From the Pastor: The End of the Retreat
Please bear with me as I write one last article about my recent retreat. While I was at Our Lady of Good Help Shrine in Wisconsin, I found out about several more places within driving distance which I still had time to explore. The nearest was the National Shrine of St. Joseph in Green Bay. It was less than 2 miles from where I was staying, so off I went. Imagine! A National Shrine to the foster father of Jesus so close and I almost missed it! I couldn’t wait to get there. I should have missed it. It would be an understatement to say that it was disappointing. It was attached to a church on the campus of St. Norbert College. Photos of the church showed how this once beautiful building had been twice wreckovated. The National Shrine consisted of two rooms leading off from the church. The first one was octagonal with high, empty white walls and a glass ceiling. Bench seating all around and two kneelers in the middle. Maybe 20 feet across. Through that room was a tiny, low-ceilinged room/niche just big enough for a very nice statue of St. Joseph, which the people in the first room could see through the open gates separating the two rooms. That was it. Had I not seen it, I would have had much better images in my mind of what it must have been like.
Next, I drove to the National Shrine of St. Philomena in Briggsville, by means of some of the worst roads I have ever been on. Fortunately, the whole area is beautiful so it was a nice ride other than that. When I got to the Shrine, I passed by before realizing that I missed it, even with GPS telling me that I had arrived. The Shrine was a grotto type of structure with a statue of the Saint, a couple of candles, and 3 small, simple stained glass windows. It was next to St. Mary Help of Christians, a small church with a well-kept cemetery in the back. In the church, the Blessed Sacrament was not in the sanctuary. Off to the left, there was a small room with some pews, the tabernacle, and a relic of St. Philomena. Nobody was there. It was a good place to stop and pray and the grotto would be accessible anytime, even if the church was closed, so that was nice. And, compared with the National Shrine I just left, I guess this one was pretty good!
From there I drove to Erin, to locate the Holy Hill, on which is the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians. By this time, I wasn’t expecting much. But from a long way off, I saw that I was wrong. I spotted a distant church high on a hill while still many miles away. Whoever put it in that spot sure knew how to make an impression on anyone traveling through the area. This Romanesque minor basilica called out to one and all, “Come and pray. God is here!” This was truly a place of pilgrimage, a place of prayer. It was beautiful but groups of people were being turned away from the doors to the main church! I was allowed immediate entrance but everyone else was being questioned and sent back down the hill. It turns out that there was a funeral Mass scheduled in about two hours and only the family was being admitted. And the priest, of course! So, after crashing the viewing and giving my condolences to the family, I went out to see what else was there. There were signs pointing to a lookout tower, the door to which had a sign stating, “The tower has 178 steps. Good luck!!” I think it was the second exclamation point that convinced me to take up the challenge. So up I went. The stairs were so narrow at first that had someone been coming back down, we could not have passed each other. In another place the stairs got a bit wider. Some places they were very steep. In one place they turned into a spiral staircase. I made it to the top and the view was spectacular.
The next day I had planned to head down to New Orleans to see my newly ordained priest friend but discovered (I had not paid any attention to the news during my retreat) that a hurricane was heading his way so I called my cousin who is a priest in Michigan and made my way up and around Lake Michigan and spent a couple of nights with him and his surprised family. Then I headed back home, traveling by the smaller back roads instead of Interstates. I didn’t have time to stop and see any other family or friends along the way but enjoyed the places the GPS took me. Once I faced signs saying, “Road Closed Ahead” and drove 19 miles on the detour of about 1 mile. Less than two miles after getting back to the original road there was another sign, another closing, another detour. This time I was taken more than 23 miles west before the detour turned south. I wasn’t about to head back 23 more miles to the road only to see if it was closed in a third, fourth or fifth spot, so I changed course. That was my way home. Go with the flow. Sometimes I was on farm roads, sometimes on highways, and always accompanied by St. John Paul praying the rosary and Bishop Sheen teaching catechism. 3725 miles of spiritual refreshment.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka