Seven awe-inspiring field trips to holy sites, plus trip-funding ideas
By Lori Hadacek Chaplin
I’ll never forget my first shrine experience as a young teen. It was a lesson in geology, perseverance, and faith. Marveling at the sparkling quartz, purple amethyst, and other semiprecious stones, I felt transported into someone else’s dream at the Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in the midst of the cornfields in West Bend, Iowa.
An immigrant from Germany, Father Dobberstein was pastor of West Bend’s Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church for nearly 58 years, from 1896 to 1954. In 1936 he began building a shrine to the Blessed Virgin to fulfill a promise he had made. It’s said that while Fr. Dobberstein was a young seminarian, he came down with pneumonia. Thinking he would die, he beseeched the Blessed Mother to heal him. He promised her that, if he lived, he would build a shrine in her honor. With the world’s largest collection of precious stones and gems, Fr. Dobberstein constructed by hand nine grottos representing scenes from Christ’s life.
The learning and the awe I experienced on that shrine visit is an experience every child deserves. To flesh out some of the best sites for school children to visit, I consulted with historian Thomas J. Craughwell, author of 101 Places to Pray Before You Die: A Roamin’ Catholic’s Guide (Franciscan Media, 2017). Craughwell recommended four field-trip-friendly sites located across the United States, and I included two noteworthy sites in addition to the grotto in Iowa to complete TCT’s 2018 Field Trip Guide. Also provided are some fundraising ideas and resources to help make a field trip dream a reality.
Ave Maria Grotto
1600 St. Bernard Drive SE
Cullman, Alabama 35055
The Ave Maria Grotto, dubbed “Jerusalem in Miniature,” is located on the nearly four-acre grounds of St. Bernard Abbey — Alabama’s only Benedictine Abbey. From 1933 to 1958, a small, hunchbacked Bavarian monk, Br. Joseph Zoettl, built 125 miniature reproductions of famous historic buildings and shrines of the world here.
Craughwell recommends this site as “the perfect spot to take kindergartners and kids in the primary grades. It’s inspiring, quirky, and fun.” He also notes, “Since [Br. Joseph] had no money, he built his replicas of St. Peter’s in Rome and the Basilica at Lourdes from odds and ends he found at the abbey — seashells, broken china, and figurines of animals. And Br. Joseph had a whimsical streak, so right next to St. Peter’s stands the Alamo.”
Br. Joseph built his last replica, the Basilica in Lourdes, at the age of 80. A documentary about his life called Brother Joseph and the Grotto was released in 2013. Elementary school group admission rate: $3 per person; high school group rate: $4 per person.
Brother Joseph and the Grotto DVD
If you’re planning a trip to the Ave Maria Grotto, this engaging and professionally made documentary is a must-see history lesson. The film brings to life Br. Joseph Zoettl’s story from his birth in Bavaria, Germany, and being pushed out of his home by his stepmother to his life at St. Bernard Abbey in Alabama and ultimately to this hardworking and unassuming man’s building of the grotto. $19.95 from AveMariaGrotto.com.
The Shrine of Christ’s Passion
10630 Wicker Ave. (U.S. 41)
St. John, Indiana 46373
Bring to life the Last Supper, Passion, and Resurrection with a mini-pilgrimage to the Shrine of Christ’s Passion. “Younger children will be astonished by how vivid these sculptural groups are, and older kids will appreciate the quality of the art and how the artist draws the visitor to contemplate these moments from Christ’s passion,” Craughwell explains. The shrine features 40 life-sized bronze sculptures situated in gardens made to resemble the Holy Land. At each station students can push a button to hear a description of what the artwork is portraying. There’s also an accompanying meditation.
The Shrine of Christ’s Passion, which is free of charge to visit, suggests that visitors allow at least three hours to fully experience the half-mile Prayer Trail. Schools may also request in advance a guided tour.
The Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
Corner of Mott and Prince Streets
New York, New York 10012
St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue gets all the attention, but it’s usually packed with visitors and “too big, too grand for young visitors to take in,” Craughwell shares. Instead, he recommends Old St. Patrick’s for schools because it’s a much quieter experience. “It is still a neighborhood church — there is never a crowd, so you can appreciate the beautifully carved wooden altar with life-size statues of the 12 apostles and the rows of statues where you can light real candles.”
Built in the early 1800s, Old St. Patrick’s is one of the oldest buildings in the Little Italy area. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI granted the title of basilica to the church, making it the first of its kind in Manhattan. Old St. Pat’s was a refuge for Irish immigrants during Protestant persecution in New York City, so this field trip provides a stepping-stone to talk about Catholic/Protestant relations during the mid-1800s. A 90-minute tour, conducted by Tommy’s New York, features a tour of the choir loft, cemeteries, and “candlelight” walk-through of the catacombs beneath the Basilica. Available for $300 for a group of 18 students; $350 for 19 or more.
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert
P.O. Box 270
Abiquiu, New Mexico 87510
Located in the Chama Canyon wilderness, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert provides a multifaceted field trip, with lessons in religious life, iconography, Native American and Spanish mission-style architecture, and geography. A terrain of rock formations, cliffs, tree-covered mountains, and the Chama River makes for some scenic but vigorous hiking, which is why Craughwell recommends this site for “high schoolers who have some maturity and are physically active.”
In addition to hiking near the monastery, the Federal Wilderness is located south of the location. Also of note for science teachers is that the monastery is primarily solar-powered. The monastery is open for visits on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The monks are self-sustaining and sell statues, crucifixes, plaques, memento boxes, icons, and chant CDs in their on-site gift shop; many of these items are handmade at the monastery. Contact Brother Andre, guest master, via telephone at (575) 613-4233 or use the contact form on their website.
TCT’s field trip picks
Shrine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Our Lady of Peace
2800 Mission College Blvd.
Santa Clara, California 95054
The Shrine to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Our Lady of Peace holds bragging rights for having a 32-foot stainless steel statue of Our Lady. Completed in 1982, the 7,200-pound statue has an interesting history. While the sculptor, Charles C. Parks, was erecting the artwork on the lawn outside his studio, it caused quite a commotion. People would come — day and night — to see the huge sculpture. Consequently, Parks was invited by the Mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, to exhibit Our Lady in the heart of the city for six weeks. Busloads of pilgrims came to see and pray before the statue honoring Mary before it was transported to Santa Clara, California, in 1983.
At the dedication ceremony, Oct. 7 of that same year, a special blessing from Pope John Paul II was read. In 2014, a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of St. John Paul II was erected across from the Marian statue. There are also life-size statues of Sts. Jacinta and Francisco, depicting them when Our Lady first appeared to them. Karen Ruiz, parish administrator for the shrine, invites tour groups to participate in one of the shrine’s 30 Masses each week. The sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and Perpetual Adoration are also available, and the shrine is open 24 hours a day with free admission.
Students can picnic on the shrine lawn or by the rose garden and shop at the shrine’s gift shop. Contact Karen Ruiz at (408) 988-4585 x2125 for more information.
Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal
3800 Queen Mary Road
Montreal (Quebec) Canada, H3V 1H6
Visit the largest shrine in the world dedicated to the foster father of Jesus. Saint Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal is 361 feet high. “This is taller than either St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York or the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris,” notes Br. André Marie. “Its girth is so massive that it could hold within itself any one of most of the world’s great shrines, including Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré and St. Paul’s Cathedral of London. The cross atop its domed roof can be seen for miles around, guiding the millions of pilgrims who come there each year.”
What’s even more impressive is this massive church was built by a diminutive lay brother named André Bessette, who was a college porter and barber for Notre Dame College in Montreal. Too sickly and uneducated for the priesthood, Br. André, canonized on October 17, 2010, was a healer, a friend to everyone, and a humble soul who had a great devotion to St. Joseph.
School groups are taken on a 90-minute tour through the basilica, Votive Chapel, the Tomb of Brother André, the Crypt Church, the original chapel, and a display on Brother André. The shrine also has a museum, beautiful gardens, and monthly special events. School groups can even schedule a private Mass at the community chapel. Groups 16 and larger pay $5 per person; smaller groups pay $75 for the group for guided tours. Advance reservations suggested.
Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption
208 1st Avenue NW
West Bend, Iowa 50597
Admission to the shrine is free, but kids will want to bring a few dollars to buy some of the colorful rocks and religious articles sold in the shrine’s gift shop. Submit tour request at least three weeks in advance.
FIELD TRIP GRANTS
ROAD SCHOLARSHIP: K-12 public and Catholic schools are eligible for this $750–$5,000 grant for economically challenged individuals or groups needing funding for field trips. Educators create a profile and submit Road Scholarship nomination on SYTAYouthFoundation.org. Applications are accepted from Feb. 1, 2018, to Mar. 16, 2018, and Oct. 1, 2018, to Nov. 16, 2018.
TARGET FIELD TRIP GRANTS: Target stores award thousands of grants to K-12 schools — including accredited Catholic schools with a 501(c)(3) or 509(a)(1) tax-exempt status — nationwide. Educators can receive up to $700 to cover transportation, ticket fees, food, resource materials, and/or supplies for educational field trips. Grant applications are accepted Aug. 1 through Oct. 1 at bit.ly/TargetFieldTripGrant.
WALMART COMMUNITY GIVING PROGRAM: This program accepts field trip funding requests and awards $250-$2,500 grants for schools with tax-exempt status. Grants are awarded annually between Feb. 1 and Dec. 31.
GRANT-FINDING RESOURCE: Edutopia.org offers a regularly updated list of educational grants, contests, awards, and more at Edutopia.org/Grants-and-Resources.
FIELD TRIP FUNDRAISING IDEAS
FACEBOOK: Inform family, friends, and the surrounding community about your trip and needs by creating a “Field Trip” Facebook page. Detail the trip, explain why it’s important, and let people know how they could help make the trip happen. Don’t forget to include destination pictures to get potential donors excited.
CROWDFUNDING: Revenue-raising sites like GoFundMe.com have helped educators raise more than 4 billion dollars. GoFundMe has built-in sharing tools for email, Facebook, and Twitter, and allows administrators to embed the field trip fundraiser in the school’s website. GoFundMe has a 5 percent processing fee. For more information visit GoFundMe.com/Fundraising-Ideas-for-Schools.
TRIED AND TRUE: it may seem old hat, but bake sales, car washes, and school garage sales are good fund generators and only a small advertising budget is needed.
ORIGINALWORKS.COM: This Catholic school fundraising program inspires children artistically, and it’s a fundraiser that most parents will appreciate. Students create original designs for products such as coffee mugs, pillowcases, magnets, mousepads, calendars, journals, or tote bags. School profit margins are 33 to 50 percent. More information can be found at OriginalWorks.com.
PARENTS: Inform parents in advance so they can plan for the extra expense. Even with notice, some parents will not have enough money to pay for field trips. Consider including this note in parent communication letters or field trip slips: “Enclosed is $______ extra to help sponsor another child who may not be able to participate otherwise.”
Lori Hadacek Chaplin is a senior writer and columnist for Catholic Digest magazine. Her articles appear regularly in Today’s Catholic Teacher, National Catholic Register, Celebrate Life magazine, and OSV Weekly. She lives in Idaho with her husband, David, and their four children.