worked together, they could fill a bus with pilgrims. I’d bet there might be particular interest especially among Hispanic Catholics (especially working-class Catholics, who might not otherwise get much of a “vacation”) or mother-daughter or grandparents/grandchild opportunities to spend some “quality religious time” together. Pilgrimage is part of the Catholic tradition, and the opportunities are there.

Not from the Northeast? My guess is that devotion to St. Anne exists in many parts of the country, e.g., the Shrine of St. Anne-de-Detroit in Michigan, St. Ann’s Monastery and Shrine Basilica in Pennsylvania and Shrine of St. Anne in Colorado. If there isn’t one in your vicinity, perhaps priests in a given diocese can get together to organize a mini pilgrimage for the feast to a St. Anne parish in their diocese or to the diocesan cathedral.

The opportunities for spiritual engagement, even in the doldrums of summer, are there if we are creative. And, during the height of summer, when many parish activities also go on vacation, a pilgrimage might be a useful (and novel) event. 

Why not think about July 2024?

[U.S. citizens now require a U.S. passport or passport card to cross the U.S.-Canadian border and return to the United States, and passport processing times are backlogged. Parishes that launch a 2024 pilgrimage should announce it in time for parishioners to obtain the necessary travel documents. Children crossing the Canadian border without either/both parent(s) (e.g., with grandparents) check this out.]

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