Gaudalupe Weathers the Storm: Archbishop Burke Sees Wisconsin Shrine Completed

The new Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in the bluffs near the Mississippi River faced opposition before it was built.

LA CROSSE, Wis. — Ever since Archbishop Raymond Burke announced his plans to build a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the bluffs near the Mississippi River here, he has faced all kinds of opposition.

Even from the weather.

At two of the most crucial events in the building of the shrine, there were storms of one kind or another.

The dedication Mass for the shrine church, the crown jewel of the site, on July 31, was no different. The Mass was to begin at 12:30 p.m. with a half-mile procession from the pilgrim center to the church. But at 10 a.m., the skies darkened. An unforeseen storm was making its way toward La Crosse. It had already produced 80 mph winds in Rochester, Minn., 60 miles to the west, and was doing a lot of damage on its eastward march.

But people were praying, and God answered those prayers. One woman watching the weather radar said a horseshoe shape appeared around La Crosse as noon approached. Some rain did fall, but it ended well before the procession, and the sun did shine.

It was a fitting tribute to the perseverance and prayer of Archbishop Burke. He stated many times throughout the week of celebration that he was surprised by the amount of opposition he received when he announced plans for the shrine back in 1999.

And the opposition was vehement. He was accused of building a white elephant monument to himself, of taking money from diocesan schools and giving it to the shrine, of not caring for the poor or the schools, since he could have raised $25 million for those causes rather than for a shrine ? and so on.

But this last week of July was cause for celebration: The heart of the shrine complex was completed and dedicated. The church, designed by La Crosse architect Michael Swinghamer and Notre Dame?s Duncan Stroik, is a Romanesque structure that is meant to ?lift up our hearts and minds to Christ, who shares with us the gift of divine love,? the archbishop said in his homily.

The week started with the blessing of an exact replica of a statue at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. The statues capture the moment when St. Juan Diego let his tilma down in front of Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. On July 30, a new statue of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was unveiled. And Archbishop Burke indicated that her canonization may be coming in the near future. During the shrine dedication, eight priests of the diocese carried relics of Blessed Kateri and Blessed Miguel Pro in the procession.

This statuary joins the Stations of the Cross and the rosary walk, as well as the statue honoring St. Joseph and the Holy Family, as the prime devotional areas scattered around the 104 acres. Anthony Visco, the Philadelphia artist who designed the stations and walk, said Archbishop Burke is the only one in the country right now who is sponsoring traditional Catholic artwork on such a large scale.

The archbishop said his reason for starting the shrine is to help rekindle the devotional life in the faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse. In fact, he said, it was ?the Holy Spirit who suggested it to me.?

He passed on the suggestion in a 1996 pastoral letter to the diocese, but at the time, the idea was for a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima. After Pope John Paul II wrote his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America (The Encounter With the Living Jesus Christ: the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America), and as then Bishop Burke read more about Our Lady of Guadalupe, it became clearer to him that the shrine should be built under that Marian title.

A pilgrimage to the shrine in Mexico City clinched it for him.

?I had the sense of the Mother of God actually looking at me? when he saw the image on the tilma for the first time, he said. He also felt ?mystically embraced? by her. Now, a mosaic of that image, framed by a magnificent baldachin (canopy), is the first thing one sees entering the church.

The shrine has been built completely with donated funds, with no money coming from the diocese. Plus, the shrine has no debt, ?and it won?t under my leadership,? the archbishop added.

Already there is spiritual fruit coming from the shrine. Jack and Joyce Felsheim of La Crosse said their family has benefitted from it over the last four years. Every first Saturday, they attend Mass and go to confession.

?There is a difference in our children,? Joyce said, ?how they treat each other and how they treat us. It?s so peaceful out there and it gives us a spiritual recharge.?

As a home-schooling family, they also use the time there for religious education.

Though the church is dedicated, the work is not done. A shrine to the unborn is being built, and the archbishop hopes to build a Marian catechetical and retreat center to further the work of the late Father John Hardon?s Marian catechists.

But Archbishop Burke must leave that to others. He is now taking up the second appointment he has received since he began the work ? as the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura at the Vatican.

Thomas Szyszkiewicz is based in

Peterson, Minnesota.