Maine, with Family

One of the obvious small joys of the trip across the country was the rare occasion when a family member could join me. And nowhere was that more fulfilling than on my visit to Maine, where I was accompanied by my daughter, Kiera.

She joined me for a weekend traveling the beautiful coast, taking in Portland, Boothbay Harbor and Acadia National Park. And she was there when I ventured to Newcastle to worship at New England’s oldest Catholic Church, St. Patrick’s.

Accompanying me allowed her to sit down after Mass with a few participants in Maine’s Prison Ministry, men and women who fulfill that vital role of bringing Christ’s love to the incarcerated. And Kiera’s presence in that conversation was not just as observer, but insightful participant. She serves as a case worker for youth offenders – then in nearby Vermont – the first step in her desire for a career in prison reform.

St. Patrick is the oldest Catholic church in New England.

My daughter Kiera and Deacon Robert Curtis inside the old worship space, now under reconstruction.

The new worship space, with a look at Maine’s famed woods.

Acadia National Park.

Mass in the Bluegrass

St. Peter Claver in Lexington, Ky., is the historic church for African American Catholics in the city. Today, it’s also home to an entirely new group of African Americans.

The parish is the home base for the Congolese Catholic Community of Kentucky, where the large number of refugees from the Congo gather to worship. The traditional Catholic community, now a diverse group of men and women from the Bluegrass, meets for the 10 a.m. Mass, while the Mass in Swahili follows at 2 p.m.

Both communities are eagerly awaiting the completion of a new worship space, which is under construction just outside the current space.

In between Masses, I killed time by visiting Cathedral of Christ the King, because that’s the kind of thing I did a lot of this past year.

An altar server leads the recessional at the Mass in Swahili.

The exterior of St. Peter Claver. The construction is to the right.

Parishioners at the 10 a.m. Mass were packed in rather tightly in the current worship space.

The Cathedral of Christ the King.

The Me Before Me

Stop 42 took me to Middletown, Ohio, another steel town sitting astride the Great Miami River.

The Cincinnati-area town is also home to Holy Family Parish, consisting of St. John and Holy Trinity churches, separated by just a few downtown blocks. It’s also home to Kara Jackson, the me before me.

Back in the middle of the past decade, Kara embarked on a multi-year trip, working as an altar server in all 50 states and D.C. (the Jacksons didn’t make it to Puerto Rico, though some Irish priests she met invited her to the Emerald Isle). The young lady, pictured below, served the Mass I attended, the first time she’s put on the vestments since COVID. She didn’t lose a step during her time off.

I actually spent time with Kara and her family, (father Rick, mother Tina) a full eight months before my trip began, reliving Kara’s trip in intimate detail one beautiful Saturday afternoon at their Southwestern Ohio home. And when I reviewed my notes upon our reunion, I realized just how accurately Tina had predicted my own trip would go.

Kara Jackson in the recessional.
Holy Trinity Church, shortly after dawn.
The interior of Holy Trinity.
St. John Church.
The heavy marble interior at St. John.
St. John Church.

Caring for the Body and Soul

St. John Paul II Catholic Mission will not exactly wow anyone who comes to this page looking for grand cathedrals. Yet it’s a major step up from where the parish was just a few months ago.

The church is a mission of the Glenmarys, the Cincinnati-based order that establishes a Catholic presence in places that historically had none, often the rural south. That describes Rutledge, Tennessee, pretty thoroughly.

The Glenmary Home Missioners have been in Rutledge for the past decade, recently moving out of their storefront parish to a new church building. Two weeks after I descended on Grainger County, Most Rev. Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville was there to dedicate the new church.

I came to Tennessee, and Rutledge, to profile the wonderful work of the St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic, a mobile health facility that travels across Eastern Tennessee, bringing much-needed services to the uninsured and under-insured in the rural communities.

Rutledge is truly rural Tennessee.

The newly built St. John Paul II Catholic Mission.

Father Neil of the Glenmary Missioners.

The St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic rolls up to St. John Paul II Mission.

Sister Mary Lisa Renfer is the medical director of St. Mary’s Legacy Clinic. In addition to being a Sister of Mercy, she’s also a medical doctor.

Our Bethlehem

Of all the places I visited on my trip, none sounded nearly as biblical as my chosen spot in Pennsylvania – Bethlehem.

I was there to attend Mass at Notre Dame of Bethlehem. That’s where Rev. Bernard Ezaki serves as associate pastor.

But I was also there to profile Father Ezaki’s other role, as chaplain at nearby Kolbe Academy. Kolbe is the nation’s only faith-based recovery high school, treating young men and women addicted to drugs and/or alcohol. It’s a neat place.

As noted before, these chronicles are not happening in real time. In fact, I spent the past weekend in Wyoming, the 51st destination. I’ll make my last visit the last weekend of July.

Above the entrance to Notre Dame of Bethlehem
Inside the church.