On my way to Door County in Wisconsin, I saw a highway sign listing attractions, one of which was “the only approved Marian apparition site in the US.” I mused on that a bit because I didn’t know there had been any Mary sightings in the United States. Apparently, those musings went deep, because a few days later as I was passing the exit to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help on the way back west after my Door County visit, I jerked the steering wheel at the last minute and went off to see what I could see. And feel.
It was an incongruous sight, that chapel with it’s various shrines in the midst of miles of farmland, but despite the sound of nearby tractors, it seemed a peaceful place.
I don’t have any deep religious convictions, so I didn’t necessarily believe Mary had appeared to the young Belgian woman in 1859, but I was curious to see if I could pick up some spiritual or other-worldly vibe. Even though I knelt at the prie-dieu and emptied my mind, I felt nothing but quiet in that candle-lit grotto. (It was called a chapel, that small space beneath the church, but it felt more grotto-ish than chapel-like.)
I wandered around the grounds for a little while. I needed to stretch my legs and figured I could soak up some religiosity while I was at it. I took a few photos, and when the place got too crowded, I left.
I planned to head back up to highway 57, but since I didn’t know where the ramp onto the highway was, I checked Google Maps on my phone to see how to get to Kohler. (A friend told me about a plumbing museum there, and it seemed the sort of offbeat place to while away a few minutes.) I kept heading north to the highway, but Google kept me going in circles until I finally gave up and followed its directions south through more farmland.
About twenty miles into the country drive, I noticed what looked like a pristine walking path meandering among the fields and snaking up a hill. Then, for just a second, I caught a glimpse of a fantastic castle perched on the hilltop. I craned my neck to get a better look, but trees obscured my view. I took the next right (much to the dismay of Google, which kept directing me to make a u-turn and go left) and got a side view of the place. It was huge. Rectangular. Like a vast hotel or resort. But there were no vehicles in sight. No people. Nothing but that immense building sitting in the middle of . . . somewhere.
I went back to the road where I’d seen the front of the building, took a couple of pictures, then continued to the plumbing museum.
I must have had shrines on my mind because many of the bathrooms and other exhibits at the Kohler Design Center resembled shrines more than places to deal with body functions.
(The candles were in a niche in one of the bathrooms, not at the Marian shrine.)
I ended the day at the bicycle capitol of America. (A shrine to bicycling. See a pattern here?) The first thing after I checked into the hotel was to Google “castle in Wisconsin near Denmark.”
Apparently the place was built in 2002 as a monastery for discalced (meaning unshod) Carmelite nuns, a strict cloistered order. It was built to last 300 years. Since the nuns have almost no contact with the outside world, the place has to be as perfect as possible to keep repairs at a minimum. What I thought was a walking path was actually the gravel road leading up to the monastery. If you are interested, you can find out more about the place here: http://www.holynamecarmel.org.
I found it particularly interesting that before the nuns moved to the castle near Denmark, they lived next to The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.
After such a day of serendipity and visiting shrines of one sort or another, wouldn’t you think I would have continued my journey more spritual, or at least changed a bit?
But no. I’m still just me — an undiscalced (calced?) wanderer trying not to live a cloistered life.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)
(Note: the little house is a restored roadside chapel. Such chapels had once been prevalent in the Belgian community.)