Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A drive in the Minnesota countryside takes me to St. Jarlath November 7, 2017

 

“SAINT JARLATH. Who’s that?” I asked my Catholic-raised and educated husband as we pulled up to a rural Minnesota cemetery during a recent Sunday afternoon drive.

 

 

He offered no information, as puzzled as me by the saint behind the name of St. Jarlath’s Catholic Cemetery located just off Waseca County Road 22 in Iosco Township. My later online research revealed Bishop Jarlath as the founder and principle patron of the Archdiocese of Tuam in Galway, Ireland. Irish names in the cemetery should have tipped us off.

 

 

I delight in discovering such well-kept rural cemeteries edged next to equally well-maintained churches. Clearly, people care deeply about this place. That pleases me although the closure of rural parishes like this one does not.

 

 

As we wandered the grounds, I spotted autumn décor adorning some gravesites. Seeing scarecrows on a tombstone marked a first for me.

 

 

I noticed, too, the trees,

 

 

the aged, and not so aged, stones,

 

 

the loving words

 

 

 

 

 

 

and clear markers of faith in crosses high and low.

 

 

I tugged at the church door, hoping to get inside. I never expect access. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. Gone are the days of unattended, open churches. I can only imagine the beauty, the history within this country church.

 

 

The ability to freely wander this cemetery on a stunning autumn afternoon tempered my disappointment. To see folks honor their ancestors and Saint Jarlath through a well-kept church and grounds encourages me. This place remains important—at least for now to those still living.

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AS I SCHEDULED this post, written days before the deadly mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I feel compelled to add this postscript expressing my sorrow and thoughts. I cannot fathom the loss to these families, to this community, about the same size as my Minnesota hometown. My heart breaks. A church, of all places, should be a sanctuary from violence. No place seems safe any more.

Initial media reports reveal the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence and that he sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law shortly before killing 26 people and wounding another 20 at the church. This troubles me. Domestic violence continues to root deep into our society. I read or hear media reports daily about murder-suicides, violations of restraining orders, calls to domestic disturbances, stalking, assaults…and more. For every case reported to law enforcement, many many more are not reported. Because of fear. Because of intimidation. Because of control and manipulation.

The invasive crime of domestic abuse and violence is affecting too many of our families, our neighborhoods, our communities and, yes, even our churches, directly and indirectly.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A destination for the faithful in the woods of southwestern Wisconsin November 16, 2015

The Mother of Good Counsel Votive Chapel, visible upon arrival at the Shrine site.

The Mother of Good Counsel Votive Chapel, visible upon arrival at the Shrine site.

TUCKED INTO A HILLSIDE just south of La Crosse, the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe draws modern day pilgrims seeking solace, peace and hope.

This view of the parking lot shows the scenic rural setting.

This view of the parking lot shows the scenic rural setting.

How this shrine came to be in rural Wisconsin traces to the desires of a Bishop and of a family to create a place that would bring people closer to God.

This sculpture of Juan Diego stands near the grounds entry.

This sculpture of Juan Diego stands near the Pilgrim Center.

To summarize, in 1531 Aztec convert Juan Diego five times witnessed apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His uncle, Juan Bernardino, reported that she had cured him and was thereafter to be known as Santa Maria de Guadalupe.

This image of the Lady of Guadalupe is woven into the Juan Diego statue.

This image of Our Lady of Guadalupe is woven into the Juan Diego statue.

I am not of the Catholic faith. Therefore I do not understand the intricacies of Juan Diego’s story. But I glimpse his significance to those, especially, of Hispanic heritage. Juan, a native of Mexico, is the first Roman Catholic Indigenous saint from the Americas.

Outside the Pilgrim Center rests this sculpture of the Lady of Guadalupe.

Outside the Pilgrim Center rests this sculpture of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

When I recently visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin, visitors of Hispanic origin outnumbered all others.

A rack holds 576 candles inside the Mother of Good Counsel Votive Chapel. Pilgrims, for a price, may have a candle lit. A lift allows lighting of the tiered candles stretching high into the chapel.

A rack holds 576 candles inside the Mother of Good Counsel Votive Chapel. Visitors, for a price, may have a candle lit. A lift allows lighting of the tiered candles stretching high into the chapel.

But, no matter your ethnicity or religion, this worshipful setting distances the distractions of life, replacing them with hope and serenity.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Some of the "rules," posted on a window outside the Pilgrim Center entry.

Some of the “rules,” posted on a window outside the Pilgrim Center entry.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

The stained glass windows inside the Mother of Good Cunsel Votive Chapel depict apparitions and titles of Our Blessed Mother.

The stained glass windows inside the Mother of Good Counsel Votive Chapel depict “Our Blessed Mother.”

Another chapel statue, of, I assume, the Virgin Mary.

Another chapel statue, of, I assume, the Virgin Mary.

The scent and heat of burning candles prevail in the chapel.

The scent and heat of burning candles prevail in the chapel.

Rosary beads on a chapel window sill.

Rosary beads on a chapel window sill.

the stained glass windows in the chapel are exquisite.

The stained glass windows in the chapel are exquisite.

Up the path from the chapel, a statue of the first canonized Native American, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.

Up the path from the chapel, a statue of the first canonized Native American, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.

The path winds up the hill toward The Shrine Church and other attractions.

The path winds up the hill toward The Shrine Church and other attractions. Golf cart rides to the Shrine are available.

The Shrine Church. Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling.

The Shrine Church. Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling.

Inside the Shrine Church.

Inside the Shrine Church, constructed between 2004-2008. Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling.

Art abounds inside the Shrine. Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling.

Art abounds inside the Shrine. Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling.

The Memorial to the Unborn celebrates and honors the lives of the unborn.

The Memorial to the Unborn celebrates and honors the lives of the unborn. Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling.

FYI: This religious site just outside of La Crosse includes many attractions such as the Pilgrim Center (with cafe and gift shop), Mother of Good Counsel Votive Chapel, The Shrine Church, Stations of the Cross, Rosary Walk, Devotional Areas and the Memorial to the Unborn. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling & Miranda Helbling