St. Patrick, Missouri, a small unincorporated community near the Iowa border, is not a typical vacation destination. But for Patrick Murphy, it held a big draw: the Shrine of St. Patrick, modeled after St. Patrick’s Memorial Church of the Four Masters in Donegal, Ireland.
Inside the church, you’ll find 37 Dublin-made stained-glass windows depicting saints including St. Columbkille, St. Lawrence O’Toole and St. Brigid. The Irish saints make sense for the town, whose land was first settled by Irish immigrants in the 1930s.
The Shrine of St. Patrick is just one of the dozens of sacred places Murphy, a longtime television producer, author and parishioner at Holy Redeemer in Webster Groves, visited for his latest book, “Places to Pray: Holy Sites in Catholic Missouri.” The book, published by Reedy Press in St. Louis, includes churches, shrines, chapels, grottos, convents and monasteries from all four dioceses across the state.
“One of things that makes Catholicism cool is that it’s a religion that inspires us largely through the senses,” he said. Beautiful places to pray “take us to a place mentally beyond our daily state in life, where we actually are in a state of mind where we can talk to, and even more importantly, listen to God.”
Murphy’s writing details not just the physical spaces of holy places but also the history of the people who founded them. It’s certainly not a complete catalog of Catholic sites in Missouri, he noted, but he did make an effort to represent a range of races, nationalities and “flavors” of Catholicism. Meeting faithful Catholics everywhere he went was one of the most rewarding parts of the experience, he said.
“It gave me a real sense of joy to see that Catholicism is alive and well and the center of so many people’s lives, not just in the big cities, but in the small towns and rural areas throughout the state,” he said. “There’s so many familiar things as a Catholic, but it’s also interesting to see how there are tiny differences with Irish or Hispanic or Italian or Polish or Czech influence.”
Murphy especially enjoyed visiting some of the sites most off the beaten path: St. Peter Church in Brush Creek, the humble country church where Venerable Augustus Tolton was baptized; the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, in Gower, where the nuns have produced several recordings of religious music that have earned top places on the Billboard charts; and St. Lawrence Church in New Hamburg in southeast Missouri, which was rebuilt after Confederate troops burned most of the building down during the Civil War, among others.
The book also includes prayers, explanations of different devotions and more nuggets of Catholicism. He hopes that anyone who reads it — especially those who may not be Catholic — will be able to see the beauty that exists in the Church.
“I think there’s just a lot of joy and happiness in this book,” he said. “And I think if you’re going to evangelize, you have to show people that what you’re trying to bring them is something that will bring them joy, and happiness and fulfillment.”
As summer approaches, consider using “Places to Pray” to put together a “choose-your-own adventure” prayer pilgrimage. Here are a couple suggestions to get you started:
*Murphy notes that as you plan your pilgrimages to various sites, it is wise to visit their websites or give them a call before showing up. “Many churches are locked during certain hours, but someone in the parish office is usually happy to let you in if you call ahead,” Murphy wrote.
>> The Archdiocese of St. Louis
Outdoor Day Adventure (red circles on map)
Stop 1: Mercy Retreat and Conference Center in Frontenac
2039 N. Geyer Road; (314) 966-4686
Visit the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto, walk the stations of the cross and many wooded paths perfect for quiet contemplation.
Drive 16 miles (30 minutes) to >>>>>
Stop 2: La Salle Retreat Center in Wildwood
2101 Rue de La Salle Drive;
La Salle has been home to the Christian Brothers since 1886. The 180 acres of sprawling grounds include the Sacred Heart grotto, shrines, trails and more.
Drive 11.5 miles (18 minutes) to >>>>>
Stop 3: Black Madonna Shrine in Pacific
100 St. Joseph Hill Road;
Franciscan monks from Poland came to the area in 1927 and several years later built a collection of grottos to house statues of the Blessed Mother, Jesus and His disciples, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, St. Francis, St. Joseph and others. The shrine’s chapel has an icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, known as the Black Madonna, for visitors to venerate.
Drive 88.6 miles (1.5 hours) to >>>>>
Stop 4: Shrine of Our Lady of Grace at St. Joseph in Apple Creek
138 St. Joseph Lane; (573) 788-2330
A path leads down from St. Joseph Church to a spring, where parishioners in the 1950s constructed an elaborate grotto of stones. Today, a waterfall pours from a cave into a pool, past an altar, beneath a small bridge and back into the cave. Atop a wooded hill is a statue of Our Lady of Grace.
Drive 14 miles (19 minutes) to >>>>>
Stop 5: National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville
1805 W. St. Joseph St.; (800) 264-6279
Around the same time that St. Mary’s of the Barrens was established by the Vincentians in Perryville, St. Catherine Laboure received a series of visions from the Virgin Mary, who presented her with the design for the Miraculous Medal. In 1929, St. Mary’s of the Barrens became the site of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Visit the church and enjoy the lush beauty of the grounds, and end your day by praying the Rosary on the shrine’s outdoor Rosary Walk.
>> The Missouri River trip (yellow circles on map)
Stop 1: St. George Church in Hermann
128 W. 4th St.; (573) 486-2723
St. George sits atop a high hill in Hermann, overlooking the town and the surrounding countryside. Apropos for the town, the stained glass windows, which depict the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, were created in Germany.
Drive 8.7 miles (12 minutes) to >>>>>
Stop 2: Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg
197 State Highway P; (855) 781-4824
Tradition has it that in 1891, the people of Starkenburg vowed to conduct an annual pilgrimage in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows if she would stop the torrential rains threatening the town. The rains stopped, and the people kept their word, building the shrine from limestone they quarried themselves. Today, plaques on the interior walls offer thanks for answered prayers. A set of leg braces leans against a chapel altar, left there in 1935 by a young woman healed of polio.
Drive 48.3 miles (1 hour) to >>>>>
Stop 3: Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Frankenstein
1665 Highway C; (573) 897-2587
Unlike most Missouri settlements, the church predates the town in Frankenstein. Visit the Romanesque-style church, constructed of locally quarried stone, in the center of town.
Drive 7.7 miles (12 minutes) to >>>>>
Stop 4: St. Louis of France Church in Bonnots Mill
211 Church Hill St.; (573) 897-2922
The small, wood-frame church sits on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Osage rivers.
Drive 23 miles (33 minutes) to >>>>>
Stop 5: Cathedral of St. Joseph in Jefferson City
2305 W. Main St.; (573) 635-7991
The Cathedral of St. Joseph opened in 1968, replacing St. Peter Church in downtown Jefferson City as the cathedral for the Diocese of Jefferson City. A major renovation was completed in 2023 and blessed on May 4. The new interior includes murals painted by St. Louis-based sacred artist Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs.
Add-ons: Visit St. Peter Church, near the Missouri State Capitol, and Immaculate Conception Church in Jefferson City while you’re there.
If your travels take you to these cities this summer, consider adding in a place to pray:
The Lake of the Ozarks: Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church in Laurie
Branson: Our Lady of the Lake Church
Kansas City: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, cathedral of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph
>> “Places to Pray: Holy Sites in Missouri”
Copies of the book are available to order from many places books are sold, including directly from local publisher Reedy Press: reedypress.com/shop/places-to-pray/
>> Book signing
Patrick Murphy will offer a presentation and Q&A about the book at 1 p.m. Sunday, June 11, at the National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal visitor center in Perryville. A book signing will follow. Call 1 (800) 254-6279 or visit the Shrine Events page at amm.org for more information.