Tour de Galveston-Houston: Parishioner makes pilgrimage to 100-plus local churches

March 28, 2023

A statue of Jesus Christ at rest is seen at St. James the Apostle Catholic Church in Spring, which was one of the parishes Carol Herrera visited on a pilgrimage during her journey to visit all the parishes in the Archdiocese. (Photo by Carol Herrera)

HOUSTON — A local parishioner, embarking on a pilgrimage to attend Mass at all 146 parishes and seven missions in the Archdiocese, so far has visited more than 100 local churches by this Lenten and Easter season.

Carol Herrera, a cradle Catholic, has traveled throughout Houston and parts of the Archdiocese’s 10 counties, marveling at the diversity of the churches and their parishioners. But she also understood the universality of the Church in following the Mass in its various languages, whether in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Polish or Latin.

Along the way, she writes in her journal and takes lots of photographs.

“I want to be able to look back at the pictures of my parish visits and relish the moment. I want to be able to talk about my visits and inspire other people to go to church,” said Herrera, a retired City of Houston community services manager.

Herrera started her pilgrimage in October 2020 by attending Mass at the parish where she grew up, the historic St. Joseph Catholic Church, near downtown Houston. Established in 1880, the white-marbled interior of the church known for its Mariachi Masses is home to 816 households.

What prompted her local pilgrimage came when she was originally scheduled to go to the Holy Land, but the trip had to be canceled because of COVID-19. Herrera said she was very disappointed and wondered when she would be able to take the trip. She prayed about it regularly, and then one day, the Holy Spirit moved her to make a different kind of pilgrimage: one that she could do locally.

So Herrera then decided to visit all parishes in the Houston-Galveston area to attend Mass. Throughout the journey, she discovered many hidden gems in the parish communities.

The pilgrimage took her to parts of town where she had never been before, enabling her to meet other parishioners and pastors even though they worshipped in different languages.

She traveled to large parishes like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in west Houston, which has 11 different weekend Masses in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

And she attended one of the smallest churches, St. Anne De Beaupre in the Heights, a predominantly African American parish established in 1937 and now home parish to an estimated 116 households.

So far, the greatest distance she has traveled is to St. Katherine Drexel in Hempstead, established in 2001 with a current 1,796 households. She has been to every edge of the region: from St. Paul the Apostle in Clear Lake, to Sts. Simon and Jude in The Woodlands, to St. Hyacinth in Deer Park and Epiphany of the Lord in Katy.

Herrera said she looks forward to going to Mass every weekend and prays about her upcoming weekly journey. There is no method for her selecting parishes; she just picks one at random at the end of the week. Even with such travel, she finds the time to go to her local parish too.
“It has been an incredible pilgrimage,” Herrera said. “I’ve learned about new parishes and saints. Now I realize I don’t have to go far to discover God’s treasures: the cathedrals, churches, missions and chapels of the Archdiocese are all in our own backyard.”

She continued: “I’ve met a lot of kind and humble parishioners who speak proudly about their church, the clergy, and the community, which I found impressive. When I share my pilgrimage, the parishioners are very welcoming and excited, asking many questions about my experiences.”

She recalled the tour that Father Martin Eke, MSP, of St. Francis of Assisi gave her of his parish in Kashmere Gardens. He shared inspiring stories of how his parish overcame the deluge brought by Hurricane Harvey and how he waded through floodwaters to save what he could from the church.

She also noted a tour by Deacon John Naber of the chapel at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in west Houston. But what stopped her in her tracks was the life-size statue of Christ at rest in the sanctuary at St. James the Apostle in Spring.

Among the memorable sites, she included the large and gorgeous grotto at Our Lady of Lavang Church in Houston, a predominantly Vietnamese parish. And she was also amazed at the sprawling church of St. Martha in Kingwood.

She found it very interesting how every parish church has its own unique signature but a common goal: giving thanks to the Lord.

The older churches encompass the traditional style of stained-glass windows, higher ceilings, Gothic and Romanesque designs, like the ones she grew up knowing. Newer churches might have a more modern, sleek build with straight lines and right angles, sometimes missing the spires and arches of the older houses of worship.

Another difference she’s noted was how churches worship. Some parishes worship in a traditional manner, some contemporary, while others are more charismatic. She said it just depends on the pastors and parish community.

Some churches incorporated choirs, bands, quartets, solo singers and mariachis, while others use the piano or organ. Some parishioners chant, clap and raise their hands in the air, while others might choose not to.

Another sacrament she finds fascinating is how Baptisms are conducted in some parishes. Prior to going on this pilgrimage, she had never seen a walk-in baptismal font.

She is especially moved by the delivery of Mass and homilies by priests and deacons, whom have their own style. The spiritual zeal of all the clergy she met in her travels was enlightening and inspiring. Herrera said she prayed that everyone could enjoy and reflect on the local religious and spiritual treasures that she has had the honor to visit and be a part of from week to week. With less than 50 parishes to go, she hopes to visit all the rest.

“It’s been a very holy experience for me,” she said. “When I leave Mass, I’m at peace, grateful and thankful to God for His unwavering and unconditional love.”

Herrera said she always walks out of the churches feeling deeper in love with Christ, stronger in her faith and wanting to be a better Christian.

“The way we are all called to feel in the presence of the Eucharist.”

Herrera is a volunteer with Guadalupe Radio, KSHJ 1430 AM, where she discusses her weekly church visits on-air during the Catholic Lunch Break show with host Tim Motte and co-host David Magallanez at noon on Mondays.

She said, “I’ve had the time of my life, and thank the Lord for leading me on this spiritual journey.”

Herrera added that she hopes her journey might encourage people to return to church if they are not going and to embark on their own personal pilgrimage if they can.

She finally made the trip to Israel in 2021 but continues her local pilgrimage. In the Holy Land, she walked with Jesus, praying at many churches in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

“I was brought to tears as both the local and the global churches merged with me. All with one Christ,” Herrera said.

For a list of the 147 parishes and missions in the Archdiocese, visit