Finding the Blessed Mother in Far-Flung Places

Marian shrines in Ohio and Missouri draw the faithful.

L to R: Mary is honored as the Sorrowful Mother in Missouri and Our Lady of Consolation in Ohio.
L to R: Mary is honored as the Sorrowful Mother in Missouri and Our Lady of Consolation in Ohio. (photo: Courtesy of the shrines)

A visit to a Marian shrine can change hearts, filling them with peace during life’s journey.

Such pilgrimages have been encouraged by Pope Francis of late. On Aug. 23, he underscored the importance of Marian shrines and pilgrimage destinations.

“We need to go to these oases of consolation and mercy, where faith is expressed in a maternal language — where we lay down the labors of life in Our Lady’s arms and return to life with peace in our hearts, perhaps with the peace of children,” Pope Francis said.

While many of the faithful head to famous Marian shrines in the United States and around the world, there are also other shrines not as familiar but which draw many pilgrims.

Consolation in the Buckeye State

One is the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio. The day the statue of Our Lady of Consolation was brought in procession from St. Nicholas Church in Frenchtown, Ohio, to the new parish named in her honor in Carey, the first of countless miracles associated with Mary’s intercession at this shrine occurred. Written accounts describe unrelenting thunderstorms, lightning and driving rain that began the day before the May 24, 1875, procession. Yet as the procession began on the feast of Mary, Help of Christians, the sun split the clouds. At the end of the 8-mile procession, the clouds burst again the moment after the statue entered its new home.

Everyone believed it was a sign that Mary chose this place in the Ohio Valley for her shrine. Soon, many visitors were reporting favors granted and healings of all kinds of sickness.

Beginning with early official recordings, they've become numberless — too many for a long authentication process. But these “thank-yous” are kept on record.

In the course of its history, the first church rapidly expanded into what has become today’s Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation. It was dedicated on the 50th anniversary of the shrine in 1925. Nearby, the original, with its hand-carved wooden altar, was renovated.

Inside the brick Romanesque edifice, both Byzantine and Romanesque details abound. The mural filling the apse is much like an icon, showcasing a rendering of Christ the King enthroned on the world, majestic yet merciful. Above are depictions of the Holy Spirit as a dove and the hand of God the Father giving a blessing. St. Michael the Archangel is shown defending the Church. A rendition of our Blessed Mother is also shown — a beautiful reminder of Mary’s heavenly help.

To the right of the awe-inspiring sanctuary is the elaborate Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation. Mary is depicted enthroned under a sculpted canopy above the marble shrine altar, surrounded by votive lights.

Here, venerated, is the statue carved in Luxembourg after the original there. Father Joseph Gloden, founder of the shrine and a native of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, commissioned this replica.

The devotion to Mary as Our Lady of Consolation dates to the beginnings of the Church. In the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “Mary, knowing what it is to suffer, is ever ready to administer consolation” (as quoted in the guide printed by the shrine).

Open 24 hours a day, the shrine draws visitors at all hours who bring their prayers and petitions before the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady of Consolation. Women medically unable to bear children or carry them to birth come for Mary’s consolation, in particular. Our Mother knows how to console her children and often has assisted with many seemingly impossible situations.

Some grateful petitioners show thanks by donating garments for Mary’s miraculous statue. Franciscan Father Tom Merrill of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, the shrine’s rector and pastor, said the shrine sends the patterns to volunteers, who make dresses with material that reflects “their unique cultural traditions for the statue and the Child in Mary’s arm.” Even Pope St. Paul VI sent a vestment.

Our Lady of Consolation Ohio
Our Lady of Consolation(Photo: Courtesy of the shrine)

This shrine also includes stained-glass Jesus and Mary transept windows, once among the largest in America; the lower basilica for devotional offerings houses first-class relics of 500-plus saints. There is a growing museum displaying items like canes and crutches left after answers to prayers. The 30-acre Shrine Park outdoors has bronze Stations of the Cross in grottoes, marble statues and a massive marble and granite Memorial Altar. On its dome, 45 feet above the altar, there stands a 13-foot bronze statue of Our Lady of Consolation, ready to receive pilgrims and petitioners at this shrine.

Marian Devotion in Show Me State

The seeds of the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg, Missouri, between St. Louis and Kansas City, were planted after German immigrants built a log church called St. Martin’s in 1852, then replaced it in 1873 with a new Rhenish-Romanesque style edifice built from locally quarried stone.

In May 1888, a relative of the pastor found the “White Lady” statue in the rectory attic and put it under the dogwood trees on the grounds. “That started the devotion to Mary,” said Brenda Van Booven, the building coordinator. Devotions began — and grew. Processions were held. A small wooden chapel, barely large enough to allow room for the priest, was built for the statue.

Eventually, the White Lady statue was carried in solemn procession to St. Martin’s and placed in a niche on the marble high altar. The church’s door has a bas-relief of Mary, Queen of the Rosary, joined by depictions of Sts. Dominic and Catherine of Siena. Words appear beneath: “Blessed is the man that watches daily at my gates and waits at the post of my doors.” Parishioners and pilgrims have been doing that for decades at what soon became a shrine dedicated in 1910.

During the annual May and September pilgrimage processions around the shrine, the Rosary is prayed, and two statues are carried and rotated. One is the White Lady. The other is a statue depicting our Sorrowful Mother, carved in Germany and a replica of the “Pietà of Achtermann” in the Cathedral of Muenster, placed here in 1890.

The new statue of the Sorrowful Mother attracted many visitors. Multitudes came to seek comfort in their misery from her who in her own agony would not forsake her suffering children. With the growing devotion to the Sorrowful Mother, blessings began to abound.

One happened in 1891, when rainfall persisting for weeks halted the construction of an addition at St. Martin's and prevented farmers from harvesting their over-ripened wheat. People promised the Blessed Mother that if she answered their prayers, they would build a chapel, and they vowed to make a solemn annual pilgrimage. The next morning the sun was bright and remained that way, day after day, allowing for the harvest.

In 1894, crops were again threatened by a devastating drought. People prayed and lit candles before the statue of the Sorrowful Mother now in the log chapel they had built for her. One night the candles caught the altar on fire. Amid the charred remains, the statue and its white veil were untouched. The people said, “Mary saved her shrine,” and devotion to the Blessed Mother increased even more. Rain also fell, and the crops were saved once again.

As the number of pilgrims increased after hearing these stories, the parishioners began to quarry stone for a larger chapel. The White Lady, colorfully restored and dressed in white, was processed into the new chapel.

Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows
Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Starkenburg, Missouri(Photo: Courtesy of the shrine)

Answers to prayers continued. The shrine chapel contains ex-votos, such as crutches and braces, as well as plaques of thanksgiving — giving testimony to the graces pilgrims received through the intercession of Our Lady.

They have “never really been declared miracles,” Van Booven said, explaining that “there have been a lot of special favors.” Some of the crutches, for example, date to the days when polio was a major threat. People with cancer reported that after praying here they were cured. A plaque explains how a student with a growth on his hand prayed and used the holy water from the Lourdes grotto on the grounds, and the growth vanished. He became a priest in 1914 and said his first Mass at the shrine.

The grotto and the water have long had blessed links. Initially, the priest prayed for water for the grotto. But the local farmers said no water was there. But a well was dug — and three days later, a water vein was struck. Thus the stone inscribed at the shrine states, “Through the intercession of the Blessed Mother of God this fountain issued forth on the Feast of the Comfortress of the Afflicted, September 3, 1900.” Later, the pastor went to France and brought back a large container of water from the Lourdes shrine and poured it into the well. Devotion increased even more. When the shrine deteriorated, it was rebuilt in 1934. In 1997, water was once again brought from the Shrine of Lourdes and added to the well here.

Pilgrims and regulars at the shrine can also pray on the grounds following the Stations of the Cross, stopping at the Calvary monument, where large statues of Mary and John look upon a rendering of the Crucified Lord, and view a holy sepulcher with the statue of Jesus.

Because the annual procession draws a large crowd, Mass is held outdoors in front of St. Martin’s. As Van Booven said, “We have people come every day to the shrine. Tourists come all the time. And there are locals that come, some almost on a daily basis, and families pray together.”

Our Lady draws them all.


Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation

315 Clay Street, Carey, OH

Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Martin's Church

197 Hwy P, Starkenburg, MO

Other US Shrines to Visit

  • Holy Hill Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians

  • Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine

  • Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe)

  • Shrine of Our Lady of the Island

  • National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon

  • Our Lady of Charity National Shrine

  • National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa