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There are many great, holy shrines in North America. We think here of the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Colorado, the Blessed Seelos Shrine in New Orleans, the shrine dedicated to St. Therese the Little Flower in Detroit, the powerful shrine dedicated to Saint Joseph in Montreal (an oratory where Saint Andre Bessette is interred), the Saint Anne site in that same region, Holy Hill, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin, the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, the Saint Kateri shrine in nearby Fonda, the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother in Portland, Oregon, Chimáyo in New Mexico, the Divine Mercy shrine in Massachusetts, a Padre Pio shrine in Pennsylvania, the Saint John Neumann Shrine in Philadelphia, the Father Serra missions in California (special power for sure). There is the oldest shrine dedicated to Mary in North America: Our Lady of La Leche in St. Augustine, Florida (don't miss that one).

They are all excellent and worth the visit, if you have any more drive time left in you during these waning days of summer [look here, for a full listing]. They all place majesty upon the Queen of Heaven.

In our experience, none is more powerful than the Grotto dedicated to Lourdes on the campus of Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Maryland (not to be confused with other churches or chapels in the area).

Here is a circumstance where tremendous natural beauty -- a truly marvelous setting, with overarching, centuries-old oaks covering a rolling hillside -- melds into the spiritual.

It started, in the 1700s, as the "Mount of Mary." Nearby is the "Valley of Saint Joseph."

You can feel the anointing -- particularly in a little chapel near the Grotto -- which has an actual piece of stone from the famous grotto in Lourdes, France, where the apparitions of Mary  occurred.

The past emanates from this territory so closely steeped in U.S. history (and so close to Gettysburg, which unfortunately has gone the way of "ghost tours").

Spend your time here. The bell tower of of the Immaculate Conception at Mount St. Mary’s caught fire on July 19, 2013, after being struck by lightning (shrines seem to be under special attack these days), but all is intact elsewhere.

"Above the lovely valley of Emmitsburg, situated high on the Mountainside, where nature displays itself in all its wild and picturesque glory, sits the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, a shrine which traces its linage to the very beginnings of the spread of Catholicism in America," notes the shrine's website. "Indelibly linked with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Shrine is one of the oldest American replicas of the revered French shrine, dating to about two decades after the apparitions at Lourdes (1875), although the site had already been in use for more than seventy years as a place of prayer and devotion."

Indeed, Saint Elizabeth's body is in a basilica just a mile away. She, like others, was drawn to the holy vicinity.

Next to the Grotto is a rock where she used to sit to instruct children.

A towering, majestic pedestal and huge golden statue of Mary as the Mother of Grace stands over the terrain -- easily visible from a highway as the most impressive statue we have seen of Mary in North America.

The area itself was founded as a holy site by a couple called the Elders in 1728. Later on, Mother Seton and men such a Father John Dubois, a refugee from France, added to the area.

"There is a legend that Father Dubois, on one of his pastoral journeys, was attracted by a light on the mountain and found this blessed spot, one of the loveliest in the world, and there erected a rude Cross," says the official site.

"Those of a more practical mind may surmise that Father Dubois was seeking the source of the stream which flowed out of the ravine into the valley below.

"In any event, John Dubois found the Grotto-site, a dell of breath-taking beauty. It has been said of Lourdes that, even though Our Lady had never appeared there, it would be worth a trip from the other side of the world just to see the natural beauty of the spot. The same is true of the Mountain Grotto."

We certainly felt like we were at some of the more famous shrines in Europe.

Insights and healing are gained here -- along, too, walkways up to an awesome Crucifix and past other saints.

Another priest associated with the site, John J. Hughes, became first archbishop of New York (and founded Fordham University!).

No other shrine in the U.S. has more history. (Saint Elizabeth, meanwhile, was the first canonized American.)

On December 1, 2007, Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes, France, visited our Grotto in Emmitsburg and offered Mass in the chapel.  Following Communion, the Bishop gave a precious gift: the stone from the Grotto of Lourdes in France, excavated, we are told, right near the miraculous spring where the Blessed Virgin told St. Bernadette to dig and receive water.  "The Bishop said he was giving us this stone to “spiritually connect” us to the Lourdes Grotto in France and requested that it be placed in our Grotto, thus making us all members of the Lourdes Family," says the shrine -- which has a spring of its own.

The Stone has been installed at the Grotto Cave and is there for all of us to see and touch.

Get here early (it opens at 8:30 a.m.) and spend some time alone in the chapel (where silence is strictly observed).

"Just what did John Dubois find on his day of discovery? He climbed a steep ascent through a rocky ravine along a tumbling torrent, which was much broader and more unruly than at present, for its volume has lessened since the trees were cut down on the mountain. About five hundred yards above the present college buildings, the priest came upon a lovely clearing, a masterpiece of natural beauty. Sharply sloping hills from almost every side formed a natural amphitheater where nature 'displayed itself in all its wild and picturesque beauty.' In the center of this clearing, where now the stone chapel stands, he saw a mound, shaded by the branches of an ancient oak. Such huge oak trees are seen even to this day on the mountain, survivors of the woodsmen's devastation."

[Resources: books and Retreat announced for Indiana, Saturday, October 19]

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