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A photographer’s “extraordinary journey” to visit every U.S. cathedral and basilica

Andrew Masi, who has now visited 99 cathedrals and 58 basilicas, says that his experiences photographing the churches have “deepened my faith, making it stronger, healthier and hungrier for more.”

The altar in the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Brooklyn, NY. (Image: Andrew Masi/Flickr)

Andrew Masi of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, is in the midst of a 20-year “extraordinary journey” to visit the 192 cathedrals and 92 basilicas of the United States. Masi, who converted to the Catholic Faith in 2005, works for a public relations firm and has so far visited 99 U.S. cathedrals and 58 basilicas. He expects to visit the remainder over the next decade.

Using nothing more than his smartphone, the amateur photographer has extensively photographed each, and plans to compile his best shots into a photography book of the nation’s great Catholic churches. (Click here to see photographs from his church visits.)

The idea first came to him in 2014 when he attended Easter Mass in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey, which opened for Mass in 1928, even as work continued until its dedication in 1954. Pope St. John Paul II elevated it to minor basilica status in 1995; it is the fifth largest cathedral in North America.


The entrance to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, New Jersey. (Image: Andrew Masi/Flickr)

The French Gothic cathedral is arguably one of the most spectacular houses of Catholic worship in the country, featuring hand-carved decorations of wood, stone and marble imported from countries throughout the world. Fourteen bells in its west tower were cast in Padua, Italy, its massive bronze doors were imported from Rome and its Italian marble altar originated from a quarry in Pietrasanta, Italy. It encloses a variety of chapels honoring different ethnic Catholic groups who lived in the Newark area. The remains of five former bishops of Newark are buried under the cathedral crypt. Other features include a 9,513-pipe organ, a 36-foot rose window over the main entrance and 232-foot twin towers (taller than the Notre Dame in Paris) and copper spire soaring 300 feet skyward. (Take a virtual tour here and here.)

As Masi toured the structure, he recalled, “I thought it was magnificent. Why not visit all the cathedrals and basilicas in the country and experience their beauty?”

Masi begins by researching which cathedrals and basilicas are located in a particular region of the country, then takes a flight or drives to the area and spends what time he has visiting each. He alerts the clergy of each church of his impending visit, and typically receives a warm welcome upon his arrival. He recalled, for example, his visit to Sacred Heart Cathedral in the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa in 2019: “I went for Mass, and before the priest began, he introduced me to the congregation. After Mass, everyone came up to greet me. … it was a wonderful feeling; it took me by surprise.”

The Davenport cathedral was completed in 1891. Its features include an extensive amount of woodwork on the interior, a vaulted ceiling, rose window and images of the twelve Apostles in stained glass windows. A large window over the altar depicts Jesus appearing to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century; the French nun promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A large pipe organ, installed 1991-92, is located in the rear of the cathedral. (Take a virtual tour here.)

The interior of Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Image: Andrew Masi/Flickr)

Masi began his photography tour at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Springfield, Massachusetts, an hour and a half drive from his home diocese. This beautiful cathedral opened in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War, he learned, and is Springfield’s first Catholic church. Features include a 120-foot tower with illuminated statue of St. Michael the Archangel, colorful stained glass which depict the responsibilities of a bishop, columns, a 6,600-pipe organ, a burning bush mosaic behind the tabernacle and seating capacity for 1,175.

Masi says he’s seen some impressive churches, but his favorite so far has been the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Its first Mass was held in 1914; it was designated a basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1997, and the pontiff visited St. Louis in 1999 and prayed in the cathedral. It is perhaps best known for its many mosaics, one of the largest collections in the world. Masi remarked, “They were beyond gorgeous, words can’t describe how wonderful they were.” (Take a virtual tour of its art and artwork.)

The main altar in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Missouri. (Image: Andrew Masi/Flickr)

Another favorite was the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Located alongside The Catholic University of America, it is North America’s largest Catholic church and one of the ten largest in the world. Its cornerstone was laid in 1920, the first Mass was held in 1924. Its lower crypt level has many chapels and sections honoring particular saints and was completed in 1932. The upper church was completed in 1959. It is a hub of activity, open daily with Masses and confessions throughout the day. Its prominent visitors have included Popes St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis, as well as St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Masi toured its more than 80 chapels and oratories, photographing many, and recalling, “I was awestruck by its beauty. (Take a tour here.)

He also fondly remembers Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, which had its cornerstone laid in 1874. Highlights include its “IHS” ceiling artwork, wooden resurrection crucifix suspended over the altar, ambo of the evangelists, shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, cathedra (bishop’s chair), large bronze doors, sanctuary panels and galeros (cardinal’s hats) suspended from the ceiling. It was built in the Gothic style and can seat 1,110. (Take a tour here.)

Masi recalled, “Holy Name was a busy cathedral, located just a few blocks from Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile, but it had a sense of peace, serenity, beauty and prayerfulness. It was a beautiful place in the heart of the city.”

One historical note he learned: Holy Name Cathedral once faced Schofield’s Flower Shop, the headquarters of mobster Dean O’Banion. After he was killed, his successor, Earl “Hymie” Weiss was machine gunned to death by rival Al Capone’s men in front of the cathedral, with stray bullets striking the cathedral’s cornerstone.

One more favorite was Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, located not far from the iconic museum “Rocky Steps” and Rocky statue from the 1976 Rocky movie. This historic church dates to the mid-19th-century, and also welcomed Popes St. John Paul II and Francis for Mass. It’s Pennsylvania’s largest church, seating 2,000, and features beautiful domes, arches, an ornate altar with baldachin (canopy), bronze states and ceiling murals.Philadelphia’s bishops are buried under the altar, as are many other prominent Catholics who once lived and worked in the region. In 2017, St. Katharine Drexel’s remains were relocated to the cathedral when the Bensalem, Pennsylvania convent grounds she established were sold. (Take a tour here.)

The tomb of St. Katharine Drexel in Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. (Image: Andrew Masi/Flickr)

Next on Masi’s itinerary include visits to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Memphis, Tennessee with a side trip to the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock, Arkansas. Immaculate Conception is a cruciform church dedicated in 1938 and is built in the Spanish Colonial Revival Style. St. Andrew opened for Mass in 1881 and features twin towers, the taller of which is 86-feet tall and is topped by a spire (the original spire was toppled by a 1950 tornado and it was replaced by a 400-lb. bronze cross).

Masi plans his trips around cathedral renovations, preferring to visit after they have been completed. And, despite the mounting costs of his trips, he plans to visit churches as far away as Hawaii and Alaska. He is particularly looking forward to Alaska, “as I hear the churches are spread out there, and the landscape is beautiful.”

Masi noted that his experiences photographing the nation’s cathedrals and basilicas have “deepened my faith, making it stronger, healthier and hungrier for more.” When he finishes photographing all the nation’s cathedrals and basilicas over the next decade, he said, he’s still got a lifetime of work ahead of him, as he wants to begin photographing the cathedrals and basilicas of Canada and Europe.

He concluded, “As we go through our troubling times, I hope my work will inspire people to cling to their faith and keep trusting in God.”

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About Jim Graves 227 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.


  1. This is marvelous! Beauty! The beauty of Truth and the truth of Beauty!

    And, having viewed the 100 images in the link, might we contemplate not only the beauty but also the mathematics of fine and stable architecture? Consider, for example, that a picture is worth a thousand words and, therefore, that these 100 thousand words outweigh by a factor of four the word count (and unstable content!) of the Instrumentum Laboris (IL: 27,380 words) for the circular Synod on Synodality! Instead, now heartfelt and soul-fed delight in the steadfast foundation of so-called (what’s that word again, oh yes) “doctrinal intransigence” (Pope Francis, surely another mistranslation!).

    But, with the IL in mind, or wherever, do we still detect a deficiency in these (some might say “backward”) masterpieces? Surely, the missing element, somewhere, is an inverted pyramid—and one which is mounted, so to speak, by a rainbow flag. Quick, alert bridge-builder and photo-op James Martin who now numbers himself among the Synodal intelligentsia!

    …Thank we God for the well-grounded and real work of converts like photo-artist Andrew Masi….And, like the twelve apostles of our still somewhat apostolic Church.

  2. On the west side of Grand Rapids is the beautiful St Adalbert’s Basilica, where I went to growing up. One of the striking features is the stain glass windows. Also in Grand Rapids, on the west side are other beautiful churches like St Peter and Paul, St Mary’S and Sacred Heart. Each took a while to build, but in the end you have a wonderful Church to go to mass and pray. Unfortunately too many of the today’s newer churches architecture is blase and almost iconoclastic. There is a need to have churches with statues and stain glass windows depicting Christ and his saint and angels and messages from the bible.

  3. This is really cool, all of the old Baroque style art and the giant arched sanctuaries in these old cathedrals are amazing. I wonder if Mr Masi has included any Byzantine Catholic cathedrals on his list? I’ve never been to one, but I have heard that it’s like stepping into another world. What an awesome endeavor, will check out his gallery link.

  4. When our church burned to the ground the local Lutheran community [Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge area has a significant Lutheran Scandinavian community] offered their church for our Masses. I was impressed by their kindness as well as the liturgical decor much like traditional Catholic.
    Now the irony. When the doors were opened for our newly built church, I walked into what seemed like a soulless block cell for the disorderly. No sign of easily recognizable Catholicity. Grey walls. Odd modern art figures representing the Stations. Plain glass windows. A corpseless cross behind an ominous operating table.
    I spent many moments visiting Our Lady of Perpetual Help [about 3 m from where I lived] shown in the article. Or a bit further S at Precious Blood Monastery on Ft Hamilton Pkwy where the noted liturgist and religious author Msgr Joseph Frey offered Mass for the Sisters. The Romanesque Monastery was like an acre of heaven transported to Earth. Masi’s Journey was certainly a yearning for what was. Church architecture since the sixties reflects the ongoing spiritual disarray.

    • Your comment hit the nail on the head. Today went to a later mass at another parish in NW Chicago suburb. Behind the alter just a a white background with a faceless mural of the cross. While there is cross above. To many new churches reflect this type of anti scared architecture. On the other hand, was in Arlington, Virginia recently and attended mass at Mary Queen of the Apostles. A newer very beautiful church, with an alter and statues that reflects the pre 1960 Catholic tradition.

    • Father, I grew up in St. Saviour’s parish in Brooklyn. It was built in basilica style and has beautiful stain glass windows and paintings depicting the life of the Saviour on the ceiling. Unfortunately, the High Altar and communion rail were destroyed in the Great Catastrophe of the post Vatican II 1960’s. There was a great YouTube video tour of the church done by a former pastor that brilliantly explained the church’s furnishings.

  5. Wonderful project. I look forward to the viewing of these Houses of God! Blessings, Fr. Richard Davis, TOR, Loretto, PA.

  6. I visited the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, about a year ago. One can wander about freely but they also offer free tours conducted a docent. Find the sign up desk near the gift shop. I took one with a family of 4 who spoke Spanish. Fabulous almost private tour. The church is amazing with many side altars dedicated to Mary.Beautiful art work. Lots of warm beige travertine marble everywhere, a HUGE and magnificent figure of Jesus gracing the top inside of the dome in the main church, which seats 4,000 I understand. Lots of mosaic work everywhere. You could spend hours and hours here just contemplating the art work and enjoying the silence. I happened upon a side chapel where they were having Eucharistic adoration. Glad that happened, and I stopped to pray a while. There is a cafeteria inside, but best to check if it has yet re-opened. I visited during covid and it was closed. Two lovely gift shops, one more a book store, also worth a look. You will almost certainly see something you want. This is one of the 10 largest Cathedrals in the world, not to be missed. FYI, it sits on the edge of the campus of Catholic University, in case you are taking your child to see their campus. Worth the time to visit if you are in the area on vacation.

  7. Andrew Masi’s work is beautiful. I am a retired Catholic priest in Akron, Ohio and I hope that he comes back to Ohio. He might not know about 3 other cathedrals in Ohio and a shrine in Akron. The 3 other cathedrals are Byzantine Ritr: St Josephat Ukrainian. St John Ruthenian, both in Parma, Ohio, ant St George Romanian in Canton, Ohio. The shrine is a replica of the Bethlehem Cave in the Holy Land and a museum of over 500 Nativities at Nativity Catholic Church in Akron. OhioI will be happy to talk with Andrew about these and host a visit if he comes.

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  1. A photographer’s “extraordinary journey” to visit the every U.S. cathedral and basilica – Via Nova
  2. A photographer’s “extraordinary journey” to visit the every U.S. cathedral and basilica – Catholic World Report

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