From the Pastor: Our Lady of Good Help
As I have been giving the highlights of my journey to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help for a nice little retreat, I left off last week in Chicago. I failed to mention that before heading to that city, I had hoped to purchase a set of three beautiful old altars being salvaged from a closed church, but the spire behind the main altar turned out to be two feet too tall to fit in our church, so the search goes on. Though passing through Chicago, I didn’t want to take the time necessary for a meaningful stop at St. John Cantius, as much as I would have liked to. Neither did I visit any cemeteries to ask how the residents would be voting next year, although each time I passed by one, I prayed that those lying there could at least rest in peace outside of election seasons. No, when I left I was hurrying to get to the retreat center before it closed for the day, something which never actually happened anyway, because I misjudged the timing and wound up getting there too late. That was probably because I stopped at Rest Area 52. There was supposed to be some sort of mass storming of the area by crazy Farcebook people looking for aliens or something like that, but I didn’t see any fences or armed guards trying to keep anyone out. It was only after I got back home and back on a computer that I discovered that the aliens are in Rest Area 51, which is in another state. Looking back on it, I am skeptical that I was incorrect. All the people up there were driving the speed limit, whether on the highway or in the city, even though the limit in every city is only 25 mph, so it may be that they are all aliens, and are just hiding out in the open. Such strange behavior... By the time I reached Green Bay, which is a short drive from Champion, where Our Lady appeared to Sr. Adele Brise in 1859 (a year after She appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes), I had listened to 16 hours worth of Bishop Fulton Sheen tapes, prayed countless rosaries, celebrated Mass at and visited many different churches, and answered only a handful of phone calls, text messages and emails (replying while stopped, I might add), most of which required a simple, “I am on retreat. Please contact me again when I return.” Some of you asked me how I could withstand such a long, grueling road trip. This was blissful!
The Shrine is nothing like Lourdes, which, though magnificent, is surrounded by shops and city and clutter. This one is out in the middle of nowhere and it takes quite good directions to find it. It is surrounded by cornfields and not much else. It was just a couple of acres of safety in the midst of fire in the past (all people, animals, and plants on the church property survived unscathed the 1871 Peshtigo fire, which was put out by miraculous rains on October 9, the anniversary of Our Lady’s apparition to Sr. Adele) and continues to be a place of spiritual safety to this day. The priests there are the Fathers of Mercy, and one of them even remembers meeting a couple of Epiphany parishioners when they were up there once! They just completed a large conference center (where they are hosting Scott Hahn later this month) at the front. There are a few small buildings, including a museum where you can find the history of the Apparition, a gift shop, and lunchroom, and, of course, a small church built on the site where Our Blessed Mother appeared and told the youthful Adele, “Teach them (the children) their catechism, how to sign themselves with the sign of the Cross, and how to approach the sacraments; that is what I wish you to do. Go and fear nothing. I will help you.” The rear acres of the property are manicured into a large grass park with two sets of Stations of the Cross, one straight down the middle (for those with mobility issues) and one more spread out, along with a Rosary walk, along the long outside path.
I asked a few questions of the lady in the gift shop and soon was introduced to a man who, she assured me, “knows everything about the Shrine and won’t stop telling you stories until I come to rescue you.” She was right. For a good two hours or more this elderly gentleman sat and fascinated me with stories about his childhood visiting the Shrine and how his uncle was healed there. In a nutshell, his uncle was working on an engine when it fell on him, crushing one of his legs. The doctor saved it, but he was never able to walk without a pair of crutches again. But one day, while at the Shrine, (in the first part of last century) he threw down his crutches and declared that he had been healed. After years of not walking on his own, he insisted on walking back to Green Bay as a means of thanking Our Blessed Mother for this miracle. It took him seven hours and proved that he did not even experience any muscle atrophy after being crippled for so long. One of his crutches is still on display at the Shrine. His story is told in the movie at the museum and in the books about the Shrine, but I got to hear it in person. More to come next week.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka