Diocesan News

Religious Sister, a Young-at-Heart 70, Camps Out Along Serra Pilgrimage Route to National Eucharistic Congress

Sister Mary and the perpetual pilgrims during one of their pilgrimage walks. (Photo: Sister Mary Rose Chinn)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Sister Mary Rose Chinn is too old to be an official “perpetual pilgrim,” traversing the country as one of four groups enroute to Indianapolis as part of the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage. At nearly 70 years old, the Handmaid of the Triune God sister is four decades older than the maximum age acceptable to be part of the pilgrimage, and is asthmatic.

But age, or health challenges, weren’t going to stop the young-at-heart nun from making the trip. Loading up her car with camping supplies, including her trusty tent, Sister Mary left her home at the San Buenaventura Mission in Los Angeles to travel the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage’s Serra Route, which began in San Francisco.

Her reward for the thousands of miles spent driving alone? Hundreds of hours — time well spent, she said — praying for the hearts of those in doubt to be converted, and collecting prayer intentions from strangers along the route.

“It’s amazing to see, and I really pray for all the intentions they’ve offered because I know the Lord has done miracles in my life,” she said. “A lot of times, people don’t see the miracles. The Lord answers prayers. He may not answer them right away, he may say no, and we may think it’s too late. He answers them in His own time.”

Sister Mary follows the schedule of the perpetual pilgrims coming along the Western route, traveling dozens of miles each day as they head to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where the National Eucharistic Congress will be held from July 17-21.

With some backpacking experience, Sister Mary is being resourceful as she travels. Unlike the perpetual pilgrims, who have housing accommodations arranged — typically staying with host families — she has to find lodgings herself and often has the kindness of strangers supplementing her stays at campgrounds.

Her journey began on May 19, 2024, aligned with Pentecost. As the pilgrims travel through Midwestern states including Nebraska, Colorado, and Missouri, they stop at around three parishes each day. There are Eucharistic processions and adoration at the parishes, which have been hospitable to the pilgrims.

Sister Mary, of Chinese-Japanese descent, is a minority among most of the pilgrimage participants, and finds the people along the way very welcoming. An outsider to the official group, Sister Mary often finds herself sitting with the locals at the parishes instead of with the group of perpetual pilgrims.

Sister Mary with her car, which she uses to drive along the Serra Route. (Photo: Sister Mary Rose Chinn)

“So when we’re stopping for potlucks, I’m able to interact more with the parishioners and sit down to start talking with different people,” she said.

An ardent believer in the power of the Eucharist and the faith, Sister Mary’s religious journey did not begin with Catholicism. Born in Colorado, living briefly in Nebraska, and moving to California after middle school, she was taught about Christianity by Pentecostals and had planned to be a Protestant missionary. In her early 20s, she decided to educate herself in Catholicism, a faith to that point she knew nothing about.

She was studying Christology and an overview of the faith, and in her prayers, she asked herself whether she believed Jesus was truly present in the tabernacle on the altar.

“I had said yes, of course, and if I had walked away, I would have been denying Jesus,” she said.

Joining her roommate at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Sacramento, she was moved by the simplicity of the acts of Mass — the washing of the priest’s hands, the offering of the gifts, and the mingling of the water of the wine. It just made sense to her. She unwaveringly became a Catholic at age 24.

“There’s a lot of misconception about [Catholicism] within Protestant Christians,” she said. “But I went ahead and made that decision and it was kind of fulfilled then that some Protestant friends faded away because they thought I was going off the deep end when I became a Catholic.”

With the National Eucharistic Congress rapidly approaching, Sister Mary has hopes that it will bring people to the faith. Those attending may already be believers, like she is, but as thousands gather in one place, she hopes others will witness it online or on television and be compelled to learn about Catholicism, just as she did more than 40 years ago, or to return to church in-person.

“I pray for all of those who, as they hear the news of the congress and hear of the pilgrimages, that they would have a little inkling, a little nudge. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are very subtle,” she said. “That they would be encountered by the Lord, that’s my hope.”

Sister Mary and the pilgrims will arrive in Indianapolis on July 16, beginning their time at the National Eucharistic Congress by praying at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, a short walk from the stadium.