How Mother Angelica Found the Location for Her Blessed Sacrament Shrine
Hanceville, Ala., native recounts how he scouted locations for the special nun — and helped the picturesque fencing be put into place too.
Editor's Note: This story was updated after its initial posting.
HANCEVILLE, Ala. — It was providential — I happened to walk up to a man and woman chatting on the piazza in front of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament during the days leading up to Mother Angelica’s funeral. The gentleman turned out to be someone who knew Mother quite well, from the days this shrine was just a thought in her heart.
In fact, Hale Wilson helped find the location.
“One of the sisters is my brother-in-law’s niece,” he said, speaking about the nuns in the monastery. “She contacted me and said Mother was looking for property.”
Wilson explained that he has a knack for finding things, including the right realtor, Barbara Dunn. Dunn called Mother, after learning that she was looking for 200 to 500 acres of land around Birmingham.
When none of the parcels of land around Birmingham proved suitable, Dunn showed Mother pieces of land in Cullman and Hanceville.
“Mother, there is one more piece of property,” Dunn said about this listing.
“We looked around a little bit, she went to the back of the house [that was on the property] and looked in the direction where the monastery is today and said she liked it.”
So Hanceville it was.
Dunn recounted how she spent lots of time with Mother as the shrine was being built — and she ended up converting to Catholicism and moving to Hanceville to be near the shrine.
As she said, “When I was Protestant, I always prayed every day: ‘God, I want the truth; show me the truth, God.’ And this is where he led me.”
For years now, people coming to the shrine do not have to drive through that long tunnel of trees; they drive along the two-lane road as it winds gracefully through meadows on both sides. A few Black Angus cattle graze peacefully in one place, while a handful of horses stand calmly in a different meadow, oblivious to the cars passing by as they swish their tails lazily.
What adds to this bucolic scene is the white fencing that glides, curves and stretches along the meadows on both sides for over a mile, right up to the shrine entrance.
Wilson recalled the days when this picturesque fencing didn’t exist. Living practically a stone’s throw from the shrine, and being friends with Mother Angelica, he took her to visit his sister in the area — and during the visit, Mother noticed his sister’s beautiful white fence.
He remembers Mother asking, “Is that painted?” She learned it was not made of wood, so did not have to be painted. “That’s just what we need,” she said.
So Wilson’s sister put Mother in touch with the “fence man.”
With Mother’s order, Wilson happily reported, the young man just starting out in his field was cited as the top salesman “for his record sale for the year.”
Neighbors and More
Hale and Ronda Wilson had moved with their children to Hanceville from southern Louisiana before the shrine was built, and they became acquainted with Mother Angelica in Irondale during those years. One day, Wilson went to Irondale to tell her about an idea of his.
“Mother, have you got 10 minutes?” he asked. “She gave me an hour and a half!” he recalled with a smile.
Wilson described how he wanted to open a bed-and-breakfast hostel for pilgrims and visitors coming to visit EWTN.
“‘Hold up,’ she said. ‘I have some plans, and I think you’ll be part of this,’” Wilson well remembers. Looking back on that moment, he believes that she had her beautiful shrine already in mind.
After the shrine became a reality, Mother Angelica’s words came true. The Wilsons opened houses on the road to the shrine for pilgrims to stay — the St. Mary Guesthouse and St. Benedict (Log) Guest House.
The Wilsons also built and lived in the house right next to the shrine’s entrance. They were as close as they could get to the shrine. But they eventually moved from that location so that Mother Angelica could have that house and its property, and, consequently, Deacon Bill Steltemeier moved into the house. Wilson said he would let no one but Mother have that house.
“We built the president’s house here!” he likes to chuckle, because Deacon Bill was EWTN’s past president.
Besides, he has so many fond memories of Mother. She liked to come over and sit in the rocking chairs on the Wilsons’ porch.
“She loved sitting there,” he said in a way that recalled those moments with great fondness. “And she said, ‘I wonder if they have rocking chairs in purgatory?’”
Joseph Pronechen, a Register staff writer, is in Alabama covering Mother Angelica’s funeral.