'So many small graces' -- Man attending Mass in all 50 states makes Boston stop

BOSTON -- Daniel Markham was one of a couple dozen people who attended the midday Mass at St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street on June 2. For him, though, a typical visit for Mass during his lunch break. It was the latest stop on his yearlong journey visiting and writing about Catholic churches in each of the 50 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

The idea for this project came to Markham, a writer and parishioner of St. Gerald in Oak Lawn, Illinois, in 2016. He and his son liked attending Mass in different languages, and he had the idea to try to visit one church in each state, once a week over the course of one year, and write a book about his experience visiting all these communities. He is also sharing highlights of his journey on his website, 52masses.com.

He set 2021 as his start date, after his youngest child would have finished high school. After obtaining the blessing of his bishop at the time, Markham began writing to bishops and parishes across the country to explain the project and ask if they had anything in their parish that he should write about.

"I knew it was going to be an incredible experience, but it's vastly exceeded my expectations. I've been so blessed with everything," Markham said, speaking with The Pilot at St. Anthony Shrine.

Even before he began his travels, he conducted interviews by phone to collect information on some of parishes' stories. But visiting churches in person has been an essential component of the project. Without that, Markham said, "it just isn't remotely the same."

"I had to come to Mass, I had to worship with people, because there are so many small graces that I experienced that never would have happened if I tried to do everything by phone," Markham said.

The first church he visited for the project in June 2021 was St. Patrick's in Nashua, New Hampshire, where he helped the pastor take the ropes off pews because their coronavirus restrictions were being lifted. The project has taken a little longer than his original goal of one year. He now estimates that he will finish his nationwide itinerary in mid-July.

Often, Markham will be introduced to a parish community after Mass so he can talk to the people. He usually attends Sunday Mass, but in some cases, he will attend a weekday Mass if the circumstances call for it. He did just that at St. Anthony Shrine because of its downtown location and active ministries.

He also tries to participate in the ministries of the places he visits. Before attending Mass at the shrine, he spent an hour working in their food pantry, distributing soup and milk to the hungry and homeless.

"I love the opportunity to participate wherever possible," he said.

He also interviewed Spiritual Director Carol Mitchell about the shrine's spiritual direction ministry.

"I think there are so many great things that are going on every day in our faith, in this Church. And I just want to bring that to light," Markham said.

The journey to churches across the states has exposed him to many different aspects of Catholicism in different communities, more than the average layperson may see. Before, for example, he had never been to an Eastern Rite Catholic church. In California, he interviewed a director of religious education who runs a support group for divorced Catholics. He has stayed at some rectories and talked with priests about what drew them to their vocation and what they bring to their ministries.

Markham said he hopes that he will "do justice" to the people he writes about in each community, and that his readers will be "similarly inspired, as I have been, by their service, in whatever they've been called to do."

He said the process has been "so much fun, on top of being spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually rewarding."

"Everything along the way is this introduction to the richness of the faith that I probably just wasn't fully aware of until I'd done this," Markham said.

He acknowledged that he has "only scratched the surface," and said he hopes to continue learning even after he has completed the book.

"There's so much more room for my faith to grow. I'm looking forward to that even when I'm not on the road any longer. I hope I continue to seek that out," he said.

Markham said that if someone wanted to do a similar project, they could choose 52 other churches, because "every place has a story."

"I just happened to choose the 52 that I did, but anyone else could do entirely different ones and be just as richly rewarded in the experience as I have been," he said.