Welcome to 52 Masses

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Welcome to 52 Masses. Thanks for joining me.

My name is Daniel Markham. I’m a lifelong practicing Catholic who worships at St. Gerald in Oak Lawn, Illinois. I have also been writing professionally for almost 30 years. Now, these two biographical data points have collided.

Starting in June, I have embarked on a mission to attend Sunday Mass in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. At each parish or place I visit, I will write about something going on there, a short profile of the many interesting and inspiring people and endeavors in the Catholic Church in the United States. Upon completion of my year-long trip, the journey will be chronicled in the book, 52 Masses.

These won’t necessarily be groundbreaking types of stories – merely interesting ones. It’s my assertion that every parish has at least one story to tell, if not many. Every day, Catholics across the country are doing amazing things, putting their faith into action in innumerable ways. The hope is that through this collection of stories, I can paint a broader picture of life in the Catholic Church in 2021.

Here, I’ll update the progress of the book over the next two years, then chronicle highlights of the trip as it takes place. I welcome any and all to join me, with thoughts, comments and suggestions. I hope to have many of you accompany me on this journey, at least in the digital sense.

God Bless

What Happens in Laughlin

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that my most unpredictable trip to date would take place in Nevada.

My visit on Oct. 10 took me to Laughlin, Nevada, the southernmost city in the Silver State. And it started out in a typical fashion, with an 8 a.m. Mass at the little church upland from the Colorado River.The next two Masses of the day were not held there, but in Don’s Celebrity Theatre at the Riverside Casino. Yup, it was Mass in a gambling den.

In the 1990s, the community had no Catholic Church, and the nearest facility in the state was 80 miles away, so the community persuaded the Diocese of Las Vegas to grant them a priest to serve its needs. With no building suitable to hold services, the casino opened its theater doors to the parish. And since at any given time there are far more people in the casinos than living in Laughlin, the parish still holds several Masses there each weekend.

But worshiping where Elvis impersonators and ventriloquists normally perform was not even the most unusual part. On Sunday, the parish was holding a dedication ceremony for its new Garces Center, a community building next to the church that is named for Father Francisco Garces.

In 1776, Father Garces became the first Catholic priest to arrive in Nevada, crossing the river to reach Laughlin. Father Garces is also sometimes credited with naming the Colorado River. The center became the first building in Nevada named in his honor, and a canonization effort is possibly under way.

Father Charlie Urnick, pastor at St. John the Baptist and strong supporter of Father Garces’s canonization, invited me to join the other speakers to address the assembled crowd about the book, which I was happy to do. But it was quite the shock when I learned that among the crowd of guests I would be addressing would be the Bishop of Las Vegas, George Leo Thomas, and Steve Sisolak, the governor of Nevada.

The governor departed immediately after my remarks, quite coincidentally I hope, but I did share a few words with the bishop, who was very supportive of my efforts.

Father Charlie at St. John the Baptist in Laughlin.

A brief conversation I had with Bishop Thomas after the dedication ceremony.

Father Charlie greets Mass goers just inside Don’s Celebrity Theatre.

Only in Nevada is a poker chip found in the collection box.

Catholic Life on the Base

A double-dip in the Dakotas took me to Box Elder for a daily Mass at St. Joseph the Worker Parish. This was no ordinary parish community.

St. Joseph the Worker is located at Ellsworth Air Force Base, home of the 28th Bomb Wing and approximately 8,000 active military and civilian personnel, a little less than a quarter of them Catholic. The parish community consists of active duty airmen and airwomen, civilian employees and retired service families who call the area home.

Daily Mass, such as the one I attended, tends to attract more of the retired and civilian personnel, as the active duty parishioners are busy carrying out their duties.The parish is led by Monsignor McManus, who has spent decades as an Air Force chaplain, giving him great insight into the needs of these types of parish communities.

The challenges they face are varied and unique to the military setting, and a strong faith has carried many a service member during trying times, as I learned in most poignant fashion in conversations with the community after Mass.

Because of the rules governing churches on bases, the cross must be able to be covered and statues are built on swivels.

The stained glass is similarly nondenominational.
The Alert light is one you only find on military base chapels.
The South Dakota Air and Space Museum sits just outside the base.

A Home Like No Other

One of the sites I was most looking forward to visiting on my trip was St. Gianna’s Maternity Home, tucked away in the northeastern corner of North Dakota, not far from the Red River.

Opened in the early 2000s in a one-time school convent and school building, the home is designed to provide a safe, faith-filled home for at-risk mothers. Women of all ages can come to the home before childbirth and remain there with their child or children for up to two years afterward.

Mary Pat Jahner and her staff look to provide safe shelter, food, clothing, education and counseling, addressing the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of women in crisis pregnancies and beyond. Their dedication to their mission, “One Baby, One Mother, One Family” at a Time,” was truly inspiring.

Their work is aided by the Third Order Franciscans of the Mary Immaculate, Father Joseph Christensen and Brother Nicholas, who provide spiritual guidance, and much more, from their home in the friary just across the street.

I want to thank all for welcoming me to their home.

The Cathedral of the Plains, directly across the street from St. Gianna’s.
The home
The shrine to St. Gianna
Mass at the home with Father Joseph.

Remembering those Lost

The second weekend of September my 52 Masses adventure took me to Western New York, where I attended Mass at St. Joseph University Parish, on the campus of the University of Buffalo. It was a beautiful old parish, right there on Main Street in the Queen City of the Lakes (a name I didn’t know until watching the news in the rectory with Father Jack).

It was a special weekend at the parish there (and elsewhere), as the parishioners of St. Joseph honored the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. In addition to a few photos from the church, I’m linking to a video of a bagpiper brought in to commemorate the event.


The gentleman led the procession in with Amazing Grace, then led it out with this powerful performance of Highland Cathedral. It was a fitting tribute, and we should all continue to pray for those lost in that senseless attack.

The First State. My 10th

Over the first week of September, I drove east to spend the weekend in Bear, Delaware with the good folks of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish and Father Roger DiBuo. And the parish unnecessarily rolled out all the stops for my visit.

On Friday night, Father Roger and I went out to dinner in the spectacular colonial town of New Castle. And after the vigil Mass, Father and I enjoyed a wonderful meal with the parish’s digital specialist and his fiancée. I was even invited to speak at all of the Masses, though I don’t know if my appearance at the Vigil Mass really counted as such since I had the dual blunder of speaking both too fast and not close enough to the microphone, so virtually no one understood a word I said.

After two Sundays at home, I’ll be back on the road for a lengthy trip coming up, with a drive out west with multiple Mass visits along the way.

I’ll try to post an update from the road, but that will depend on my internet connection and my energy levels, not necessarily in that order. Have a blessed week.