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Hannah Kline, Erica Herman and Brandee Haskell talked while on the Katy Trial Marian Pilgrimage on Oct. 11 along the Katy Trail in Warren County.
Hannah Kline, Erica Herman and Brandee Haskell talked while on the Katy Trial Marian Pilgrimage on Oct. 11 along the Katy Trail in Warren County.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Katy Trail pilgrims undertake five-day, 53-mile journey to grow in faith and devotion

Pilgrims undertake five-day, 53-mile journey to grow in faith and devotion

When Crystalyn Talavera read about a walking pilgrimage on the Katy Trail, it seemed like it was designed for her.

“I love nature. I love going to Mass every day. And I love visiting churches,” she said. “So it’s all the things that I love, rolled into one.”

Pilgrims walked Oct. 11 along the Katy Trail on a Marian pilgrimage that began at Immaculate Conception in Augusta and ended at the Church of the Risen Savior in Rhineland.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
Talavera, a parishioner at St. Angela Merici in Florissant, was one of several dozen pilgrims who undertook a five-day, 53-mile journey on the Katy Trail across the verdant pastures of mid-Missouri from Oct. 9-13. She carried many intentions with her on the pilgrimage, but her personal intention was “for God to create in me a clean heart,” she said.

Father Timothy Foy started the annual Katy Trail Marian Pilgrimage in 2017 after having a powerful experience on a pilgrimage in Poland, walking from Krakow to Częstochowa. When he returned home to St. Louis, “I remember feeling, how can I do something like that here?” he said.

Father Foy, now senior associate pastor at St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville, chose the theme “To Jesus through Mary,” inspired by the spirituality of St. Louis de Monfort, to encourage increased devotion to the Blessed Mother along the way. This year’s journey began with Mass at Immaculate Conception in Augusta, connecting the pilgrims to the beginning of Mary’s life. On Thursday, pilgrims had the chance to meditate on Mary’s suffering during a visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg, and on Friday, celebrate her joy and unity with Jesus at the Church of the Risen Savior in Rhineland.

“We don’t have a big Marian cathedral like the one in Częstochowa, but we do have different Marian-themed churches along the way,” Father Foy said.

Pilgrims also visited Our Lady of Lourdes in Washington, St. Vincent in Dutzow, St. Ignatius in Concord Hill and St. Anthony mission church near Case, walking between 7.5-12.5 miles each day. The physical exertion, offered up in prayer, helps build spiritual strength, Father Foy said.

“You know you’re having a good pilgrimage experience when you’re happy even while your feet are hurting,” Father Foy said.

While many undertake the entire five-day journey, pilgrims are also welcome to join the group for a single day or however many their schedule allows. About 40 pilgrims began the journey on Monday; the group numbered around 20 on Wednesday but swelled to around 90 on Thursday, including students from Holy Rosary School in Warrenton. Over the seven years of the pilgrimage, the returning pilgrims have become “a spiritual family,” Father Foy said, with more being welcomed in each time.

Talavera, a first-time participant, found out about the pilgrimage from a parish bulletin blurb and arrived on the first day without knowing anyone else. By the third day, “I’ve grown to love everybody already,” she said.

Jennifer Smith, a parishioner at Holy Rosary in Warrenton, prayed the Rosary with others walking in the Katy Trail Marian Pilgrimage on Oct. 11 along the Katy Trail.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
On the trail, the talking and praying ebbed and flowed over the hours and miles. Each day, the group prayed all four sets of mysteries of the Rosary and sang several hymns. The audible prayers — plus Father Foy’s clerics — made the group a visible witness of faith to everyone they encountered on the trail, garnering both positive and negative reactions, said Cathy Harmon, a parishioner at St. John the Baptist “Gildehaus” in Villa Ridge who helped organize the pilgrimage.

“Many times when people pass us, we’re saying the Rosary. And we’ve got a priest, who’s obviously a priest, walking with us. Sometimes if we hear a negative comment, we just group up when the person passes and say a prayer for that person,” she said.

Erica Herman, a parishioner at Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie, has been making the pilgrimage each year since its inception. The intentional time away from her daily routine to focus on growing closer to Jesus through His mother “feels like coming home to Mary,” she said.

She also learned about the Divine Mercy Chaplet for the first time on the pilgrimage and has made it part of her regular prayer routine ever since. “I was raised a cradle Catholic, but you don’t always know

Pilgrims entered St. Anthony’s Church, a short distance off the Katy Trail in Warren County. Tim Engemann, a parishioner at St. George in Hermann, said he is part of group of people who used to attend St. Anthony Church and now take care of the property, which is under the direction of St. Ignatius of Loyola in Concord Hill.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
everything,” she said.

The pilgrimage spanned from the Augusta trailhead to the Portland trailhead of the Katy Trail, crossing from the Archdiocese of St. Louis into the Diocese of Jefferson City. Some of the pilgrims chose to stay with host families along the way, while others returned home to sleep each night. Support team members coordinated shuttles or other transportation back to pilgrims’ cars at the end of each day, as well as other support along the way.

Diana Smith, a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes in Washington and one of the original organizers of the pilgrimage, typically hosts the women in her home. “You’re done in the evening, and then it’s like, let’s have a cup of wine, we chat and get to know everybody,” she said. “Being from a smaller town, I’m starving for Catholic girlfriends that I can pray and worship with. You get to know people, and it’s like coming home (every year).”

On Oct. 11, the pilgrims’ 12.5-mile walk ended at St. Anthony’s mission church, a tiny, rarely used church tucked away down a gravel road off Route 94 near Case.

Lori Voss, a parishioner at St. Ann in Clover Bottom who served on the support crew, arrived early to the church to do some light cleaning and prepare it for Mass. Voss had participated as a walking pilgrim for several years prior. The Marian theme “gave me a greater respect for the Rosary, because we pray the Rosary so much,” she said.

Father Tim Foy celebrated Mass at St. Anthony’s Church. Father Foy, now senior associate pastor at St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville, has organized the annual pilgrimage since the first one in 2017.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand
She particularly enjoys visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg every year. “It’s a beautiful old German church, and I have German heritage, so it’s kind of cool for me to see that,” she said.

The pilgrimage draws pilgrims from all over the archdiocese and beyond, including a couple from Indiana who travel to Missouri each year for the event, Voss noted. “It shows that we’re all one Church,” she said. “We can all be one together.”

Brandon Pals traveled from his home in Teutopolis, Illinois, to participate in the pilgrimage after reading about it in a St. Louis parish bulletin. Pals is discerning a vocation to the priesthood and used the time on the trail to pray about his vocation. “The physical side of (the pilgrimage) allows you to really suffer with Christ with the joyful spirit of pilgrims that are with you,” he said. “And spending time with Father has been priceless, and just being able to pray through a full day has been huge.”

After hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain in April, Hannah Kline was eager to undertake another pilgrimage closer to home. Kline attends New City West End, a Presbyterian church in St. Louis, and was invited to the Katy Trail pilgrimage by a friend.

“It’s been really moving, at the beginning of the day, everyone shares their intentions, so you get little glimpses of people’s stories through what’s on their hearts to pray for,” she said. “And you know, most people don’t get out of the bed and walk 12 miles for something they care about, so that’s really powerful.”

Knowing that most of the pilgrims were Catholic, “I was kind of nervous,” Kline said. “I had to borrow a rosary, and I’m learning the prayers that are part of it. There are several I still don’t know. But I feel very welcome, and people have been generous…It’s really enjoyable for me to meet kindred spirits, because we practice our faith differently but we believe in pilgrimage and we believe that there’s power there.”

>> Katy Trail Marian Pilgrimage

The Katy Trail Marian Pilgrimage is an annual walking journey on the Katy Trail, led by Father Timothy Foy, that includes daily Mass, the Rosary, visits to churches and time for both quiet prayer and fellowship. It typically takes place in October each year. For more information, visit katytrailpilgrimage.com.

Brandon Pals, a pilgrim from Teutopolis, Illinois, sat at a bench overlooking the Missouri River during the Katy Trail Marian Pilgrimage on Oct. 11.
Photo Credits: Jacob Wiegand

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