October 22, 2010

'Getting closer to Mary': Pilgrims come from near and far to Shrine of Our Lady of Monte Cassino

Pilgrims pray the rosary on Oct. 10 during a procession in a field in front of the Shrine of Our Lady of Monte Cassino in St. Meinrad. The shrine is located on top of a large hill outside the town, and was built by the monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in the early 1870s. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Pilgrims pray the rosary on Oct. 10 during a procession in a field in front of the Shrine of Our Lady of Monte Cassino in St. Meinrad. The shrine is located on top of a large hill outside the town, and was built by the monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in the early 1870s. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ST. MEINRAD—On a recent warm Sunday afternoon in October, pilgrims from across Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee wound their way to the Shrine of Our Lady of Monte Cassino to seek Mary’s intercession.

Some were young children making their first pilgrimage to Monte Cassino. Others were older, holding in their hearts precious memories of pilgrimages made 50 or more years ago.

Some were in robust health. Others bore the cross of physical disabilities.

Some made a short trip from nearby towns. Others drove hours to show their love for the Blessed Mother.

And it was that love that united the approximately 500 pilgrims that came to the small sandstone chapel built by the Benedictine monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in the early 1870s.

“You just can’t describe the feeling that it gives you to come out here and be in this area,” said pilgrimage volunteer Joyce Stallman, a member of Mary Help of Christians Parish in nearby Mariah Hill, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese. “To see all of the people, all of the physically handicapped people that come, and all of the prayers that go up to our heavenly Mother to help the whole world is just amazing.”

Surrounded by the beauty of autumn leaves blazing in a full spectrum of colors, the pilgrims praised the beauty of God’s masterpiece seen in Mary by praying the rosary in a procession in a field in front of the shrine.

The pilgrims who came to Monte Cassino literally followed in the footsteps of the faithful who have made their way to the top of that hill on the outskirts of the village of St. Meinrad for more than 150 years.

Soldiers going off to fight in the Civil War climbed the hill to pray before a wayside shrine for Mary’s protection.

In the cold of a January day in 1871, seminarians at the seminary operated by the monastery prayed at the shrine to be spared from a smallpox outbreak that was sweeping the area.

And for nearly 80 years, pilgrims have gathered on every Sunday afternoon during May and October—months traditionally dedicated to Mary by Catholics—to pray the rosary together in a procession, and to listen to a reflection about the Blessed Mother in a service organized by the monastery.

For the past 20 years, Benedictine Brother Terence Griffin and Benedictine Father Louis Mulcahy, both members of the monastery, have helped organize the pilgrimages.

“I’m edified and pleased that there’s that much interest in this day and age,” Brother Terence said. “Afterward, they’re very enthused and thank me profusely. I’m glad they appreciate it and benefit from it.”

Father Louis is impressed by the prayer intentions that pilgrims write down and leave at the shrine.

“They don’t just pray for [material] things for themselves,” he said. “They ask Jesus through Mary to enhance their lives, to become holier. It’s very touching to read the intentions.”

Stella Vittitow, a resident of St. Meinrad who is a member of St. Ferdinand Parish in Ferdinand, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, has participated in the pilgrimages for more than 50 years. She appreciates that the shrine, which attracts people who drive hours, is so close to her home.

“We’re so lucky that we have a special place like this to come to,” she said before a pilgrimage on Oct. 10. “We can come here anytime we want. It’s a privilege to live close to Monte Cassino. It’s a special place.”

It is special to Norbert Lindauer, too. A member of St. Henry Parish in St. Henry, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, Lindauer, 72, is a brother of the late Benedictine Father Prosper Lindauer, who was a monk of Saint Meinrad. He recalled visiting the shrine in his younger days.

“We used to camp up here, and bring our dinner along and stay up here for the rosary,” Lindauer said. “Then we’d go up to the Abbey.”

On Oct. 10, he was accompanied by his children and grandchildren. His daughter, Mary Beth Johnson, drove three hours with her children from Lebanon, Tenn.

“It brings back memories because we used to come up here as kids,” Johnson said. “And so I decided to bring [my children here].”

On that same day, St. Mary parishioner Nick Wagner of Huntingburg, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese, brought his four young children—ages 8, 5, 2 and 1—in much the same way that Lindauer did with his children decades ago. And he made the pilgrimage for the same reasons as Lindauer—his parents had brought him here when he was a child.

“I enjoy bringing them here,” Wagner said. “We like to come here a couple of times a year for the pilgrimage and enjoy the afternoon. Then we go get ice cream afterward. It’s a good tradition.”

Some of the pilgrims learned about the shrine in more contemporary ways.

Dawn Leedom of Florence, Ky.—more than a two-hour drive from St. Meinrad—started making the pilgrimage after her

now-deceased mother discovered the shrine on the Internet about a decade ago.

Leedom was accompanied on Oct. 10 by her 26-year-old daughter, Courtney Arlinghaus—who is expecting the birth of her second child at the end of November— and her 15-year-old daughter, Libby.

“I just feel so good when I come,” Leedom said. “I look forward to it every May and October. I just love getting closer to Mary. I’ve felt like I’ve always had a special bond with Mary.

Joyce Greenwood, a member of St. Paul Parish in Tell City, shares that closeness to Mary. She has been coming on the pilgrimages for more than 50 years.

“I just love it,” Greenwood said. “I love the Blessed Mother and I love the faith. My dad and mom drilled it into us. My dad prayed the rosary every night.”

Looking out at the hundreds of pilgrims who had come from near and far to the shrine like so many people have for so many years, Greenwood said, “It’s wonderful that they give the Blessed Mother and Jesus this devotion.”

(For more information about the Shrine of Our Lady of Monte Cassino in St. Meinrad, log on to www.saintmeinrad.edu/monastery_shrine.aspx.)

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