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5 Amazing Catholic sites not to miss in Arkansas

5 Catholic sites in Arkansas

Wikipedia | Facebook | Collage by Aleteia

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 05/15/24

The Catholic Church in Arkansas is "tiny but mighty.” If you find yourself in “The Land of Opportunity," don’t miss these special sites.

The story of the Catholic Church in Arkansas can best be described as “tiny but mighty.” 

For much of the state’s history, Catholics made up less than 2 percent of the population, and today only about 8 percent of Arkansans are Catholic. Yet “the Natural State” is home to a number of beautiful and important Catholic places and a rich Catholic history.

Despite the small numbers, Catholicism is actually the oldest Christian tradition in Arkansas, as missionary priests first arrived in the area in 1700. But it was not until nearly 300 years later that a religious order of nuns opened the first school in the newly minted state. 

Yet the dedication and service of the state’s few Catholics was tireless and inspiring throughout the decades:

The history of the Catholic Church in Arkansas has reflected how a relative few can affect the many… The Diocese of Little Rock worked from its inception to build colleges, hospitals, churches and help settle the Arkansas River Valley. 

If you find yourself visiting Arkansas, or call “The Land of Opportunity” home, don’t miss these significant Catholic sites.

Cathedral of Saint Andrew, Little Rock

The history of the Cathedral of St. Andrew dates back to the early part of the 19th century, when Catholics in Arkansas were few in number and anti-Catholic prejudice was strong. Little by little, through the persistent efforts of the Arkansan faithful, progress was made until now, over 150 years later, the Cathedral stands as a symbol of faith, fidelity and family to the Catholics of Arkansas.

This luminous Gothic cathedral features an Italian marble altar, a roof constructed of native Southern yellow pine wood, and many other beautiful features. One delightful piece of history is that the Stations of the Cross in the church were originally designed for Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois, a mix-up that was never corrected. The cathedral is a thriving parish with many devotions and ministries on the calendar and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Subiaco Abbey, Subiaco

St. Benedict wrote in his Rule for Monasteries that monks are to receive all guests as Christ, providing a place for all who come in peace seeking God, and in that spirit, the monks of Subiaco Abbey welcome guests. Guests may attend prayer with the monks, tour the church and grounds, or take advantage of the peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. 

The monks have all kinds of interesting projects, including a sawmill where woodworking projects are built, a health center, a garden and production facility for the monks’ hot sauce, an overnight guest house, and a boarding and day school. You can take a self-guided tour of the abbey or take advantage of one of their twice-a-week guided tour opportunities. You can also enter the church during their communal prayer times, or even participate in a group or personal retreat.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, Eureka Springs

Listed in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” this 1904 church is the only one in the world that is entered through the bell tower. St. Elizabeth Catholic Church is listed on the National Historic Register and has become a landmark in Eureka Springs. 

You can read the history of how the church’s unique construction came about on their website. The church’s unique Bell Tower has welcomed thousands of visitors each year from all over the world. 

Little Portion Hermitage and Monastery, Berryville

Pilgrims are welcome at this contemplative jewel of the Catholic Church in America, a site filled with an awe inspiring monastic church and monastery, gorgeous walks through the prayer gardens, and a welcoming monastic community.

Little Portion Hermitage and Monastery is the Motherhouse of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. To accommodate both solitude and community, contemplation and ministry, it has places for solitude in hermitages, and common areas in the Monastery, main church, work buildings, guest houses, prayer and vegetable gardens. The beauty of the Hermitage and Monastery reflect the spirituality of the entire community.

You can see the visiting hours and events on their website. According to their website, “Little Portion Hermitage and Monastery is one of the best kept secrets in North America.” And if you need some sweets for your road trip, the monastery also runs the Little Portion Bakery which your family will agree is a must-visit!

St. Mary’s Catholic Church at Plum Bayou, Pine Bluff

St. Mary’s Catholic Church not only bears the honor of being the oldest Catholic church in Arkansas, but also has the charming history of having been built on a barge on the Arkansas River!

The barge was moored at Arkansas Post, the earliest settlement in Arkansas along the entire river line of the Arkansas River that joins the Mississippi River. The church was moved off the barge in 1832 and eventually was moved to its present location on Plum Bayou not too far northeast of Pine Bluff. The wooden structure was overlaid with brick in 1927.

Today this historic site is in the care of St. Joseph Catholic Church, which cares and oversees the property and cemetery.

St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Pocahontas

This list would not be complete without mentioning “Catholic Hill,” a parish and Marian grotto with a fascinating history. In early 1868, Pocahontas businessmen Dr. James Esselman and Dr. Putman and his Catholic wife invited an Irish missionary priest from Memphis, Rev. James P. O’Kean, to come and preach. His fiery preaching excited the townsfolk, and they petitioned the bishop to assign Father O’Kean to Pocahontas. The mostly Protestant residents donated the funds and a new wooden church was build on a hilly tract of land, nicknamed “Catholic Hill.”

Later a grand limestone Romanesque building was built, with rock from nearby quarries and volunteer labor. It was dedicated in 1904 and was considered the most beautiful Catholic church in Arkansas with exquisite imported stained glass windows and a Carrara marble alter and sanctuary rail. The Marian grotto was built in 1934 and is a beloved site of local pilgrimage.

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