FREEDOM — “A servant of Mary will never perish. She will take us to Jesus.” Those words have a special meaning to Tom and Mary Murphy, members of St. Nicholas Parish. Their love and devotion to Mary led them to build a Marian shrine next to their home.
The Murphys, who have been married since 1963 and have five children, 21 grandchildren and a newborn great-grandchild, have been a part of the Schoenstatt movement for many years. Schoenstatt is a Catholic lay movement that strives to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the example and guidance of Mary.
Through adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the St. Pius X Church’s adoration chapel in Appleton, Tom and Mary were inspired to do something to honor Mary for all the blessings they’ve had in their lives.
“We went down to Milwaukee and we got to talking to a sister there. I asked, ‘Is there anything we can do, in the Schoenstatt spirituality,” recalled Tom. “She said, ‘You can build a wayside shrine.’ While the sister talked about building a little shrine on a post, Tom had something grander in mind.
The shrine is shaped like a cross. “It is 40 feet long, 10 feet out on each side (in honor of the 10 commandments), and the two side arms are 12 feet for the 12 apostles,” said Tom.
On July 29, 2009, the Schoenstatt Wayside Shrine, Refuge of Sinners, was blessed by Fr. Francisco Rojas, a Schoenstatt religious order priest. A tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament was approved by Bishop David Ricken and installed on Dec. 1, 2012. The Murphys said the shrine is a place for pilgrimage and prayer.
“The people who gather for worship and prayer study the Word of God and Schoenstatt spirituality as a way of contemplating God through the eyes of Mary and integrating the fruits of prayer into daily acts of joyful and sacrificial living for the salvation of sinners,” said Tom.
The Schoenstatt wayside shrine, the only one in Wisconsin, was built through a series of miracles, said the couple. “Each time we put things together we’d pray about it,” said Tom. “We didn’t have the funds to put this together. When we were framing it up, a guy came to one of our prayer groups and asked what we were putting on the floor and I said concrete. He said, ‘You need a granite floor for Mother Mary.’ I told him we can’t afford granite. He said, ‘You can afford granite if it’s given to you.’”
Almost everything needed for the shrine’s construction was donated. “The pews were from St. Paul Manor,” said Mary. “The stained glass windows were from donors. All the statues were donated.” Fr. Quinn Mann secured a century-old front and back altar and lectern for the shrine from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Little Suamico.
Even the labor to build the shrine was donated.
When it came time to put the brick on the building, a volunteer with experience laying brick taught Tom and his crew how to do the work. “Six or seven guys helped us put this together and they were all unemployed. Within six weeks after we were finished every single one of them got a really good job,” Tom noted.
If building the shrine wasn’t enough of a miracle, the Murphys hoped and prayed they could have weekly Mass there, said Mary. “Msgr. Jim Vanden Hogen was helping at St. Nicholas, and we said, ‘Fr. Jim, why don’t you come down and see our shrine?’ He came and he said, ‘You know, I have Mondays off. Would you like Mass here on Mondays?’”
Since then, every Monday morning at 8 a.m., Mass is celebrated at the shrine. At least 40 people attend, but they’ve had as many as 60 at Mass. The shrine also has an 8 a.m. Mass on the first Saturday of each month. In addition to Msgr. Vanden Hogen, Fr. Walter Stumpf of St. Nicholas Parish and St. Edward Parish in Mackville and Fr. John Katamba, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish and St. Joseph Parish in Oneida, take turns celebrating Mass.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is held Thursdays from 7 to 8:30 p.m. A rosary procession is held the third Sunday of the month, from May through October. Beforehand, participants pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet and then hold an outdoor rosary procession. A potluck supper follows.
On first Fridays at 6:30 p.m., there are St. Charbel devotions at the shrine. He was a Lebanese Maronite monk with miracles attributed to him. “He has done wonders, he has also converted thousands of Muslims,” said Tom. “It’s an international novena — it’s for unity of church, family, country. We really felt we needed that.”
The Murphys hope that pilgrims who visit the Schoenstatt Wayside Shrine will grow closer to Jesus.
“We hope that it’s a little refuge for them,” said Mary. “Usually, when we close it up at night, we’ll come out here and do our night prayers together,” said Tom. “There’s times I’ll come out here and think, ‘How can I be so blessed? How many people have Jesus in their front yard?’”