Google map helps Catholics plan Holy Thursday Seven Churches Visitation

| Debbie Musser | March 20, 2020 | 0 Comments

Joe Clarke and his family joined the congregation at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul on Holy Thursday last year as they made their seven-church pilgrimage. COURTESY JOE CLARKE

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, marking the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, concludes with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose.

Catholics pause in silent adoration, remaining and keeping watch as Jesus requested his disciples to do during his night of prayer in the garden, before his death and resurrection.

For some participants Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis around the world, this after-Mass time begins a unique evening pilgrimage that involves stopping and praying at a number of churches. And a Google map developed by Joe Clarke of St. Paul in Ham Lake features more than 50 parishes in the archdiocese Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that welcome the faithful during that sacred time.

Clarke, 42, an engineer and father of six who also serves as organist at St. Michael in Stillwater, created the user-friendly map as a nod to the Seven Churches Visitation, a traditional Holy Thursday devotion started and still practiced in Rome.

Clarke researches parish websites and bulletins for up-to-date information for the map, a tool people can use to design their own pilgrimage route.

Find the Seven Churches Visitation Google Map at Joe Clarke plans to update the map with COVID-19-related closures.

“Churches are grouped and color-coded by closing time, and the map includes notes about whether there are special night prayer offerings or sung vespers,” he said.

“My goal was to take the work I was already doing in planning my family’s pilgrimage and make it easier for others to try.”

Clarke learned about the Seven Churches Visitation from Father Francis Hoffman, affectionately known as Father Rocky, the executive director and CEO of Wisconsin-based Relevant Radio.

“Father Rocky spoke about his family participating in the tradition while growing up in Chicago, which included a banana split at the end before midnight and the start of Good Friday,” Clarke said.

“I was immediately intrigued because I love exploring beautiful churches, and I knew the treat at the end would be ‘inspiring’ for my kids,” he said.”

Clarke and his family have participated in the Seven Churches tradition for nearly 10 years.

“We’ve told the kids to ‘make it their own’ and suggested options, including praying a couple of Stations of the Cross at each church, saying prayers for a different friend or family member at each stop, or sitting quietly with the Lord,.” he said.


St. Philip Neri is credited with the origin of the custom, which dates back to the 16th century. During the pilgrimage, which is also referred to as the Seven Station Churches Visitation, he and his followers visited the four major basilicas of Rome, plus the three significant minor basilicas.

John Boyle, 61, a Catholic Studies and theology professor and chair of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, said that in modern Rome, people can now visit dozens of churches on Holy Thursday evening.

“People travel from church to church and the atmosphere is lively, vibrant and festive,” he said. “It’s a beautiful recognition of the reality of the Blessed Sacrament and our Lord in repose.”

Boyle and his wife, Dia, lead an annual pilgrimage to seven churches within a walkable distance from UST.St. Thomas. The pilgrimage drew more than 100 participants last year. “We start at Nativity of our Lord after Mass and end up at UST’s Albertus Magnus Chapel, with donuts for the kids in Sitzmann Hall,” he said.

“We began with Catholic Studies’ current and former students, and now it’s grown to include neighborhood families,” he said. “This is a wonderfully reverent and social event which captures a bit of the Roman spirit.”

Clarke notes that through the Seven Churches Visitations, his family has been enriched by the larger, archdiocesan Catholic community.

“We’ve experienced Vietnamese Catholics singing and chanting prayers in their native language at St. Adalbert in St. Paul, and seminarians chanting hymns and psalms in Latin at All Saints in Minneapolis,” he said.

“And we’ve incorporated Father Rocky’s treat tradition,” he noted, “with ice cream or French fries at a McDonald’s before midnight.”

Caroline Langfeld, 52, a resident of Blaine and member of the Church of St. Paul, grew up in northeast Minneapolis, where she participated in the Holy Thursday church visitation tradition with her cousins, starting at her mother’s home parish of St. Boniface.

“I’m sure there were years when we only made it to a few churches because of weather or someone having a meltdown, but I encourage families to give it a try,”
Langfeld said.

“Joe’s map makes this pilgrimage so accessible,” she said. “Seeing other parishes and their beautiful adoration chapels gives a feeling of the universality of the church.”

A middle school English teacher at St. Peter in North St. Paul, Jenny Lippert, 28, is grateful for the work Clarke has put into his Google map. She participates in the Seven Churches Visitation with her husband, Jonah.

“These have been important and beautiful moments for us,” Lippert said, “bringing to mind that we’re all journeying, and that Jesus is the reason and goal of our journey.”

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