Catholics looking for a decent place to settle and raise their families ought to consider La Crosse, Wisconsin. La Crosse is usually overlooked in online discussions about orthodox Catholic communities (overlooked by traditionalists, at any rate) but I think the area has much to recommend it. The single most important consideration, of course, is the Mass: the traditional Roman Rite is offered weekly, on Sundays at 9:30am, at the incomparably beautiful Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe just a few minutes south of town. Also encouraging is the fact that the Shrine is staffed by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, an order known and respected for its muscular orthodoxy. I would expect that the Shrine has plenty of opportunities for boys to serve at the altar, for older children and adults to sing in a choir, and for everyone to participate in extra-liturgical devotions. I would expect that these good Friars not only provide excellent spiritual direction but also inspire new vocations. Let it be noted, too, that living in close proximity to a friary opens up the possibility of establishing a Third Order community, though I don’t know whether one exists in La Crosse at present.
Unlike many diocesan Latin Mass locations, the Shrine is not an experiment. It has the feel of permanence and the Latin Mass is perfectly suited to it. It will always have the special solicitation of its founder, Cardinal Archbishop Raymond Burke, so long as he lives, and its charism will be secure for generations to come.
One consideration that young couples should be thinking about is whether they are living in a place where at least some of their children are likely to remain and thrive. It is desirable to establish a home not only for oneself, but for one’s progeny. In fact, I would argue that the suitability of a place for future generations is much more important than one’s own preferences. For some families, this consideration may rule out the smaller towns and rural areas that are often mentioned as traditionalist enclaves. La Crosse, however, is fortunate to have one of these rural hamlets within its own orbit – the village of Cashton just 28 miles away. Cashton is home to St. Mary’s church, which offers weekly and daily mass in the old rite, and is staffed by the Institute of Christ the King.
Most people today are not called to life on a farm – or even life in a very small town – despite the attractiveness and romance of the idea. Your grown children will need to live in or near a city with job opportunities and a diverse economy. They will want access to music and the arts. They will want some freedom to move about socially. They will need more intellectual stimulation than most small towns tend to offer. If you want them close to you when you’re old, and close to each other when you’re gone, you may want to establish them in such a place now, even if it means tolerating some of the negatives of city life.
With a population of just 50,000 in the city limits – or 100,000 in the greater area – La Crosse is small enough to have character and to be friendly and familiar, but large enough to have an economic base and the social advantages one’s grown children may need. The city has two universities, one technical college, two hospitals, and a symphony orchestra. The city is predominantly Catholic, with six parishes including the diocesan cathedral, and boasts a high percentage (64%) of religious adherence generally. LaCrosse has one diocesan Catholic high school and a private, K-12 Catholic academy modeled on the classical Trivium. Housing is surprisingly affordable and the crime rate is impressively low. La Crosse offers a busy calendar of festivals, concerts, performances, exhibits, and civic events all year ’round.
La Crosse does have a few negatives, to be sure. It’s in Wisconsin, a great state but cold in the winter. It has a reputation as a beer-saturated “party town” and its students are known to get rowdy. Its politics lean toward the liberal side – solidly Democratic since 1988 – but that’s typical of college towns, and of old-line mid-western Catholic cities, and LaCrosse is a little of both. There doesn’t seem to be a lot going on in terms of Catholic homeschooling (yet), which is only to say that I couldn’t find anything on the internet. That’s about it.
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