You Can’t Keep a Good Glen Down
A visit to Durward’s Glen in Baraboo, Wis., an historic pilgrimage site recently rescued from the proverbial wrecking ball by Magdalen College.
Caledonia Township, Wisconsin
I’ll never forget June 18, 2006, when Father’s Day and the Feast of Corpus Christi shared the spotlight in a special way. On the drive home from a camping trip near Wisconsin Dells, my family stopped for Sunday Mass at Durward’s Glen, a wooded 40-acre retreat center tucked away in the hills near Baraboo, Wis.
Much to our surprise, the small parish there — run by the Order of St. Camillus since 1932 — was soon to close. We had stumbled upon the final Mass to be celebrated by a Camillian priest on the premises.
While members of St. Camillus Parish prepared for their annual Eucharistic procession, the sun spotlighted their emotions as it played hide-and-seek behind the clouds. Their joy at continuing the community’s Corpus Christi tradition was unmistakable, but it was periodically overshadowed by the fear that this may be the last such event.
My husband and I were deeply moved at the end of Mass, when several parishioners publicly paid tribute to the Camillian priests for decades of faithful service at “The Glen.” Imagine losing your beloved spiritual fathers and the Eucharist on the same day — on a day dedicated to celebrating both.
I felt like we didn’t deserve to sit among this tight-knit community as they bade such a poignant farewell. Instead of making us feel like intruders, however, the congregation welcomed us wholeheartedly.
They even invited my family to share a potluck lunch after Mass. As our little ones joined the many local children running around the hall, we felt an immediate kinship with this small but faithful flock.
The first person we met was Kevin Blau, a young father and lifetime member of St. Camillus Parish. His grandfather, Frank Blau, is credited with petitioning the Milwaukee-based Order of St. Camillus to open the parish — the smallest in the Diocese of Madison — in 1946.
The initial community of just 15 families enjoyed the small log chapel once used by the order’s novitiate and enlarged it to a church capable of seating 80 people in 1956. It is now listed on the National Historic Registry.
I couldn’t help but notice the simplicity of the structure’s interior décor. The thick wooden beams and large iron chandeliers overhead give a rustic feel as they lead the eye directly to the sanctuary. Modest statues of Joseph and Mary flank the crucifix above the tabernacle, and a small carving of the Last Supper sits at the foot of the altar.
The church’s most striking feature is the stone bell tower with the “chi-ro” symbol (Greek for “Christ”) carved into the side.
St. Camillus was not the first place of worship to be erected at Durward’s Glen, however.
The story of the Glen stretches back to 1862, when Scottish immigrant Bernard Durward purchased the land for his family home. He built a small chapel on the other side of the property and called it St. Mary of the Pines.
Following the potluck, my husband and I debated whether to check out the old chapel or to head home. We decided to give the kids a little exercise so they’d nap in the car. I’m glad we did.
The wooded hike up the hill provided an ideal opportunity to talk about Jesus’ passion and death as we passed a series of outdoor Stations of the Cross.
Upon reaching a clearing near the summit, we discovered a life-size crucifixion scene and a cemetery where Camillian priests and former parishioners, including members of the Blau family, are buried.
Just over the other side of the hill lie the Durwards and most of their children. They rest near the edge of the enchanting canyon and natural spring for which the property is named.
As for the small chapel on the hilltop, it was easy to imagine the late 19th-century Durward family celebrations here: the first Masses of two sons ordained to the priesthood, the wedding of another, the golden anniversary of Bernard and his wife Theresa, and later requiem Masses for their beloved deceased.
According to a sign near the entrance to the Glen, Mary Durward, the youngest member of the devout family, deeded the entire property to the Camillians. She did this in 1932, with the condition that it remain a “place of healing” and never be commercialized.
Imagine the dismay of the community when, nearly 75 years later, the Camillians could no longer maintain the property, leaving the future of this charming place in jeopardy.
In July 2006, the Blessed Sacrament was removed from the premises. Lifetime members of St. Camillus Parish reluctantly relocated their families to nearby parishes, and their spiritual home was put up for sale.
But the story does not end there.
After a long winter of uncertainty, the warmth of spring brought new life to the Glen — and a remarkable answer to many prayers.
Earlier this year, officials of Magdalen College in Warner, N.H., announced their purchase of the property with the assistance of local residents and Our Lady of the Rosary Investors Group, a coalition of benefactors dedicated to preserving the Glen’s Catholic mission.
The Catholic college plans to use the center, complete with a former novitiate dormitory, small pond and outdoor Holy Family altar, for educational programs, summer conferences and retreats — while maintaining the name and atmosphere of the historic Durward’s Glen.
With the exception of a new tabernacle (with a wooden frame to be built by one of the Blau brothers) and an image of St. Mary Magdalene to replace a statue of St. Camillus, very little has changed. The new owners even preserved the annual Corpus Christi celebration by hosting former parishioners and their families for a Mass, Eucharistic procession and potluck on June 10.
Although a priest has yet to take residence there, it is a relief to know that, in time, Jesus’ real presence — body and blood, soul and divinity — will once more have a permanent home at The Glen.
Kimberly Jansen writes from Lincoln, Nebraska.
Durward’s Glen Retreat Center
W11876 McLeisch Road
Baraboo, WI 53913
Planning Your Visit
New proprietor Magdalen College offers information on the center, including photos and video, at magdalen.edu/durwardsglen.
- September 23-29, 2007