Accidental Pilgrimage in Saint Augustine, Florida

64820_10200483125862877_1828374193_nIt was a perfect day and perfect way to end Sisters Weekend 2013.

After sunrise and laughter over coffee on the beach this morning, we found ourselves hanging out on the sofas telling stories, drinking more coffee. Suddenly one of us discovered we were supposed to check out of the condo at 10am  (in ten minutes). Yikes!

A couple of us (not me) hopped up to pack; but Number 11 was painting Mom’s toes a beautiful turquoise color and she still had to add the glitter top coat. And of course they would need to dry.

Nonetheless we had all three cars packed and ready to go just in time to greet the housekeepers who arrived at 10:40. We were just a little bit late. Growing up in a big family, you learn when Mom says, “It’s time to go,” you need to be quick.

"Rustic Altar" on the site of the first Mass celebrate in the US.

“Rustic Altar” on the site of the first Mass celebrate in the US.

We drove a few miles away to the Mission of Nombre de Dios and Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche located at 27 Ocean Avenue in Saint Augustine. The plan was to visit the mission and shrine, have lunch and be on the road by 2.

We walked the grounds for almost two hours—viewing the 208-foot cross commemorating Pedro de Menedez de Aviles’ landing in 1565.  On property too is the site of the first parish Mass in the US and the first Spanish Mission in America.  But the highlight of the visit for us was the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche.

The Shrine of Our Lady of la Leche is the first shrine dedicated to Our Blessed Mother in the United States. The devotion to Our Lady of la Leche was brought from Spain in 1598 by the Spanish settlers of St. Augustine. The present chapel dates from 1914 and is a replica of earlier coquina chapels. It houses a replica of the statue of Our Lady of la Leche and provides visitors with a quiet place to pray.

Unbeknownst to us, the Shrine was designated by the Bishop of Saint Augustine as an official pilgrimage site during the Year of Faith (October 2012 – November 2013)!  I was trailing behind so the others had already entered and prayed at the Altar inside, but hadn’t noticed the posting showing it was a designated pilgrimage site.

I was filled with joy when I discovered this and ran to tell my sisters who had broken off into sets of ones and twos in various parts of the grounds.  They all raced back to follow the instructions of the Bishop in order to receive their Plenary Indulgences.

shrineThe instructions on the door were:

Porta Fidei, Open the Door of Faith! The Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, has declared the period from October 11, 2012 to November 24, 2013 as a “Year of Faith.” The Door of Faith is always open for us inviting us to a “life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church.”

The Most Reverend Felipe J Estevez, DD, STD, Tenth Bishop of Saint Augustine has designated this church, Chapel of Our Lady of La Leche as a pilgrimage site during the Year of Faith.

The faithful who, making a pilgrimage in faith and participating here in the sacred liturgy or, at least pause for an apt time for recollection and pious meditations, concluding the recitation of the Our Father, the Apostles or Nicene Creed, and invoking the intercession of the Blessed Mother–Our Lady of La Leche–as well as our diocesan patron Saint Augustine of Hippo, be granted a Plenary Indulgence.

The usual conditions of being free from attachment to sin, sacramental confession, reception of Holy Communion and prayers for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI are also to be accomplished to gain the indulgence.  The indulgence is obtained for the individual or it may be applied to the faithful departed.  signed here, The Most Reverend Felipe J Estevez, DD, STD, Bishop of Saint Augustine

We were so excited to have this accidental pilgrimage when we were all together and with Mom–on Sisters Weekend!  It was so meaningful and extraordinary!

And I was a little extravagant in my touristy behaviors.  I’ve always dreaded sitting down with a friend to look at pages and pages of photos taken of monuments and attractions on her last vacation—and so I’ve never been one to take pictures of landmarks and things like that.  I’d say, “What’s the point of not having people in the photos?”

But then here I was, despite myself, taking photo after photo of every little memorial and structure and gravesite.  I couldn’t pass by these beautiful pieces of Catholic history and not document it in photos.  It was truly like Disneyland for me, if I was one to love Disneyland that is, which I’m not.

I purchased some holy water on my way out and we headed over to the Conch House Restaurant.  It was situated right on the water, surrounded by boats and birds. We had a seat outside and enjoyed a scrumptious lunch to finalize the weekend.  Each of us were like, “Wow, that oyster po-boy was the best I’ve ever had. How were your fish tacos? Oh, they were the best I’ve ever had!  And your Cuban sandwich?  It was the best I’d ever had!”

CAM00161The sisters ordered a carafe of wine and I had an O’Doules that I didn’t finish.  An accidental pilgrimage and a grace filled day for this Catholic alcoholic.

14 thoughts on “Accidental Pilgrimage in Saint Augustine, Florida

  1. Wonderful experience for all of you! We live not too far from a Martyrs’ Shrine in Ontario Canada. I haven’t been there in years, and now I think I’ll make a point of going there with my husband. Thanks for inspiring me!

    I notice your WP theme is the same as mine – I figured fish were rather appropriate. Were you thinking the same thing?

    Peace of Christ be with you,


    • Thank you for stopping by! Our experience makes me want to visit other shrines, too! So funny our themes are the same. I picked it because I liked the “look” of it. I did think about the fish theme later and felt the same way, that it fits! I have another blog friend in Canada 8kidsandabusiness . If you don’t already know her, check her out. Have a great day!

  2. Accidental, eh? Is it odd or is it God? Hmmmm…
    But the wonderful thing about reading this (and seeing the great pics) is the sheer sort of wild-eyed serenity and joy that this day brought forth to you. What an inspiring read 🙂


  3. Pingback: 7 Quick Takes: 7 Pilgrimage Sites in the South and East US | Catholic Alcoholic

  4. Pingback: Member Blog Round-Up | The Catholic Writers Guild

    • Definitely worth the trip. And beside the beach gives extra incentive! Plus we attended Mass in the very first parish in the US in Saint Augustine!!!

  5. I stumbled upon your blog while trying to find out whether or not this precious chapel still stands! My husband and I visited it years ago while on an anniversary trip. I have such fond memories of stepping inside to pray. We were struggling with infertility issues, and I prayed concerning this while in the chapel. It comforted me SO much, and after 12 1/2 years of waiting for a child of our own, God sent us a sweet, precious baby boy on December 26, 2000, completely natural with no fertility drugs! He is now 12 years old and is the joy of our whole lives! You made my day when I read of your wonderful experience there with your family. It brings me so much comfort to know the chapel is still there and is still supplying peace and serenity to others. I would love to go back one day and pray with our sweet boy and give special thanksgiving to God together! I love your blog. You were a special blessing to me today, and for this, I thank you. 🙂

    • Yay! What a great story! Thank you for your comment. Its definitely still there. Beautiful spiritual. When my sister was young to get pregnant after years and years we sent a note to this ministry Our Lady of the Leche down there and the nuns prayed for her and she got pregnant within two months! The boy is 12 now too (will be thirteen in July). God is good!

      • Wow! That is the neatest thing, isn’t it?? How wonderful! God surely is good. I am so thankful He answers prayer. I have identified so much with Hannah through the years, longing for a child. I keep telling our son that God has a special plan for his life, when I think of all of the barren women in the Bible who God eventually blessed with sons. Hannah & Samuel, Rachel & Joseph, Elizabeth & John the Baptist, Sarah & Isaac, etc. I am so excited to hear about your sister’s story. So glad to have “met” you, and I invite you to visit my blog anytime, also! God’s peace be with you. :~)

  6. I forgot to tell you…the way I found you is through the catholic travel guide. You probably know it, but they have a link at the bottom that directs to your blog! Really cool! :~)

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