With pandemic limiting travel, pilgrimage leader hatches ‘family field trip’ idea

Bob and Michelle Schwartz, parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, enjoy a family trip to the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia last summer with their children, Emily, Russell and Ryan. The family participated in Corporate Travel Service’s “My Family Field Trip,” which emphasizes family togetherness and a safe, faith-based experience. (Family photo)

Instead of large groups, families can book individual Catholic-oriented trips and experiences, saving money and staying safe during COVID-19

DETROIT — International borders are closed. Large gatherings are limited. But that doesn’t mean Catholic families can’t still participate in the time-honored tradition of pilgrimages.

Northville-based Corporate Travel Service, a longtime provider of pilgrimage opportunities for Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit, is providing a new way for families to experience a Catholic pilgrimage while remaining safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(The pandemic) certainly has affected people’s ability to go overseas. That has been eliminated, essentially, but we have witnessed a real desire and resilience among families,” said John Hale, president and co-owner of Corporate Travel Service.

After hearing from families who still wanted to participate in safe, Catholic-led trips and pilgrimages, Hale and his colleagues developed “My Family Field Trips,” a customizable, socially-distanced and COVID-conscious solution.

“We have a lot of experience with faith and family travel, and we also have our educational division, which is 50-some years old,” Hale said. “It’s primarily eighth-grade trips to Washington, D.C., Mackinaw Island, Chicago, New York and some international destinations. This year and next year, it won’t be possible to take 50 to 100 kids on a bus to Washington. So we put together our three divisions — the family travel, faith experiences and the educational and school travel — and created the ‘family field trip.’”

Unlike a larger excursion, families will have more control over who they travel with, Hale said. Trips can be organized with a single family or multiple families.

Hale said Corporate Travel’s hotel and airline partners “have taken extraordinary precautions with cleaning and distancing” and cited Harvard and Wall Street Journal reports on the safety of travel when precautions are practiced. Because fewer people are traveling, many destinations also have smaller crowds, Hale added.

“While nothing is foolproof or 100 percent safe, and no one can claim that, I believe it’s safer than it’s ever been to travel for a variety of reasons,” Hale said. “The only exception to how (a family) is living daily would be a hotel, because you’re in a car, you’re getting gas, you’re eating out to go.”

The “family” element of the field trip is important, Hale said, particularly when trips are infused with Catholic faith and spirituality.

“Parents really are the first educators of their children,” Hale said. “Instead of giving gifts that further separate families with electronics, this is really the opportunity for families to be together in a really intentional way to experience history and their faith together.”

Corporate Travel is partnering with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and a local Catholic judge, Michael Warren, to produce faith-based video content to supplement trips to locations such as Washington, D.C.

“As you’re standing before each of the major monuments and attractions, you can watch a short three- to five-minute video that provides a historical narrative with a Catholic perspective,” Hale said.

Bob Schwartz and his wife, Michelle, parishioners of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, took their three children, Emily, Russell and Ryan on a trip to the historic Greenbrier resort in West Virginia this summer, an experience Schwartz says was “awesome.”

“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” Schwartz said of the family field trip concept. “It really gives families the opportunity to experience some of those milestones that COVID has taken away. I think we, as a society, have asked so much of our young people. They’re at the least risk (from the virus), and yet, I think they could be paying the highest price — mental, social, spiritual — of all people who have been impacted.”

The Schwartz family and others who attended the trip were joined by a Catholic priest who was able to celebrate a socially distanced Mass, hear confessions and provide a spiritual component for the family.

“As a Catholic, having that as part of the vacation built into the package, it was a nice bonus,” Schwartz said.

While no one knows what the coronavirus will look like next year, Hale is hopeful for a brighter 2021. Still, he said, families can book a field trip with a protection program offering their money back.

“When you book this, you can travel with your family or other families, but you control that,” Hale said. "You control it, but you don’t have to plan it and do all the work. It’s such a passion for all of us here to support the family.”

My Family Field Trips

To learn more about Corporate Travel Service’s My Family Field Trips, visit www.myfamilyfieldtrip.com.