52 Masses: What it Means

Welcome to 52 Masses. Thanks for joining me.

My name is Daniel Markham. I’m a lifelong practicing Catholic who worships at Nativity of Our Savior Parish in Portage, Indiana. I have also been writing professionally for almost 30 years. Sometime soon, these two biographical data points will collide.

Once our country is operating more normally following the devastation of COVID-19, I plan to attend Sunday Mass in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. At each parish 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.

CONTACT ME: I welcome any visitors to the site to reach out to me directly if you are interested in sharing any information with me, are looking for more information or are interested in learning when the book is published. Please email me at if you’d like to reach me or be added to my mailing list.

God Bless.

No Backseat Taken

Sunday took me to St. Catherine of Siena on the campus of the University of Utah, but Saturady was reserved for touring Salt Lake City with oldest son Ian.

Despite the scorching heat (it hit 99), we walked around the downtown area, including a visit to the Cathedral of the Madeline, home of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Though not as well known as the rather famous temple just down the road, the Cathedral stands up proudly in terms of beauty, as you’ll see below.

Also, unlike the Temple Salt Lake, spiritual home of the Mormon Church, we were able to check out the inside of the Cathedral. For the moment, no one is able to visit the Temple, as it’s under renovation until 2024. But beyond that, admission is forever reserved for members of the Mormon faith who receive a Temple Recommend. No such invitation is required to worship inside the Catholic’s Church’s home in the Beehive State.

The Cathedral is just up the hill from Temple Square.
The Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake City.
Gorgeous stained glass windows inside the Cathedral of the Madeline.
The Temple of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, currently undergoing work to shore it up against potential earthquakes.

St. Rose of Lima – Newtown, Connecticut

When I was choosing which stories to tell and parishes to visit, Connecticut was the very first place I locked in on. Early in my reaching-out phase, Monsignor Robert Weiss invited me to come to St. Rose of Lima to learn how the parish helped the largely Catholic community in its recovery from the horrific Sandy Hook shooting. I knew immediately that’s where I would be heading.

But the lead-up to my visit Sunday provided a mixture of both excitement and apprehension. Theirs is a story that needs to be told, an important lesson about the power faith and our Church can provide to aid the healing from unimaginable pain. Whether the support is for an individual dealing with hardship or an entire community reeling, as was the case here, houses of worship are uniquely equipped to handle this vital role.

Yet, as much as I think the rest of the country needs to hear this story, I wasn’t positive the same was true of the people who lived through it. I worried my appearance would be another painful reminder, or worse, that I’d be seen as some kind of opportunist. I wondered if downplaying my presence there wasn’t called for.

I need not have worried. Monsignor introduced me at the end of Mass, and the people I met afterwards were warm and gracious, and genuinely glad I chose St. Rose as my place to worship. It was a parish teeming with vitality and joy, and I consider myself immensely fortunate to have spent my Sunday in the presence of such an inviting community, guided by a truly inspiring man of God.

And We’re Off

On Saturday, I walked into St. Patrick in Nashua, the first real steps on the experience that has consumed me for the better part of the last five years. Almost immediately, I put myself to work.

Father Michael Kerper, pastor at the city’s oldest Catholic parish, was at the rear of the church, and he quickly recognized the out-of-place face who was dressed a little more formally than most of the regular Mass goers at the Saturday vigil. It was a hot day in Southern New Hampshire, and most of the parishioners were dressed for that rare occasion.

Following our brief introduction, I asked Father if I could give him a hand removing the ropes that had been used to cordon off those pews that were inoperable in a socially distanced world. They wouldn’t be needed any longer, as the Diocese of Manchester joined so many other in lifting the restrictions that had been governing our faith lives for the last 14 months.

I like to think this act was symbolic, that I was launching my journey just as Catholic Churches around the country began opening their doors and their pews to the full celebration of Mass. I also prefer to think it was not at all emblematic when I got inadvertently locked out of the building following the conclusion of Mass.

I guess time will tell. Here are some photos from my visit.

St. Patrick sits across from the courthouse in downtown Nashua, which is no longer the heavily populated section of the city.

The downtown church is a gorgeous and well-preserved place of worship.

Vaccines Work, in More Ways than One

On Sunday, while my wife stayed home still feeling punchy from her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, I did a solo trip to St. Gerald in Oak Lawn for Mass. Nothing unusual about that, we’ve become regulars at the 9:15 a.m. liturgy since we moved across the state line at the end of July last year.
I certainly wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary on the third Sunday of Lent. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered – the pews nearly packed, or at least as packed as COVID-19 rules will allow.
Since I started returning to in-person Mass last summer at my previous parish, attendance everywhere I’ve gone has consistently fallen well short of even the limited capacity. Good seats were always available.
Not this past Sunday. A rough estimate suggests about 50 percent more people were in attendance than the previous week. I hadn’t seen that many people in church since the pandemic began, including this past year’s Christmas Mass, which brings out the otherwise occupied.
What could account for the difference? Sure, the weather was nicer than it had been through most of February, but not any better than it was the prior Sunday. The only explanation that really made sense to me was the fact COVID cases were going down and, more important, inoculations were going up. I reckon people are finally feeling a little more comfortable going to Mass, more certain they will either avoid catching the coronavirus or unwittingly spreading it.
I dearly hope this trend continues. I imagine there are many in the faith who have worried this yearlong removal from regular Mass attendance could become permanent, as people fell out of the habit of the weekly commitment. I hope the opposite is true, that being deprived of the Eucharist for so long has reminded Catholics of the joy that comes from attending weekly Mass.
Sunday’s service, even with masks and other social-distancing protocols still in effect, gives me hope it’s the latter.