By Carolyn Shields
Are you on the East Coast? Looking for a fun and religious road trip this summer? Try Emmitsburg, Maryland.
This little town was founded over 200 years ago and with a population of just 3,000, Emmitsburg sees 200,000 pilgrims each year. Situated right on the Mason Dixon Line and backed by the Catoctin Mountains, which is an off shoot of the Appalachian Mountains, Emmitsburg is nestled in a valley and crawls up the side of what is endearingly called Mary's Mountain. Known for its rich Catholic history, as well as its role in the American Revolution and the Civil War and its proximity to Gettysburg (the largest battle ever fought in North America, as well as the turning point and the bloodiest battle during the Civil War.battle) and Washington, D.C, Emmitsburg makes for an ideal road trip destination for the young Catholic woman + co.
Legend has it that the Piscataway tribe lived in the area in the 1600s and settled around Toms Creek. Their Chief Ottawanta encountered an apparition of the Blessed Mother. It was due to this that the entire tribe was converted to Christianity. Named after this tribe, the Toms Creek One Hundred saw action in the Brandywine Battle and Valley Forge.
It was around this time that Emmitsburg also became a haven for Catholic French refugees who were fleeing from their own revolution and religious persecution in France. One of these refugees was Fr. John Dubois who arrived in Emmitsburg in 1791 with a letter of introduction from Lafayette whose wife was one of his parishoners. Fr. DuBois founded the Mount St. Mary’s seminary, the second oldest Catholic theologate in the U.S and the university in 1808. Pope Francis recently approved the beaitification of one former Mount seminarian, Fr. Stan Rother, who will become the first American born martyr. He was killed in Guatemala in the 1960s.
In 1809, Fr. Dubois had the honor of welcoming a recent widow, Elizabeth Anne Seton, to Emmitsburg after she moved her order, the Daugthers of Charity, from NYC to this small town. Mother Seton was widowed at the age of 29 when she had five young children. It was then that she felt called to convert from the Episocopal Church to Catholicism and founded the Daughters of Charity, modeled after St. Vincent De Paul’s order in France, and in doing so, her elite friends in NYC shunned her. She moved to Emmitsburg shortly after and opened up the first Catholic school in America. Due to the harsh winters in Emmitsburg, two of her daughters fell ill and died. Though her 46 years on earth were at times dark and lonely, Mother Seton turned her sufferings into sacrifices and through doing so, found great solace in our Lord. She would become the first American born saint. There is a Basilica, museum, and historic buildings to visit nearby. Daughters of Charity are still seen walking the grounds.
Mother Seton would often go up into the mountains to pray, one spot being what today is known as the Grotto of Lourdes. There, Mother Seton wrote, “We are half way in the sky. The height of our situation is incredible.”
The Grotto of Lourdes draws international pilgrims each year and was founded in 1728. The presence of a 25 ft golden statue of Mary which stands atop a 95 ft. campanile can be seen from miles away. Fr. John Dubois encouraged his seminarians to cultivate the gardens and wildflowers to form a place of solace and prayer on the mountain. The cave, which is the oldest part of the Grotto, features the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. There are countless statues, Stations of the Cross, fresh spring water, views of the valley, two chapels and a gift shop. There is another local story where a bishop visited the Grotto, and after his visit, he wrote to the Mount claiming how much he appreciated his stay and how beautiful the statue of Mary was. Puzzled, the Mount replied saying that the statue was actually taken down that day to be cleaned!
With excellent hiking at Catoctin Mountain Park, historic battlegrounds, and the nation's capital less than 1.5 hours away, Emmitsburg makes for an enriching day trip. There is no doubt that this little town is a holy ground, graced with the footsteps of saints.
So what are you waiting for? Check your calendar, save a weekend, and hit the road with your girlfriends!