Photographer hits milestone in cross-country tour

By Rose Brennan

FAIRFIELD—The United States is home to just under 62 million Catholics, who make their homes in 175 American dioceses. And each diocese is home to one to two cathedrals that serve as the bishop’s seat in that area.

And here in the Diocese of Bridgeport, one man is on a mission to visit every single one of them.

But Andrew Masi isn’t planning on stopping there. No, he’s also planning on visiting each of the basilicas in the United States as well. And he’s stopping at quite a few shrines along the way, too.

To date, Masi has visited 102 cathedrals and 59 basilicas. He reached lucky number 100 over Veterans Day Weekend, traveling to Missouri to visit the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, as well as the Cathedral of St. Joseph in St. Joseph.

It sure is becoming a whirlwind tour, but it all began for Masi in 2014, when he attended an Easter Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J. It was only a few weeks following the death of his grandmother Josephine, whom Masi cites as a major model of the Catholic faith in his life. And as he sat in the cathedral, he began to think.

“In the middle of Mass, I’m gazing at the cathedral and looking at its magnificent structure and the stained-glass windows, and I’m just in awe of the beauty of it,” he said. “And then a thought ran into my head: ‘Hey, I wonder if every cathedral in the United States looks just as gorgeous and magnificent as this one does.’ And that’s when the idea came in to go out there and see for myself.”

While he sees the beauty of each cathedral and basilica he visits, Masi isn’t above playing favorites. So far, the one structure that stands out most in his pilgrimage is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis in Missouri—at which he was captivated by the intricate mosaics decorating the sanctuary.

“When you walk into that cathedral, your eyes are drawn to the ceiling and the beautiful mosaics … that were put in piece by piece very delicately. It took so long to put them in,” he said. “It just made them more magnificent and more beautiful. It’s like walking into one of the cathedrals in Rome.”

This isn’t the first pilgrimage Masi has undertaken, however. He faced a similar challenge in 2004, when then-Bishop William E. Lori challenged him to visit every parish in the Diocese of Bridgeport, which he completed in just 11 months. Among them, Masi designated St. Augustine Cathedral in Bridgeport and the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford as his favorites.

Now, of course, Masi’s widened his scope to the entire country. But he’s not putting the camera down once he’s visited every cathedral and basilica in the United States. Once this pilgrimage is done, he wants to visit major cathedrals and basilicas across the world, notably in Canada, Europe and Asia.

“The cathedrals have withstood the tests of time, especially Notre Dame in Paris,” Masi said. “It nearly burned down a few years ago, but thank God, Our Lady watched over it and spared the cathedral any major damage.”

When Masi visits the cathedrals and basilicas, he is often filled with gratitude for the opportunity to undertake this pilgrimage, as well as the way it’s helped deepen his Catholic faith.

“It makes me closer to God, and I thank him for giving me the great opportunity to do this wonderful pilgrimage,” he said. “God gave me the sign to do this, and I answered the call with a ‘yes.’”

Masi knows his ability to visit each of the country’s cathedrals isn’t one everyone has. And the photographs he takes almost become an act of service to those who might never see the beauty of the sanctuaries in person—including the homebound and elderly, and those who are otherwise unable to travel.

“It’s a way to give them the opportunity just to see the church, even though it’s virtual,” he said. “People have told me, ‘I feel like you’ve taken me on a virtual tour.’”

Masi noted he’s received a lot of support from clergy both in the diocese and around the country. He cited his major supporters as Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, Archbishop Lori, Cardinal Timothy J. Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston and Father Peter Cipriani, the pastor at Masi’s home parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Fairfield—who gives him a blessing prior to each trip he takes to photograph the cathedrals.

“They all see my pictures and they praise them, and they give me their prayers of support,” Masi said. “Like, ‘Keep on going, Andrew; get to the finish line!’”