‘Witness to So Many Graces’ — Cardinal Burke’s Shrine to Our Lady in Wisconsin Celebrates 15 Years
The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse is set in the picturesque hills of western rural Wisconsin along the Mississippi River.
LA CROSSE, Wis. — A Marian shrine founded by Cardinal Raymond Burke that serves as a “place of ceaseless prayer for the corporal and spiritual welfare of God’s children, especially those in most need,” celebrates its 15th anniversary on July 31.
Set in the picturesque hills of western rural Wisconsin along the Mississippi River, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse now attracts more than 90,000 pilgrims every year and is looking to expand with the construction of a retreat center on the grounds.
“We’re so grateful to God that this shrine is faithful to its mission as a holy place of pilgrimage,” Cardinal Burke told the Register in a July 11 interview in Rome. The sacred place, he added, has “been witness to so many graces” over the past decade and a half, including conversions, growth in knowledge of the faith, wisdom and strength to know one’s vocation and to embrace it, the graces of cures for illnesses, and reconciliation within families.
He also explained that indulgences can be obtained at the shrine, as it is twinned with the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, so pilgrims can receive many of the same graces they could expect for visiting either of those holy places.
Pilgrims are invited to join in the July 31 celebrations at the shrine, where Cardinal Burke will offer the Pontifical Holy Mass at 12:15pm.
Your Eminence, how significant is this upcoming 15th anniversary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse?
The significance is the graces that are obtained by the pilgrims who come to the shrine. We’ve been witness to so many graces: conversion of heart, growth in knowledge of the faith, discernment of vocation and confirmation in vocation, and also people receiving the grace of a cure of an illness, reconciliation in their families. We’ve reached now over 90,000 pilgrims coming every year, and the number of confessions keeps growing along with the people participating in the Holy Mass. This is, of course, Our Lady’s work. She draws us to her Son; she did it at the Tepeyac Hill apparitions in 1531, and so we celebrate every year the dedication of the church because the shrine church is the point of arrival for a pilgrimage. You come on pilgrimage to meet Our Lord and enter the church, and there is Our Lady drawing you to the altar of sacrifice and the tabernacle and then the confessionals. So that’s the part we’re really most enthused about. We are so grateful to God that this shrine is faithful to its mission as a holy place of pilgrimage.
Could you tell us more about the location?
It’s a place of great natural beauty. At the same time, there are the people who gave this beautiful land, people of deep Catholic faith, who always believed the natural beauty of the land could serve a supernatural end, and that’s what’s happening now. We’re coming out with a new edition of a booklet on the shrine, which, thanks to the work of Becket Ghioto, our director of communications, is practically ready to be published. Written by myself, I tell the whole story, why I founded the shrine and how it came to be in its present form.
Is it easy to reach?
Yes, it’s right on the interstate highway that goes across Chicago to western Wisconsin and Minneapolis-St. Paul. We’re also right on the interstate highway that goes to the Mayo Clinic, that goes to Rochester, Minnesota, so it’s very accessible. There’s also an airport in La Crosse that’s quite functional.
How did shrine come to be?
At the time I was a young priest, I was shocked at how the devotional life had disappeared from Catholic families. I was a young priest teaching in elementary school, in the high school, and, of course, families invited me to their homes. I noticed some families didn’t even know how to pray before a meal and so forth, but there were also no religious symbols; and I found that at school — the children didn’t know the Rosary. It was just a loss of devotion.
So I tried as a priest to encourage the devotional life as the way to enter deeply into the sacramental life of the Church, to have these privileged relationships with the Lord extend to the circumstances of everyday life. You really need to prepare yourself through prayer and devotion; and at the same time, these sacramental encounters lead you to want to extend them throughout the day, by various forms of devotion: visits to the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Rosary, and a whole host of devotions.
Then, when I became bishop, the problem was persisting, and I saw there, too, an ever-increasing loss of faith in the Eucharist; and that, of course, is the foundation of our Catholic faith. So I thought to myself, “The most ancient form of devotion is a pilgrimage to a holy place where people leave, even just briefly, the normal circumstances of their life to go to a beautiful, holy place and discover there the extraordinary nature of their ordinary life because Christ is alive in them.” And so they turn, through conversion of heart, and follow Christ more closely.
What happened next?
So I started to look for place where we could establish a shrine, a holy place where people could go on pilgrimage. It’s a long story, but, eventually, these people came forward. They had this big, beautiful tract of land, which is in the hills or bluffs, as they are called, which overlook the Mississippi River in that part of the United States. They gave this land to us; and, with the help of many generous people, we built a pilgrim center, votive candle chapel and, eventually, the crown, which is the shrine church. There are also a number of other devotional areas: the Way of the Cross, the Rosary Walk, and the Memorial to the Unborn, which has been especially powerful for obtaining the grace to respect more fully human life and to defend and foster human life.
From the start, I said, “Everything about the shrine has to foster the encounter with Our Lord and so should be built with the best and most durable materials.” It was my firm desire that nothing would distract the pilgrims from their encounter with the Lord. Thanks be to God, we’ve been able to do that.
What future plans do you have for the shrine?
Now, we’re in the midst of a major project to build a retreat house alongside the Church, because, for years, now people have been saying, “Could you do something so we can stay for a few days in the holy place”; especially during significant times in their life, people want to spend a few days in prayer. Also, it is an excellent spiritual practice to make an annual retreat in a holy place. So I’ll be working on that when I go home, the fundraising part.
Do you have a community that serves the shrine?
Father Paul Check of the Diocese of Bridgeport, [Connecticut], well known as a strong spiritual leader in our nation, is the executive director of the shrine. The shrine has an excellent staff who are all deeply engaged in its spiritual mission. The spiritual care of the shrine, it’s in the hands of the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange Country, California. In the retreat house, we’ll have a community of religious sisters who will care for the pilgrim retreatants. They will be on the first floor, which will be the convent. The second floor will be conference rooms, a large conference room, and where meals for large groups can be served. On the three upper floors will be retreatants’ rooms.
Could you also say something about the indulgence that will be given?
Yes, on certain days of the year, including the feast of the dedication of the church, we’ve been given a generous grant of indulgences both in virtue of our twinning with St. Mary Major in Rome [one of the four patriarchal Roman basilicas] and also by virtue of our naturally close relationship with the basilica of Mexico City. So people can obtain, coming to the shrine, the same graces they would receive in Mexico City. One of the important grants is that a pilgrim can fulfill a promise to Our Lady to make a pilgrimage to her sacred image in Mexico City, in gratitude for a favor received, at the Shrine in La Crosse.
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