These are some of the places that have influenced my Christian faith.
Loyola Jesuit Center, Morristown, NJ
My father, uncle, and brother encouraged me to make weekend men’s retreats here, and I have since invited my son and friends. These are silent retreats, put on by the Society of Jesus in the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. We listen to talks, read and contemplate scripture, celebrate the sacraments, and mainly remain still among the quiet. A huge converted mansion houses chapels, a library, reading room, bookstore, dining hall, and private rooms, with beautiful grounds and outdoor Stations of the Cross. Here I was first exposed to the notion that God loved me, no matter what.
Lourdes in Litchfield Shrine, Litchfield, CT
Run by the Montfort Missionaries, this lovely shrine has as its centerpiece a stone grotto modeled after the place in France where, in 1858, a young peasant girl, Bernadette Soubrious, had an experience of the Mother of God appearing to her with a message of hope and encouragement. Sunday Mass is said outdoors from May to October, which is the Shrine’s “pilgrimage season,” hosting church communities from all over the northeast. The homilies are thought-provoking and delivered with humility.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Hartford, CT
“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” That is what is said at the beginning of every service I have attended here, starting when my son first sang with the Sanctuary Choir several years ago. AHCC is “open and affirming,” which is the United Church of Christ’s (UCC) designation for its member bodies to make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. Samuel Clemens, who lived in Hartford from 1874-1891, rented a pew here (as was common at the time) — second row on the left — marked with a small plate on the aisle.