Woman’s New Venture a Step in Faith
Pilgrimage Planner
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
September 1, 2022
They’re my two loves: travel and faith,” says Marcie Girolamo, who was director of evangelization and administrative assistant at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Crystal Lake until a few months ago. 
 
Knowing inside herself that it was time to leave, she asked God what He wanted her to do. What came to mind was to combine her two passions and start her own travel company based in her McHenry home: Stella Maris Tours, LLC. She launched that venture in June … and the Lord, she says, “just opened the door.”
 
Girolamo knows from experience that “it’s so natural (for me) to plan trips.” She’s planned numerous trips over many years including pilgrimages for priests who wanted their parishioners to grow in faith by being introduced to holy places. 
 
She’s led many multi-day pilgrimages to places around the world, saying that, aside from countries at war, “no location in the entire world is out of my comfort zone. … I have contacts all over the world from my travels. I just reach out to them, and they help me with their corner of the world … I start with what I know, and I build (a pilgrimage) from there.”
 
For example, an upcoming trip with a half-day stop in Turkey, she says, will include visiting the site where the Blessed Mother lived. With the help of a local friend, pilgrims also will experience the culture with Turkish sweets on the bus, a song or two, a talk on what it’s like to live there, and a stop at a Turkish store where pilgrims can buy spices and such.
 
“After half a day, they will feel like they’ve experienced the country (and will) know the Catholic faith is there in that Muslim country,” Girolamo says.
 
Her pilgrimages in the U.S. also include some of what states are known for, she says. “When (pilgrims) come back, yes their souls are filled, but they also will experience the rich culture of that state,” she says, mentioning the wine country and ocean beaches of California as an example of add-on experiences when touring mission churches.
 
Girolamo’s specialty, however, are short trips, one to two days of travel to holy places. The advantages of these shorter pilgrimages are many, she says.
 
“I really feel not a lot of people can afford (thousands of dollars for long trips), or maybe their health isn’t good enough, or they have kids, families, jobs,” she says. “But nearly everybody can spend a little money and take one day off … I can fill a bus of 50 easily for a one-day trip.”
 
And those pilgrims “can have a day to discover the Lord, refresh their souls, get great Catholic fellowship (and) be able to see great, breathtaking churches,” she says. 
 
“I’m bringing them to places where they can get a true sense of a pilgrimage without having to spend a lot of time or a lot of money.
 
“I’ve seen people opening up their hearts more to the faith … it doesn’t take a big trip for things to happen.”
 
Her own Secular Carmelite vocation began on a trip she took with her mother more than 20 years ago where she was introduced to St. Teresa of Avila. It was a trip, she says, “that kind of confirmed my love of Catholic travel … I find my joy in watching other people experience holy sites for the first time.”
 
Girolamo has worked with several area priests and has several others expressing interest. She says those trips are “all about what the priest wants.” Most include daily Masses and devotions. Some have adoration, music, nightly praise and worship, perhaps an introduction to Lectio Divina or a scripture study — all depending on the priest host.
 
Girolamo accompanies each pilgrimage to be on hand to take care of any glitches or emergencies, like tracking down a drug store if someone forgot medication. Although the bulk of her pilgrimage customers are priests, she says she’s happy to consider planning trips for others, like a Knights group, big family reunion, or parish pilgrimage. She either would find a priest to join such pilgrimages or would hunt down Masses along the way, she says.
 
Starting a new business is, of course, a challenge, and Girolamo has plans to enlist her daughter and son-in-law in designing trips for younger Catholics. Eventually, she thinks that “amazing, organized and joyful” couple will run some of the trips. 
 
“I’ll have them shadow me,” she says. “When you start a company, you can’t do it all by yourself.”
 
Still, even if she has been to a particular Chicago church 20 times before, Girolamo doesn’t tire of going again. “Helping (pilgrims) experience God in a deeper way … That’s what it is all about for me,” she says.
 
“My vocation in this ministry is letting the Lord love others through my work.”
 
—More information from: Marcie.stellamaristours@gmail.com.

 

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