“The goodness of God, and the merriness of living… cooking out, attending Mass… What we Catholics call the sacramental life.”
American novelist Walker Percy, speaking of life in the Shenandoah Valley 

Classic The Shenandoah Valley Experience

The much-lauded American Catholic author, Walker Percy, foresaw in his 1971 novel, Love in the Ruins, a future gathering of Catholics in this lovely and peaceful Valley, turning it into a type of Catholic sanctuary in a post-Christian nation. The entire Shenandoah Valley, immortalized in story and song, stretches along 200 miles of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, but we will concentrate on the northern 30 miles in and around Warren County, Virginia.

The Valley has been cultivated for centuries, and is now home to a number of organic farms where legacy breeds of livestock and vegetables are raised and sold “farm to table” — a culinary treat.  And many family-run wineries dot the countryside, producing fine wines from locally-grown grapes.

It is a land with a rich history, dating back to pre-Revolutionary days. The northern Shenandoah Valley was, in fact, surveyed by the young George Washington himself! The famed Shenandoah River, whose name in Algonquian means “Daughter of the Stars,” winds through the Valley. Nearby is also the northern end of the mountainous, 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, and the entrance to Shenandoah National Park and its stunning vistas and mountain pathways.

The Valley is a land of faith: there is an unusually strong Catholic presence here for an area situated squarely in the “Bible Belt.” Besides the Catholic churches and institutions in the immediate area (including the historic St. John the Baptist Chapel, built in the Civil War era), there are national Catholic shrines, monasteries and basilicas within easy driving distance for day trips. 

For example, the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is located an hour away amid a cluster of beautiful and spiritually significant sites in Emmitsburg, Maryland, including the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes and the church established in 1807 as “St. Mary’s-on-the-Hill.” Our visit there will immerse us in the rich Catholic history of our country as we encounter the dedicated religious who conduct tours of the shrines — and perhaps the docents in period dress who bring to life the growth of the Catholic Church in 19th-century America.

In Washington, D.C., just over an hour’s drive from the Valley, more Catholic sites await, including the magnificent Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the St. John Paul II National Shrine, and the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America. 

And, in the true Inside the Vatican Pilgrimage style, we will have many profound and touching encounters along the path of our pilgrimage – tea with cloistered nuns on a mountain top, hikers walking along the majestic Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park, dining with young Catholic farm workers who come from across the country to intern at a well-known Catholic organic farm, with live music and spiritual reflections by monks from a local monastery. 

We invite you to come to this beautiful Valley and see for yourself what Walker Percy envisioned when he called the Shenandoah Valley a place to enjoy “the goodness of God.”

Pilgrimage Overview

  • Spend five (5) nights at the San Damiano Spiritual Life Center (SDSLC)
  • Experience the serene and spiritual beauty of the Shenandoah Valley and nearby Catholic destinations

DAY 1 – Arrival

  • Arrive at the SDSLC and join us for an afternoon tea
  • Relax at welcome dinner
  • Celebrate evening Mass

DAY 2 – Tea with Nuns

  • Meditate on the morning’s spiritual reflection
  • Celebrate Mass with a monk on a mountain top overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains
  • Encounter nuns at their monastery

DAY 3 – Skyline Drive Day Trip

  • Meditate on the morning’s spiritual reflection
  • Depart after lunch for a drive along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park
  • Enjoy a fresh farm-to-table dinner at a local Catholic farm

DAY 4 – Seton Shrine and National Grotto

  • Pray at the historic Gettysburg National Military Park  
  • Drive to Emmitsburg, Maryland to visit the St. Elizabeth Seton Shrine, where we will have Mass and tour the grounds
  • Lunch in Emmitsburg
  • Visit and pray at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, built just 21 years after the apparitions in France

DAY 5 – Front Royal and Wine

  • Meditate on the morning’s spiritual reflection
  • Visit Front Royal’s historic Main Street to shop and to have lunch on your own
  • Visit Inside the Vatican offices on Main Street for tea after lunch and to meet some of the local Catholics
  • Visit award-winning Rappahannock Cellars for wine tasting while taking in the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains

DAY 6 – Departure

  • Morning Mass and spiritual reflection before departure

Altar of Relics – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

Optional Washington D.C. Add-On


DAY 1 (FROM DAY 6 ABOVE) – Transfer from San Damiano Spiritual Life Center

  • Arrive at the Washington Retreat House
  • Tour the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

DAY 2 – Bible Museum and Monastery

  • Meditate on the morning’s spiritual reflection
  • Tour the Bible Museum
  • Encounter the friars at their monastery

DAY 3 – Departure

  • Morning Mass and spiritual reflection before departure