Very late Tuesday evening I posted a brief note about my second full day in Umbria with the wonderful women of WINE, noting that I had risen at 5:30 am and, after our early morning departure for Siena and points beyond, arrived back at my Assisi hotel at 11:30 pm, too devoid of both time and energy to write about what I called “The Day the Lord Made.

I hope to finally bring that day to life for you.

Interspersed throughout this column are some of the photos I took in Siena and, if time allows, I’ll create a slideshow of the beauties of the Umbrian countryside as we drove to the wine country of Montalcino and the Banfi winery estates (the larges continuous private estate in Europe, according to our guide). If not today, tomorrow.

(A word about the larger photos at the end. They came in an email from Sharon Wilson and I love the size. I have not yet found a way to make the photos that I have downloaded from my camera a larger size)


WINE, as you may know by now, is Women In the New Evangelization. Twenty-five women joined Kelly Wahlquist, WINE founder, and Teresa Tomeo and me for this first-ever WINE trip to Italy to explore the great and glorious women saints of this beautiful land. My role in this pilgrimage was principally the first part of the itinerary – the Umbrian days of Assisi, Siena, Norcia, Montalcino and Cascia – although I’ll have some encounters with the group in Rome.

The basilica of St. Dominic in Siena – the head of St. Catherine is enshrined here – no photos allowed. I had already taken a picture of this stained glass window before I knew that:


I’ve had a chance for personal encounters with some of the women as we journey on the bus through Umbria, walk through the medieval home towns of saints we know and love or dine together on exquisite dishes from Umbria – homemade pastas, wild boar as a main course or fettucine sauce, porchetta, and gorgeous fresh vegetables and fruits. And, of course, delicious wines, including a wine-tasting lunch in Montalcino after our visit to Siena.



I am overwhelmed with the beauty of the spirit and character of the women I have met from Nebraska, Minnesota, Florida and points beyond. As stories were told, I heard and saw women of immense faith, women who are, want to be and will be in the forefront of the new evangelization, in ways large and small, in their families, hometowns and perhaps even well beyond.


I have walked and dined with women of courage. Some had heartbreaking stories. Many have led fairly average lives with the usual highs and lows, the joys and sorrows of married life or single life. Some had had spiritual crises, were away from the faith and then returned with a vengeance, with a renewed spiritual fire. Others never lost that fire.

St. Catherine was one of 24 children, the daughter of a dyer. They lived in a very large house. These photos were taken in the inner courtyard:



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There were two common denominators in all stories: faith and joy.

The chapel in which St. Catherine took her vows.


After all, as was noted in several conversations, St. Paul has exhorted us to always be able to explain the reasons for our joy, our hope, our acceptance of suffering. In fact, he told Romans in 5: 3-5: “… but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

These three pictures depict what was once the kitchen of this large house:




Joy and laughter and sharing with a smile – these were always on the faces of the women, wherever we were, on the bus, in restaurants, in a church.

The outside of the house in which St. Catherine grew up:


We prayed the rosary on the bus, we sang hymns (and many other songs), and we sang grace before meals one night as we enjoyed a picnic supper one night on the terrace of Grand Hotel in Assisi. (see video) As we watched the sun set over Assisi, we listened to reflections by Kelly and also interspersed her thoughts with some of our own.

And this is what the women of WINE did each day. Each of us became stronger in our own faith because each of us was re-affirmed by the others.

What set Tuesday apart for 8 of us was the dinner we had at Mangiar Di Vino in Assisi, after a glorious day in Siena. The bus was to return to the hotel where most of the gals were staying in the hillside above Assisi. I wanted to return to my hotel in the center of Assisi and had planned on dining alone and then packing for our departure the next day but 5 of the women (we were late joined by two others) on the bus decided they too wanted to spent a last night in Assisi, not at the hotel.

The WINE bus left us off at a small square where we got a small city bus (a separate story if I had time to tell!) to another square from which it was a four-minute downhill (a VERY important word in Assisi, Siena and Cascia) walk to the main Assisi square and the nearby restaurant.

We lucked out as there was a table for 6 on the small terrace – it was a lovely night and we wanted to eat outdoors. The first thing we noted as we sat down was our paper placemats. They had a design that looked like it was created by children and soon we noted the drawings were of chalices and there was the Holy Spirit nin the upper left corned and then the words, in Italian and English “I am the Vine, you are the branches, whoever remains in me….”

How beautiful! Can you imagine such a thing happening in the U.S., unless it was in a Catholic home or a church rectory?! There is a story behind the mats which I intend to discover and share with you. Our waitress gave each one of a new placemat to take home!

Unexpectedly, two more of the WINE women, Jody and Kelly, found us at Mangiar Di Vino and sat near but not at our table as there was no more room. They, however, sat next to a couple (he was Italian, she was Russian) and began an animated conversation that lasted throughout dinner.

The name of the restaurant is more or less a play on words. Mangiar is from mangiare, to eat or dine and Di Vino can mean ‘divine’ or ‘of wine.’  Thus, Mangiar Di Vino (Eating Divinely) or ‘Dining and Wine.’

For us it was a divine experience.

The food was divine and the conversation ever so stimulating. We spoke of WINE, the Church, our faith, our personal journeys, how the Lord is calling each of us, and so much more.

Early in our meal, a priest and a nun arrived at the restaurant, eating indoors as there was no room on the small terrace. I greeted the priest in Italian and he responded. They finished their meal before we did and, as they exited the restaurant, the Father turned, looked at me for a few seconds and then said, slowly, with a smile, “EWTN….”

The gals all said ‘Yes’ in unison and one told me to ask him for a blessing. It turned out he was Spanish and so I asked in Spanish and he came to our table and gave the whole group a beautiful blessing in English.

Two strangers entered out lives and excited almost as quickly but left an indelible mark with each of us, as we commented then and throughout the day yesterday. (You can vaguely see them inside the restaurant in the group photo I posted)

It was now our turn to say to leave, to say “buona notte,” “sweet dreams,” and “see you tomorrow.”

It was then that I noticed the floor mat next to our table:

Today was indeed “A Day the Lord Made”




Yet another stupendous day in Umbria with a very beautiful visit to Cascia where we met St. Rita. We saw her incorrupt body in the lovely basilica, completed in 1955, of this stunning Umbrian hilltop town after a visit to the Augustinian monastery where she lived for the last 40 years of her astonishing life. MUCH more to come about her life!

Once again, the story and the photos will have to wait until another day – hopefully tomorrow. Oops, it is already tomorrow – it is 12:20 am here in Rome and today mirrored yesterday in intensity and length of activity, the hours traveling on the bus, visiting the town of Casica, praying and yes, of course, breaking bread.

A lost cell phone and a return to Cascia to search for it (Dear St. Anthony, come around, something’s lost and can’t be found – and he found it!), a long ride to Rome from Cascia and then absolutely horrendous terrific in the Eternal City, made our day very long. Many Romans were at home watching Italy play Ireland in the European Cup (Ireland won 1-0) but tens and tens of thousand of young people flocked to the stadium in Rome for a rock concert and that was a great part of the traffic problems. But, as the Roman say, pazienza – patience.

I so want to tell you about the places we visited, the beautiful Italian saints in whose company we spent some prayerful time and the wonderful, moving stories of the WINE ladies on this pilgrimage but the body can do just so much in a long day. It is now 12:35 and time to post this and then retire. Tomorrow I have no commitments with my new friends and hope to find time to download photos and write some beautiful stories.

Teresa Tomeo and Kelly Wahlquist and I are share the daily columns we wrote and today was the day to share Teresa’s. At this late hour I cannot find it so will resume efforts in the morning when, presumably after a few good hours of sleep, I will be more alert.

I have not forgotten about the day that the Lord made – yesterday in Assisi. That is my priority for tomorrow.





I was up at 5:30 this morning for our early morning departure for Siena and points beyond and it is 11:30 pm as I write so you can imagine I have neither the time nor the energy to writer about a day made by the Lord for me, for our WINE group of women on pilgrimage and for a special and small group of us who dined together in Assisi on our last night St. Francis’ home town.

It is such an amazing and serendipitous – and yes, divine – story that I dare not write it late at night. Divine is the key word and I will explain tomorrow (hoping I have time after another full day), along with some photos. There were no Internet moments along our route to post photos so you will just have to wait – and I promise it will be worth it.

Up early again tomorrow for our departure for Cascia to experience St. Rita, then Rome, the Eternal City.

Today was a day on which I can easily say I was blessed beyond telling!



I got to Assisi yesterday in mid-afternoon and had some time to get settled into my hotel and go out to buy a jacket or heavy sweater because the weather was drastically different than the hot, sunny weather in Rome – much cooler with gray, cloudy skies and a promise of rain – which we got today as you will see by the photos.

Dinner with the women of WINE (Women In the New Evangelization)  was at the wonderful Enoteca Mazzini just across from the hotel I am staying at, Hotel dei Priori. about a block off of Assisi’s main square. This was my first chance to meet some of the amazing women who have joined this pilgrimage – women I met again for this morning’s visit to the basilicas of Saint Clare and Saint Francis and women I want to get to know better in the coming two days as we visit St. Catherine and Siena and environs and then Wednesday, on our way to Rome, to see Saint Rita of Cascia.

Outside the church built over the home where St. Francis was born and lived for years



Statues of the parents of St. Francis:


Because of my Cracow delay I did not get to joint them on Saturday, their arrival day in Italy and first day in Assisi but here is a link to some of the photos posted by Kelly Wahlquist, founder of WINE and one of the most amazing women I will ever know. She and Teresa Tomeo are co-hosts of this pilgrimage and the three of us were together today after our tour of the basilicas to tape a segment for Teresa’s Catholic Connection program on EWTN radio. A temporary studio was set up in a small office just off the lobby of the Subasio Hotel near the basilica of Saint Francis.   (



See the cross in the photo above? This was in the hotel office and there was also a cross in the hotel restaurant – and in many other restaurants and stores. Can you imagine what would happen if a cross was placed in a restaurant in America!

I hope to spend some quality time with each of the women during our Umbria journey and to learn their stories and their reasons for taking this pilgrimage. The story of one such journey was told today by Julie on Teresa’s program, There were four of us in the studio and, as the expression goes, not a dry eye in the house.

One of the four altars in this church shaped like a Greek cross.


Another altar under restoration. the area I have highlighted had been hidden for years under stone but one Franciscan felt the stone was hiding frescoes and he was right, The narrow strip you see in the middle (there were four of these in each chapel) is what was hidden under the stone and is being restored. You can see the restoration also in my previous photo.


I did have an unexpected thrill when I went to the Hotel Subasio after visiting the basilica as I intended to have lunch before doing the show with Teresa. I was sitting in the lobby texting Teresa when three people came in with luggage to register. They looked at me and I heard a chorus of, “Oh my goodness, it’s Joan’s Rome, it Joan from EWTN.” It turned out they were with a group guided by Steve Ray and as the others poured into the lobby, I was mobbed by well-wishers, A half dozen people took out their copies of my book and I signed those books and we did a lot of photos. What a fun-filled serendipitous meeting!

In this photo, our guide was bringing us down to the saint’s home but the doors were closed this morning and we could not enter the small rooms. I have photos somewhere in my archives and will try to find those.


Everyone in our group had the afternoon off to explore Assisi or, as many will have done, to rest, given the early morning call for prayers with the sisters of St. Clare convent.

We meet for dinner at 7:30 at the Hotel dei Congressi where most of the WINE group are staying, high on a hill above Assisi.

Stay tuned – and visit the website whose link I gave earlier!



Better late than never….


I know that probably sounds like the title of a children’s book but it was the first thing that came to mind as I sat down to write of yet another very special encounter in the magical city of Rome.

Last Saturday evening, after a terrific dinner with friends at La Scaletta, they accompanied me home. Geoffrey, young gentleman that he is, hopped out of the car, opened the door for me and we spoke for a few seconds before saying goodnight. As we were talking, I had observed a small group of people, animated in conversation and enjoying ice cream cones from the nearby Capitano Cono ice cream shop.

As I said goodbye to Geoffrey and was walking towards the front door of my building, a man from the group asked, “Where are you from?” He must have heard us speak English, thus the question. I was a bit surprised but replied that I live here now but was born and raised near Chicago. Well, you should have seen the look on their faces! They said they were from Illinois and part of a group on a pilgrimage. The fellow talking to me shook my hand, said his name was Alex Dittmer, and that his brother was a priest, was leading the group and had studied in Rome at NAC! I said I’ve been a fan and supporter of NAC for over 25 years (and I learned that Fr. Antonio Dittmer was at NAC when now Cardinal Dolan was the rector.)

Fr. Antonio (L) and Alex (they wanted this photo for their Mom, a huge EWTN fan!)


What a small world! But, as I always tell people, you have to leave home for the world to be small!

Well, all sorts of coincidences came up after that. I told them of my work in Rome for EWTN and then, because they were a pilgrim group, I naturally mentioned my book, They asked where they could get copies and I said the Vatican bookstore. It turns out they were staying at Il Cantico, a great hotel that is a five-minute walk from my building.

After a few more minutes of conversation, Alex asked me to join them for dinner the following night.

The Captain Cone ice cream brigade:


I did join the group and met just about everyone over the course of dinner as we played musical chairs, people switching around so we could all meet. It was a terrific evening in which I learned a great deal about their pastor and guide, Fr. Antonio Dittmer. He is the pastor at St. Hyacinth and St. Patrick parishes in LaSalle, and is the rector of Queen of the Holy Rosary Shrine.

Alex told me Fr. Antonio is the youngest of 8 siblings and I learned a great deal about their beautiful family story. Their deep faith obviously came from their parents: Alex told me they observed them every night in their room, on their knees, praying before they went to bed.

Debbie sent this photo:


I went back for dinner on Monday night and spent some time signing the books they had bought at the Vatican. So many of the pilgrims are EWTN fans and it was such a rewarding evening to have that in common with them.

Here is a picture with Jennifer:


Although it was quite cool, about half the pilgrim group gathered on the rooftop terrace for a terrific view of St. Peter’s Dome and of Rome and for some great music by guitarist Alex Dittmer!

Two amazing evenings, some new memories and, more importantly, a lot of new friends – and all because a pilgrim (who describes himself as ‘not bashful’) dared to ask, “Where are you from?”