La Crosse shrine: A sanctuary for the soul

| Dave Hrbacek and Julie Carroll | September 29, 2011 | 0 Comments

People file into church at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Two busloads of teens from St. Pius V in Cannon Falls pulled into the parking lot of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., the morning of Sept. 11.

The sun lit up the beautiful structures and gardens nestled in the blufflands of western Wisconsin.

After their three-hour ride, the 51 seventh- through 12th-graders were antsy to get out and climb the paved path leading to the church, the shrine’s crown jewel.


Visitors tour the Memorial to the Unborn. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

The peaceful and prayerful atmosphere of the place turned their high energy into serious reflection, as the youth marveled at the scenery before them.

“It’s really beautiful,” said Anna Priore, a home-schooled high school senior who came with her sister, Caroline, a junior. “I knew something nice was going to happen,” she said on the ride home.

One of the pleasant surprises of her visit came when she learned of an altar inside the church containing a relic of her confirmation saint, Maria Goretti. “There was a beautiful painting of her, too,” Anna said. “It almost moved me to tears.”

The experience had a similar impact on Caroline, who said it confirmed her desire to be a nun someday. She watched a video on the bus ride down that mentioned a collection to build a home for contemplative sisters.

“It’s the perfect place [for such a home],” Caroline said. “I’ve always felt like I’d like to join a convent someday. . . .”

Such anecdotes are music to the ears of trip organizer Debbie Bauer, who runs the faith formation program for youth at the parish. And, no doubt, she will pass along the stories to the anonymous donor who covered the cost of the bus ride for the youth.

During a parish staff meeting, Bauer said, “we were concentrating on the Blessed Mother, and the doorbell rang. I went to the door and there was a gentleman who goes to Mass here. He gave me a check for $2,000 and said, ‘You get coach buses and you take the faith formation kids down to Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine.’


From left, Caroline and Anna Priore of St. Pius V in Cannon Falls pray at the shrine. Julie Carroll / The Catholic Spirit

“It was holy goosebump time,” she added.

‘An extraordinary place’

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former bishop of La Crosse, founded the shrine with the intention that it would be “a place of pilgrimage, an extraordinary place to which the faithful might come at any time, but especially in times of special joy and of special need, to be renewed in faith and grace.” It was completed in 2008.

On the third anniversary of the shrine church in July, Pope Benedict XVI affiliated it to his papal basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. With this affiliation comes the opportunity for pilgrims visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe to gain plenary indulgences once a year if they receive the sacraments of confession and Eucharist, and pray for the Holy Father’s intentions. A plenary indulgence promises escape from the temporal punishment the pilgrim deserves for sins committed and forgiven.

A winding, flower-lined meditation trail at the shrine leads visitors through more than 100 acres of woodlands. Along the way pilgrims can stop to pray at devotional areas, bronze relief Stations of the Cross and the mysteries of the rosary depicted in blue and white tile.

The first stop for most visitors is the pilgrim center, where they can view an orientation film, dine at the Culina Mariana Restaurant or purchase items at the gift shop.

Pilgrims then set out on a path that leads to a small chapel housing a pyramid of blue votive candles.

It’s about a 10-minute walk to the Romanesque church, where Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation are offered daily.

Inside the 35,000-square-foot stone structure, visitors will find several side altars devoted to saints, some with first-class relics displayed.


Visitors can light candles for their prayer intentions at a chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Julie Carroll / The Catholic Spirit

A 98-foot dome is decorated with a turquoise sky and gold-leaf stars in the same formation as those that illumined the sky in Mexico on Dec. 12, 1531, the date of Our Lady of Guadalupe’s final appearance to St. Juan Diego.

Thirty-one stained-glass windows throughout the church depict scenes from Mary’s life. A mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe is prominently displayed above the marble altar.

Beyond the church, visitors encounter a memorial to the unborn, which serves as a resting place for several babies who died before birth. The memorial includes a flower garden, reflecting pool and bronze sculpture of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Unborn, cradling three babies of different nationalities in her arms.

An outdoor Stations of the Cross and rosary walk complete the pilgrims’ half-mile journey.

The youth from St. Pius V spent about four hours walking, praying and listening to a tour guide explain the significance of the shrine’s features. For Bauer, the faith formation director, the timing of their trip couldn’t have been better.

“This is our kickoff for our faith formation classes,” she said. “How beautiful that we can do this. . . . [Our Lady of Guadalupe] is our mother. I want these kids to understand what a wonderful mother she is, and she wants us to come and see her.”

Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

  • Phone: (608) 782-5440
  • Address: 5250 Justin Road, La Crosse, WI 54601
  • Directions: The shrine is approximately three hours from the Twin Cities and six miles south of downtown La Crosse. From Interstate 90 east, exit to Interstate 53 south (to downtown La Crosse). Go straight through downtown La Crosse to the south side of the city, where the road will become routes 35 and 14/61. (The road name changes to South Avenue and then again to Mormon Coulee Road.) As you reach the far south side, turn left (east) on Highway 14/61 and go 1.4 miles to Justin Road. Turn right on Justin Road and look for signs to the shrine.
  • Hours: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Sept. 1 to May 31) and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (June 1 to Aug. 31)
  • Mass: Monday through Saturday — 12:15 p.m.; Sunday — 9:30 a.m. (Latin), 11 a.m. (Spanish), 1 p.m. (English)
  • Rosary: Monday through Sunday — 9 a.m. at the Pilgrim Center
  • Reconciliation: Monday through Saturday — 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and following 12:15 p.m. Mass; Saturday — 2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.; Sunday — following 9:30 a.m. Mass, noon to 1 p.m., and following 1 p.m. Mass
  • Divine Mercy Chaplet: Thursday — 3 p.m.
  • Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and rosary: Monday through Saturday — 3:30 p.m.
  • Evening prayer and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament: Monday through Saturday — 4 p.m.

Archdiocesan pilgrimage

  • What: Join Bishop Lee Piché on a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis.
  • When: Friday, Oct. 21
  • Cost: $55
  • Includes: Coach bus ride, shrine tour, lunch, light dinner, time for personal prayer and Mass
  • Registration: Sign up by Friday, Oct. 7, at the archdiocesan website,, or call the Office of Marriage, Family and Life at (651) 291-4488.

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Category: Featured, Local News, Travel and Pilgrimages