Seeking the Wisdom of Pray Tell’s readers #2

I have just had a Jesuit novice ask for some recommendations as he makes a 30-day pilgrimage (I think they call it an “experiment”) with no cash, no lodging, etc. He writes: “We are allowed to start anywhere in the lower 48 and can go anywhere in the states during that time. One thing that has been coming up for me in prayer is to seek out an experience of American liturgy, especially focused on music. What I lack is knowledge. I don’t know where the great centers of liturgy are (whatever that means). I’d be very happy in a monastery that still chants the office, learning how to do that. I’d be happy in a basilica, learning how they do their thing. Choir rehearsals. I’m proficient in voice, piano, and guitar. Maybe meeting some composers. Talking with people about what music helps them pray. I like the whole rainbow of music, from Palestrina to Bob Dylan to Bach to Phish.” I should mention that this novice studied conducting and composition at Carnegie Mellon and has some experience with opera, recording, etc.

Off the top of my head I’d recommend (in no particular order):

St. John’s Abbey and University
St. Meinrad’s Abbey
Conception Abbey
The Camaldolese Community at Big Sur (unless their recent troubles with mudslides would make that impractical)
Notre Dame’s Liturgy and Music program and the worship there and at St. Mary’s College
Catholic University’s Liturgy and Music program and the worship at the Basilica
The Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis
The Paulist Center in Boston, MA

I’d love suggestions from either coast of the USA and from the Southwest.


  1. Well, as I understand Jesuit practice, the object isn’t so much to go somewhere that you are comfortable, as it is to expand yourself. If that is right, I would suggest finding a parish with a diverse congregation, and experiencing how the rest of the world does it. There are highly diverse parishes in Mobile, AL, and also around Atlanta (the Norcross area NE of ATL has high concentrations of Hispanics of many countries, Koreans, Vietnamese, Jamaicans and others.

    1. Well if you wanna see a real down-to-earth Parish at the grassroots level with good choirs but nothing fancy Good liturgy and great people come saint agnes in

      Chicago Heights

  2. They are doing some interesting things musically at Holy Cross Monastery, in the old Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago, in collaboration with Kevin Allen–and they chant the office, often with local oblates joining. The monastery runs a B&B and is known for its hospitality.

    Holy Cross Monastery is also within (long) walking distance of St. Sabina’s, where African American musical and spiritual traditions are practiced within a Catholic context including at the Mass. The “pastor emeritus” there sometimes tends to hide the place’s Roman Rite, Catholic identity and get worldly in his homilies but with that caveat in mind it is a unique experience and one in which a few days or weeks of immersion may be worthwhile for a young priest. And both St Sabina’s and Holy Cross are an El train ride away from the center of very Roman liturgical renewal that is Cantius.

    On the left coast, just outside the Bay the cathedral parish in Santa Rosa is worth mentioning. It has largely flown “under the radar” but visitors know that they are on fire for the faith up there in a way centered on the liturgy and that there is extraordinarily high levels of participation in the choir. The parish and the community are being built up in ways those of us only 100 miles away find astonishing.

    At Our Lady of La Vang, in San Jose, the traditional Vietnamese Catholic chant is still practiced–they don’t chant the office in this way but they do chant the Mass. It’s unintelligible to those of us who don’t understand Vietnamese but I do not know if this young man does or does not.

    Other than that there isn’t much in the Bay Area that can’t readily be found elsewhere. But reports that St. Edward’s in Newark, in the East Bay, is on its way to becoming a great center of liturgy are, sadly, out of date.

  3. As a Black Catholic, I strongly agree with the previous suggestions that attending Mass from a different cultural background seems perfect for the long experiment. The USCCB lists of Black Catholic parishes by state, so it seems helpful no matter where he ends up: Unfortunately they don’t do the same sort of list for Latinx, Asian & Native parishes.

  4. “I would suggest staying away from noted liturgy centers. Go to unlikely places and see what you find.”

    From the Jesuits I know, I get the sense that that is the intended spirit behind their 30-day pilgrimage; to got out and expand their world and let God do the rest. There’s Jesuit novitiate in my city and it would be very easy for them to church/rectory hop the various local ethnic parishes and “explore the world down my street,” but most of the Jesuits I know would probably consider that cheating. Many of the Jesuits I talked to enjoyed spending their pilgrimages in the middle of nowhere, since otherwise Jesuits are almost completely confined to cities. And even if that country parish doesn’t have a perfectly tuned choir or an organ at all, the community still exists and has a lot to offer while on the journey.

    As an aside, if they’re coming from the Jesuit novitiate in St. Paul, MN, another good center of liturgy in the area is the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, WI. And just a splash down the Mississippi River from that is The Trappist New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, IA.

  5. I recommend Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, CA; and Our Lady of Guadelupe Monastery in Silver City, NM for both a reformed and ancient monastic practice.

  6. St. Agnes Parish, located in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, might be worth a visit because it is the focus of the book, The Liturgy of Life: The Interrelationship of Sunday Eucharist and Everyday Worship Practices, by Vincent (Ricky) Manalo, CSP (Pueblo Books/Liturgical Press, 2014). This study, a remarkable ethnographic research project, would provide a useful companion for preparation and future reflection on a visit to the parish (and others).

  7. “Many of the Jesuits I talked to enjoyed spending their pilgrimages in the middle of nowhere, since otherwise Jesuits are almost completely confined to cities.”

    Another vote here for the Camaldolese Monastery in Big Sur. Or, more remote still, Redwoods Monastery in California. These are best for retreat and contemplation.

    1. Along those lines it doesn’t get more “middle of nowhere” than the Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert. They also chant the Office, and have grown enough to found at least 4 other houses in the last 5 decades, so they must be doing something right.

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