I Forgot I was in America's Dairyland
Groggy missionaries congregated in a small, dark chapel for morning prayer. It was still dark outside and fit the sleepy morning. After a hearty breakfast, we began our day trip to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It’s a short three-hour drive and as we came into La Crosse, we saw the lovely rolling hills of the shrine. The shrine church appears as a Franciscan monastery atop the hill. Similarly fashioned to the medieval basilicas of Italy, the white stone church juts out of the forested landscape. The shrine grounds aid in the pilgrim experience because even after arriving, you must walk about seven minutes uphill to the church. Entering the church did not disappoint with its white marble floors, gold trimmed Corinthian columns, and a soaring baldachin. It’s an oasis. I forgot I was in America’s Dairyland. As awestruck travelers viewed the architecture, the space was filled with a profound silence.
We perused the beautiful original artwork of the side chapels, venerated the relics of the saints honored there, and prepared ourselves for Mass. After Mass we participated in a tour of the church and had lunch as a community. Then we visited the memorial to the unborn adjacent to the front of the church. There is a statue portraying Our Lady weeping while cradling three babies in her arms. This memorial was moving and reminded me that as missionary educators, we uphold the beauty of life within Catholic schools. Viewing this statue reignited a spark in me to not make light of my role in the lives of my students. I am happy knowing I have perhaps made a small contribution to their growth as followers of Christ.
The trip was a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of mission life. For me, the shrine served as a reminder that Mary watches over all her children, especially her troubled children, many of whom we are able to serve. Particularly in the school I serve, which is mainly an Ecuadorian community, Our Lady of Guadalupe holds a special place as our patroness. Our school recently held a celebration on her feast day, December 12. We sang songs, ate native food, and prayed to our mother. Repeating that celebration for a few short hours at her shrine was beautiful.
“I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land.” First apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe: December 9, 1531.