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Get Involved: Volunteer Opportunities at the Basilica

Interested in volunteering at the National Shrine, but not sure where to start? If you live in the area, we would be delighted to welcome you onto our volunteer docent and tour guide team!

As the largest Catholic church in North America, the National Shrine is proud to serve as a sanctuary of prayer, pilgrimage, and worship to nearly one million visitors every year. Volunteer docents and guides serve a vital role in helping us share the beauty of the Basilica with visitors from around the world. In today’s post, learn about docent and tour guide duties, the process for becoming an approved volunteer, and more about serving at the Basilica in these FAQs answered by Dee Steel, our Director of Visitor Services.

What do docents and tour guides do?

Visitor centerHere at the National Shrine, we have over 90 volunteers who welcome visitors and provide guided tours and general overview tours to guests.

Docents work at the information desks on both the east and west sides of the lower level, serving as receptionists to check people in for tours, answer questions about Basilica schedules (Masses, Confessions, special events, etc.), and give directions.

Tour guides provide tours to all kinds of visitors, from school and parish groups to groups focused on particular devotions. Guides get to work with visitors of all ages, including elementary through college students.

What experience is required to be a volunteer, and what kind of time commitment is expected?

No experience is required to be a volunteer at the Basilica! Guidance, mentorship, and training are provided as new docents work to learn both the script for the guided tour of the Shrine (lasting just under an hour), and a shorter script outlining the 20-minute overview tour for larger groups.

Volunteers are asked to serve a minimum of two shifts per month (9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. or 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m.), and there’s no limit on the number of shifts a volunteer can serve. Some dedicated docents serve three shifts per week!

Visitors Tour BasilicaHow do you become a certified tour guide at the Basilica?

After prospective docents are interviewed and accepted into the program, they study the script at their own pace, receive mentorship from current guides, and learn the visitor welcome procedures. They also shadow tours to see how individuals adapt the tour to their own personalities. Finally, when they feel comfortable with the script, they set up a meeting with the Director of Visitor Services to give the Director a tour. Most people have studied the script scrupulously and pass with flying colors, certified to give tours that very day!

What is the best part about being a docent?

I can’t tell you how many docent volunteers express what a blessing it is to serve at the Shrine. They meet inspirational people of all ages and religious backgrounds from around the world – whether that’s second graders who just received their First Holy Communion or those who donated to the Shrine years before the dedication of the Great Upper Church. Each tour is a spiritual experience, as the docents express their faith through describing ecclesial artwork.

Who should I contact if I’m interested in volunteering?

Interested volunteers can contact me, Dee Steel, by calling 202-281-0611, or emailing [email protected]. We are always excited to have more volunteers to help us share the beauty of the Basilica with others, and pray the experience is rewarding for them as well. As one volunteer recently shared:

Volunteering as a docent at the Basilica has been an integral part of my spiritual life for over 35 years. Through the beautiful mosaics, I am given an opportunity to share my faith with visitors from all over the world. This is in keeping with Jesus’ desire that His love and teachings be spread to all nations. Whether the visitors are coming for the first or the 50th time, whether they’re adults or children, they all desire a greater communion with God. The National Shrine affords me an opportunity to join others in developing and reflecting a great love for God. My hope is that those who visit the Shrine not only remember the awesome architecture and mosaics, but more importantly, the majesty of God and His love for each of us.”

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