National Shrine of MaryMother of the Church

Mother of the Church

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St. Louis Review: 

Shrine at Lake of the Ozarks a tribute to Mary, mothers

July 01, 2015

Father Fred Barnett had a dilemma on his hands.

Barely 5 years old, 600-seat St. Patrick Church in Laurie, Mo., already was bursting at the seams with standing-room-only weekend Masses. Though joyous that so many Catholics practiced their faith on vacation at the Lake of the Ozarks, Father Barnett needed somewhere for them to sit.

“We built the church in 1980, and by the mid-’80s, it was obvious it was too small,” said Rose Vanderbeck, a St. Patrick parishioner. “Do we build a new church and have a half-empty church all winter? What do we do?

“Father’s vision was to put a little statue of Mary outside with some benches around it so we could handle the overflow crowd.”

The idea didn’t fly. When Father Barnett shared the plan with friends on a visit to Mexico, where the Blessed Mother is revered as Our Lady of Guadalupe, they put the kibosh on it. They advised that to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church, you have to go large.

“They said, ‘Oh, no. You can’t just stick a little statue out there and put benches around it,’” Vanderbeck said. “‘If you do something for the Blessed Mother, you have to do it up right.’”

Hence, the Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church was born. Construction began after the blessing of the site Aug. 15, 1988, and Bishop Michael F. McAuliffe of the Jefferson City Diocese dedicated the shrine Sept. 13, 1992. The shrine added “National” to its title in 2003.

Father Barnett’s buddies from Mexico actually designed the shrine. He took their plans to an architect and “here it is,” said Vanderbeck, the shrine’s marketing director.

“It was a little grotto that grew into a nice shrine,” she said, with a laugh. “It’s really wild how it happened.”

On 60 acres along Missouri Route 5, about 20 miles north of Camdenton and 17 miles west of U.S. Business Route 54 via Lake of the Ozarks Community Bridge, the shrine honors mothers of all denominations, not just Catholic, and is known colloquially as the “Mother’s Shrine.”

The shrine’s main feature contains the “Mothers’ Wall of Life,” which is called “a beautiful tribute to mothers around the world.” Mothers’ names are etched into polished black granite around a fountain surrounding the centerpiece of the complex — a 14-foot, stainless-steel sculpture of Mary floating above the water.

The sculpture depicts a present-day Mary with flowing locks and outstretched hands and arms “welcoming everyone to come to her son, Jesus,” Vanderbeck said. “She’s living among us.”

The sculpture has St. Louis connections.

Don Wiegand of Chesterfield was the sculptor, and the Fabick family of Caterpillar fame commissioned it. In fact, John Fabick came up with the idea of the sculpture rotating 360 degrees so that Mary welcomes people from every direction.

When the time came to permanently place the sculpture, the parish held a discussion at the site, with no conclusion forthcoming. About half of the group wanted Mary to face the entrance and welcome visitors, but that would have put her back to the outdoor altar. The other half was adamant that Mary should face the altar for Mass.

“The discussion must have gotten a bit heated, hearing Father Barnett talk about it,” said Vanderbeck, a parishioner since 1997. “John Fabick was standing there and hadn’t said a word the whole time. He was a big guy, had a really deep voice and spoke up.”

Vanderbeck did her best deep-voice impersonation to finish the story: “He said, ‘I think we can fix that. We’ll just put a Cat motor under her and turn her around.’”

As a result, the Mary sculpture is “probably the only one in the world that runs on a Caterpillar motor,” she said, with a chuckle.

The grounds also feature statues of St. Patrick, St. Joseph and Our Lady of Guadalupe — a shout-out to Father Barnett’s buddies in Mexico. It has a solemn monument and graveyard crosses for the unborn, stations of the cross from the second St. Patrick Church (now a grocery store in Gravois Mills), the Ten Commandments and a collection of flags from its multi-national visitors.

In addition, the shrine gift shop sells religious items, including rosaries and Carmelite nun dolls. And just 3 miles from the shrine, St. Patrick’s parish cemetery and original stone church — The Little Cathedral of the Ozarks, built in 1868 — stand in testament to the first parishioners’ pioneering spirit.

In vacation season, Memorial Day through Labor Day, the parish hosts four Masses each weekend — outdoor and indoor Masses on both Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

The shrine draws 50,000 to 100,000 visitors per year, depending on the weather, and also hosts numerous bus tours and a few pilgrimages and retreats each year. This year, it has had Filipino and Spanish pilgrimages, and students from St. Cletus School and Incarnate Word High School regularly hold retreats, sleeping in the huge multipurpose room on the level below the church.

The shrine is open year-round, and admission is free, though there is a fee to honor women on the Mother’s Wall.

Father Barnett, who passed away in 2011, served for 30 years as the parish pastor. Current pastor Father Patrick Dolan continues his legacy in making the shrine a must-see destination on lake vacations.

Tale from a visitor to the Shrine.

"This place saved my life,"

He had come to the shrine years before in great distress after his wife had left him. He had decided to commit suicide, but before ending his life he wanted to say a final prayer. For one reason or another, none of the churches he drove by felt right to him, so he finally ended up at the shrine. No one else was there that day, and he found a spot in the very back corner of the amphitheater. He tried to say a prayer, but he kept getting distracted by the turning statue. Every time Mary faced his direction it felt like she was saying to him, “My son wouldn’t want you to do this.”

“I told her, ‘I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to God,”  “But she kept turning around with that same message each time.”

He decided to delay taking his life at least one more day, and the next morning came back to the shrine again to pray. This time he already knew what the statue was going to say to him. “I know, I know,” he told her. “You don’t have to keep saying it.”

The man’s experiences at the shrine made him change his mind about committing suicide. He moved to another state and rebuilt his life. And years later, he came back at the Mother Shrine to give his thanks.

It was August 2001 and we had a visitor at our lake house, our mother!  We had a special weekend planned for her.  We had all gathered from our homes around the country.  It was Labor Day weekend and we were taking her to The Mothers’ Shrine and surprising her with her name on the Wall.  One of my six brothers was flying in from Michigan to the little airport in Jefferson City.  That was a surprise also.

There are six brothers and me, the only girl.  Mom’s grandchildren and great- grandchildren were there also.  Mom loved the Shrine and had been there frequently.  It was the best part of her visits with us to the lake so we were very excited to give this lasting memorial to her.

On Sunday morning we took her to the outdoor Mass at the Shrine of our Blessed Mother and helped her down the steps, as we had done so often before, to look at all the names before Mass.  When we got close to show her her name, I peeked around her and saw my last name and thought, hmm, someone has my same last name.  Not thinking it was me!  My brother not only had Mom’s name engraved on the Wall, but my name next to hers.  Our names together, all across the bottom line of one section.  There, etched in granite, forever, together.

I was so emotional and excited at the same time!  Father Fred asked one of my brothers to speak to the congregation that day about the Mothers’ Wall of Life and how much it meant to our family.  I was so happy and so proud!  For Mom and I to be remembered in prayers at each Mass that is said at the Shrine, what a privilege!  It was one of the best days of my life.

Mom is now ninety seven but when we tell her about the lake, she always asks about the Wall and we send her pictures.  I often think, with honor and pride, “We have our names on the Wall at the National Shrine!” [Anonymous]

Where do I begin?  I haven’t written an essay for years. This journey to the Mothers Shrine began 10 years ago, on September 19, 2003.  My mother died at age 74 in a botched surgery. She left her spouse (who died 13 days later), 10 children and 39 grandchildren.

My mother is buried in a place where you have to call ahead and get a key to visit her grave. Very cold and surreal.  I’ve never felt her there.

I believe with all my heart that her spirit is actually here at the Mothers Shrine.  I feel her presence every time I am here. She certainly must be “happy” to be under Mary’s loving arms in this beautiful place.

It is absolutely overwhelming every time I see her name on the Mothers Wall. Every member of my family have said the same exact thing to me. I do not need to call ahead and get a key and permission to visit my mother.  I can come anytime I want to this beautiful, peaceful place.

I look forward to every visit.  Every mother should have this honor.

Janie Dow, Lenexa, KS

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