Youths explore Iowa’s holy places


By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

Flat Francis and Flat Cariyana traveled with around 24 youths and adults Aug. 12 on a pilgrimage of holy places in Iowa. Participants were primarily from the Davenport West cluster youth group (St. Peter Parish in Buffalo, St. Alphonsus and St. Mary parishes in Davenport) and St. Ann Parish in Long Grove.

Anne Marie Amacher From left, Gillian Marbury, Brileigh McCumsey and Alexis Cummins look at the five squares of marble from St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican that are in the floor of St. Francis Xavier Basilica in Dyersville.
Anne Marie Amacher
From left, Gillian Marbury, Brileigh McCumsey and Alexis Cummins look at the five squares of marble from St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican that are in the floor of St. Francis Xavier Basilica in Dyersville.

Alexis Cummins of St. Peter’s was in charge of Flat Francis and Flat Cariyana. She and others took “selfies” and other pictures of themselves with paper printouts depicting Pope Francis and Alexis’ sister, Cariyana, who was unable to make the trip due to recent surgery.

The pilgrimage was a way to “expand youth ministry through the summer,” said Julia Jones, youth minister for the Long Grove parish. “I wanted to show them some hidden treasures in Iowa.”


The first stop was New Melleray Abbey outside Peosta. There the group attended terce, or third hour, a fixed time of prayer of the Divine Office.

New Melleray monks rise at 3:15 a.m. and retire at 8 p.m. Their daily schedule is based on the Rule of St. Benedict. They come together seven times a day for Liturgy of the Hours. Other hours are devoted to work, prayer, reading Scripture and eating meals.

Down the road from the monastery is Trappist Caskets. The visitors toured the warehouse and shop where the caskets are made. Twenty lay people work at Trappist Caskets, along with 10-15 monks. The caskets’ exteriors are made on site and the upholstery (lining and pillows) are hand-sewn on site. Personalized engraving is done on the premises. People who choose cremation have two options: wooden cremation urns made on site or ceramic urns made by an offsite vendor.

The pilgrimage continued north to Epworth where the youths toured Divine Word College. Rob Kundert, the college’s assistant public relations specialist, said the Society of the Divine Word runs the college and anticipates about 110 students this fall from around the world. Divine Word is an undergraduate Roman Catholic seminary dedicated to educating men and women for missionary service. English as a Second Language is also offered.

The Society of the Divine Word is the largest Catholic missionary order in the world, serving in 70 different countries. “They are dedicated to the poorest of the poor.”

He also said the college works with the community by opening many of its sports facilities to the public and hosts many multicultural events.

Next stop was Dyersville, where the youths stood outside St. Francis Xavier Basilica with tour guide John Steger. “The steeples are 200 feet high and the crosses on top are 12 feet high,” he pointed out. Each set of exterior doors in the front weighs a total of 400 pounds. Inside, Steger told the history of the basilica as a traditional church and how it received the designation of basilica. Construction of the present church began in 1887; it was dedicated in 1889. Following World War II, Cardinal Konrad von Preysing of Berlin, Germany, visited Dyers­ville. He felt the church was equivalent to many of the basilicas in Europe and encouraged the pastor, Msgr. M.M. Hoffmann, to petition Rome for the designation.

After the Vatican denied the request, Msgr. Hoffmann was determined to meet the requirements to get the designation. The four major requirements: a substantial building, church paid in full, separate footing for the marble altar, and a blessing of the church by the archbishop (a three-hour ceremony).

After meeting the requirements, the church was blessed and the Vatican designated St. Francis Xavier a basilica in 1956.

In the late 1990s and into early 2000s the basilica underwent a renovation that included painting, gold leaf being reintroduced, installation of the shields of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Pope Pius XII’s coat of arms, basilica arms and papal insignia down the main aisle and five pieces of marble from St. Peter’s Basilica.

To wind down the day, the visitors went to the Field of Dreams to play two innings of wiffle ball before heading home.

Charlie Cummins of St. Peter’s said his favorite part of the day was visiting Trappist Caskets.

Gillian Marbury of St. Alphonsus said the “basilica was enchanting.” She even inquired about the possibility of getting married there in the future. She also liked visiting the Field of Dreams and felt it was a rite of passage to have been at the field.

Brileigh McCumsey of St. Alphonsus thought the best part of the day was the chapel at New Melleray Abbey.

Alexis Cummins said she was honored to bring Flat Francis and Flat Cariyana to the pope’s second home – St. Francis Xavier Basilica.

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