Share this story

 | By Maria Servold

Family Pilgrimages Build Faith Through Travel

There’s nothing like a shared experience to bring people together, and one family in the Diocese of Lansing makes a point to share the experience of pilgrimage in order to grow and strengthen their family faith life. 

The Flannery family of Hillsdale, made up of parents Patrick and Emily, and children Aidan, Declan, Claire, Monica, Martin, Matthew, and Rose, began a tradition more than 10 years ago of taking family pilgrimages to a special holy site, church, or shrine to celebrate a child’s first Communion.

Some of their trips have been to places within the diocese, while others have been as far as away as upstate New York and Alabama.

When Aiden, now a student at Franciscan University, was making his first Communion more than 10 years ago, the family watched a documentary about the National Shrine of Our Lady of Champion in Wisconsin.

“I just had this feeling we should go visit it,” Pat says. “We ended up driving all the way over there and it was a great experience.”

Slowly, it became a family tradition, and the Flannerys have since visited (among other places) St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh, the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Shrine in Maryland, EWTN headquarters and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Alabama, and most recently, Our Lady of Victory National Shrine and Basilica in New York, which Pat says is a “can’t miss.”

“We’ve done this for every one of our children, so it’s a nice memory for them,” he says. “It makes it so you have conversations afterward. It’s a more focused day than if you just were home or even went to normal Mass.”

Emily adds that the trips allow lots of opportunities for the family to build their faith together, as they pray during the journey and when they are at the pilgrimage site. 

In Michigan, the Flannerys have visited St. Joseph Shrine in Brooklyn, which features an outdoor Stations of the Cross; the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit; and the Cross in the Woods Shrine in Indian River. 

Pat says doing a pilgrimage for a family vocation helps focus the trip.

“We’re making a journey to grow closer to God,” he says. “It helps the kids to see all these different churches and shrines, and by default, you’re going to Mass. It also fosters discussion.”

Even if the Flannerys are on a “normal” vacation, Pat says, they’ll make a point to visit a church or cathedral in whatever city they’re in. 

“Whenever we walk into a church on these trips, most of the kids will kneel and pray,” Emily says. “Some get up quickly, some will stay awhile. These pilgrimages encourage them to talk with Jesus and develop their personal relationship with Him.”

In particular, Pat adds, visiting places that describe and celebrate the lives of local people who did great things in a particular area is formative for his children, like Solanus Casey in Detroit or Father Nelson Baker at Our Lady of Victory in New York. 

“It’s been a great thing we’ve really enjoyed,” he says. “Now it’s a thing of ours.”