Wisconsin Way pilgrimage offers scenery, peace, prayer

| April 11, 2018 | 0 Comments

Aerial photo of the Basilica and National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill. Courtesy Holy Hill

Wendy Zeuli of Our Lady of Grace in Edina last year came up with a new way to celebrate Mother’s Day — go on a pilgrimage with her daughter, Katie.

Wendy chose a newer pilgrimage called the Wisconsin Way, which begins 16 miles northeast of Green Bay in Champion, at a Marian shrine called Our Lady of Good Help, and winds its way south 130 miles through rural terrain to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians at Holy Hill near Milwaukee.

She had met the priest who created it, Father Andrew Kurz, when he was giving a presentation to American pilgrims who had walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain, which Wendy did in 2015.

“I loved walking the Camino de Santiago, so I just thought I need to do this here,” said Wendy, 59. “I just love the idea that there is a pilgrimage … so close to us in Wisconsin.”

It was Katie’s first pilgrimage, but she did not hesitate to say yes to the invitation. Led by Father Kurz, the pilgrimage started on Mother’s Day, May 14, and lasted three days. Most of the miles were covered by driving, but there were beautiful walks through state parks and other scenic locations, with stops at Marian shrines along the way. Four others joined them.

A priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, Father Kurz, 46, first walked the pilgrimage route in October 2013, covering a distance of 130 miles that took him 12 days. From there, he dreamed of taking others. He now guides four trips a year, taking up to 10 people in a van he bought specifically for leading the pilgrimages. He took three people on his first trip, and he estimates he has taken 70 in 14 trips since he started guiding in 2014, with some repeat pilgrims. This year’s trips will be in May, June, September and October.

“After I saw the movie, ‘The Way’ [about the Camino de Santiago] a couple times in 2011 and 2012, I thought to myself that [creating a pilgrimage in Wisconsin] would be a wonderful thing to do,” said Father Kurz, who walked a few miles of the Camino while traveling in between visits to Lourdes, France, and Fatima, Portugal. “[In 2013] I got assigned at Champion and the surrounding parish around the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, and I thought, ‘Oh Lord, are you trying to tell me something?’ And then, I started getting more excited.”

There is a clear Marian focus to the pilgrimage, which starts at the site of the only verified Marian apparition in the U.S. Father Kurz said the shrine was a natural place to begin the journey.

The Zeulis embraced the idea of trying to connect with Mary by praying rosaries throughout the pilgrimage.

“The Blessed Mother definitely has her hand in this; there’s no question about it,” Wendy said. “I had no idea that there were so many Marian shrines … convents and statues and little churches, and so many things devoted to our Blessed Mother on that route.”

On the pilgrimage, participants pray, have quiet time for reflection and stay at interesting places like Holy Resurrection Monastery in St. Nazianz, home to Byzantine Catholic monks. That was a highlight for the Zeulis, along with the scenery.

“It was beautiful,” said Katie, 28. “One day when we were walking … we were saying the rosary and these two beautiful horses came right up to the fence as we were walking past them.

“We went and petted them,” she added. “I haven’t played with a horse since I was a kid. So that was just such a beautiful moment, and they followed us as we were walking down the road to the end of their fence.”

The experience reminded her “that God is all around us in all these little moments. … in a very subtle, beautiful way.”

For Wendy, the trip confirmed a decision she had made after walking the Camino to quit her publishing job and devote her time to volunteering. This month, she is going to Houston to help rebuild houses destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.

“I’ve absolutely no business doing that financially,” she said, of full-time volunteering. “I can’t afford to do that. But I’ve been called to do it. … So, the Wisconsin Way was just another step along that path.”

Some of her favorite parts were the quiet times of reflection, the camaraderie with Father Kurz and the other pilgrims, and, of course, time with her daughter.

“It was wonderful to have her there,” Wendy said. “We both have strong faith. And so, to have her commit … to spend not only four days with her mom, but four days saying rosaries and going to Mass and having it totally focused on a Catholic pilgrimage was really a blessing for me.”

Father Kurz has bigger plans for the Wisconsin Way: a 400-mile trip with two additional legs, culminating at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse. At least three people have walked entire route, he said.

Father Kurz has been thinking of ways to make the pilgrimage workable and affordable for pilgrims who want to do it without a guide. On the Camino, there are stops along the way called “albergues,” or pilgrim hostels, which are similar to a bed and breakfast but are either inexpensive or free. He hopes to find a way to encourage locals along the route to build them or convert part of their homes to accommodate pilgrims. He also wants to have local restaurants and coffee shops offer food at reduced rates, or even free.

It’s all part of his quest to draw more pilgrims to the Wisconsin Way.

“He’s just on fire for this thing,” Wendy said. “You’ve got to experience it with him if you want a taste of the Wisconsin Way.”

To learn more about the Wisconsin Way or book a trip, visit wisconsinway.com.


Holy grounds

The Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion is the site of the only approved Marian apparition in the U.S. In 1859, Mary appeared three times to Belgium immigrant and farmer Adele Brise, asking her to “gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” Brise, then 28, devoted the rest of her life to this mission. Her father, Lambert Brise, built the first chapel the same year Adele experienced the apparitions. Three more chapels were built after that, each replacing the previous one. The present chapel was built in 1941. In 2010, Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay formally approved the apparitions. The grounds and buildings are open daily, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“Holy Hill,” home to the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians, was once home to Francois Soubrio, a French hermit, who is said to have discovered the hill on a map as a place already dedicated to Mary. Farmers found him living there in the early 1860s. Located in Erin, about 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee, the site was also considered a sacred Marian site by the area’s Irish and German immigrant communities. The hill is now home to a group of Discalced Carmelite friars. Its present shrine church was completed and consecrated in 1931. The church, shrine and grounds are open daily, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. May 1 through Oct. 31, and 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 1 through April 30.

For more information about the Champion shrine, visit shrineofourladyofgoodhelp.com. For more information about the Holy Hill shrine, visit holyhill.com.

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Category: Travel and Pilgrimages