Marion Amberg has spent months researching a new Catholic travel guide published by Our Sunday Visitor titled “Monuments, Wonders and Miracles: A Traveler’s Guide to Catholic America”. Released in April, it’s already heading for a third impression – and Amberg is working on a sequel. The 60-something Minnesota native, now based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, shared her journey.
Q) Tell me about your writing process.
A) I get up at 3 a.m. My in-house editor died at that time. I wake up, brew a cup of roasted French coffee – the darker the better – and I pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, dwell in my spirit, dwell in my words.” And then I start to write, in my pajamas.
Q) Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A) No. When I was in college, I had to take a Comp 101 English course. The rector who revised our tests asked me if I had ever thought about journalism. I was walking down the hall and he stopped me and said, “You are kind of a rebel. But I think if you want to be awesome you can be awesome.
Q) It was a turning point. I guess you could say it was divinely ordained.
A) Not that I was a model student. I would skip class. But he saw something. He saw something, and he took the time to tell me.
Q) Over 500 Catholic sites from all 50 states are included in the book. Was it difficult to decide who made the cut?
A) I wanted to include little-known places with cathedrals, and tried to cover different areas of each state. Each site had to have an intriguing story to tell.
Q) The variety is wonderful.
A) This book emphasizes that the Catholic Church in America is a melting pot. We are one, but we are not one in the same. We can keep our cultural practices. We are not cookie-cutter Christians. Germans bring their Marian traditions, Italians bring theirs, and oh my God, Filipinos have wonderful Christmas traditions! Lithuania, Vietnam – they have such vibrant cultures!
Q) You have searched countless travel websites and diocesan newspapers for articles.
A) Part of the relationship is connecting the dots. You see models. For example, in many churches across the country, the church that is now standing is the third building, and I find that number to be quite large.
They would build an earthen church in the meadow, and then maybe after they had more money, they would build a wooden church, and a lot of these wooden churches were struck by lightning and burned down, which caused led to the construction of a third.
There is an incredible story about Trinity Heights in Sioux City, Iowa. The priest and several parishioners started praying the Rosary and never did any active fundraising (to build the site), but Mary brought the money. The only thing I have learned while making “Monuments” is: to pray. Pray, pray, pray – and pray again. So many of these places started out as a promise to Mary or a promise to God. “I need help, and I will.”
Q) Your writing is fast. This guide has personality!
A) I want readers to have fun. God is not boring! The saints weren’t boring! Faith doesn’t have to be boring. We should always look for the unexpected.
I didn’t want to preach to people. It’s like, “Come and see for yourself!” The book is not written just for Catholics. If you love mosaics, no matter what your religion, you’ll want to head to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, where mosaics cover 83,000 square feet.
Q) Cards play a central role in the book.
A) I was reminded that people travel today using GPS. Not me! I want a map! I guess I’m old school. There was a site in Daniel, Wyoming, when I was telling a historian about it, he said, “Please tell the reader not to use GPS. They’ll go through private land, ranch land, and they’ll have to stop and open the gate. So I wrote, “Check with Daniel for directions. GPS not recommended.
Q) Is it true that you are considering returning to the Midwest?
A) Yes. The things I miss are seemingly insignificant to the people of Minnesota. I miss the water. I miss the cardinals. I miss the occasional blizzard. There is something comforting about the wind blowing outside and you are just sitting inside reading.
Q) Ten Minnesota sites are included. I loved the story of Venerable Frédéric Baraga and his journey from Île Madeline to the Côte-Nord. Have there been any storms in your life where you, in essence, lay in your little boat and prayed just like him?
A) Many times! If you run into a roadblock, it is a sign that you must lie down in the boat and hand everything over to God. This is a sign that maybe God wants you to go in a different direction or wait or just let go of this stress.
Q) What have you learned from your time at the bottom of the boat?
A) I have enough years on me that I can look back and say, “God takes care of his people.
Another gift of aging is acceptance. The older you get, the less you care about what other people think, so you become even more true to yourself and even more true to the gifts God has given you.
Q) What has helped you embrace the aging process?
A) Walk, walk, walk! And don’t watch the news! If you do, you become very fearful. We can know what’s going on, but we don’t need to know all the details. Your dreams may change as you get older, but they don’t end when you retire. This is when you can start doing the things you really want to do! I hate the word “retirement”. I prefer to call it “re-shoot”, because you are embarking on another period of life.
Q) Do you feel young at heart?
A) I feel like the 60s are just the beginning of my life. The graces of God don’t stop when we start collecting Social Security.
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