The venture starts with the brilliant idea to trek across the highways from I-65 to land in the small town of Perryville, MO. As we arrived at Our Lady of the Barrens Church, the parking lot was empty. I immediately thought, "Oh great, what have I dragged my husband and kids through the soy fields and corn fields of Missouri to witness?" As we entered the gift shop, the very kind woman behind the counter led us to a brochure for a self tour. We went to the church and found ourselves surrounded by paintings within mini Chapels of the lives of Vincentian Saints. But the main area in the Church was dedicated to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. The entire space told the story of St.Catherine Laboure and the medal she was asked to have made in honor of Our Lady. We stayed for quite some time and then ventured down to the Grotto of Our Lady where my youngest was stung by a wasp or a bee or something. She hung in with us, checking out the work that had been done on building this huge Grotto and reading about the other small Grottos along the walkway. We visited the gift shop and then headed north for another Shrine we had heard of from a salesman, The Black Madonna Shrine in Eureka.
The GPS (an amazing little contraption) took us through more cornfields and this time through tiny twists and turns up slight hills until we arrived at a small road with No Trespassing signs everywhere we turned. As we came upon the sign for the Shrine (I'll post pics later), we turned in and drove up the hill. We were greeted by a trailer, a large open area with pews and a field of Grottos. The sign on the gift shop read, "Sorry. Closed." There was a tin box that had a self tour map and so we began. In front of the pews was an altar with votive stands on either side and behind the altar was a huge mosaic area with a large picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa. It was striking. We then followed the path through the field and admired the work of this one Polish Franciscan Monk who dedicated his life to honor Our Lady and her Son. The man died right there in front of one of the Grottos. The time and work obviously put into each area cannot be described. We pointed out different glass and miniature animals and concrete designs made into the Grottos. My favorite was a small pathway up above which led back to an area called the Mother's Sanctuary where water trickled down from around Our Lady of Sorrows into a small pond. After we walked the stations and filled our bottle with holy water, we drove down to where there was once an Infirmary (quite large) and in front was the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Worse for wear it was one of the most beautiful places in my mind. My kids ventured through the cut stone around the back where obviously water was once hooked up to run through the Grotto. I could only imagine what it once was and loved, once again, all the work of the small details. The Monastery around the back was still in use and the sheet mentioned not to go back there so we were headed on our way.
More treks through the hills and back onto the interstate to St. Louis where we easily found our hotel, cleaned up and moved on to "The Hill" for dinner at Guidos. As we dined on amazing Italian pastas and tapas and paninis, I asked which place the kids liked the most and much to my surprise they talked and talked about the amazing dedication and work put into each Grotto. When I mentioned that I would love to know just why these people felt so inclined to dedicate their lives to these projects, literally dying as they tried to finish, my 12 year old got kind of quiet and said, "Mom, you know why." "No, I really don't. It's part of my journey. It's what I wish I could ask these people to their faces." There was a slight blush and a grin and a whisper, "For the Glory of God." For the Glory of God. And that's what we had journeyed to witness.