CHAMPION — Since Dec. 8, 2010 — the day Bishop David Ricken declared the Blessed Mother’s appearances to Adele Brise in 1859 as authentic and worthy of belief — the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help has seen a yearly increase in the number of visitors. According to shrine officials, the pilgrimage site has hosted 160,000 pilgrims in 2018.
To accommodate the growing number of pilgrims, the shrine broke ground on a new Prayer and Events Center on Oct. 24. The center will measure 70 feet by 200 feet and host Masses for large groups, conferences and pilgrimage events year-round. It is expected to be completed by next spring and open for use by May 1.
Bishop David Ricken led the shrine staff, volunteers, donors, civic leaders and other guests in the Rite of Blessing and Groundbreaking.
“This building is part of the next step in the organic growth here at the shrine,” Don Warden, chief operations officer, told guests seated on folding chairs in the parking lot, where the building will be located. “We are really focused on trying to accommodate and show hospitality to the increasing number of pilgrims who are coming out.”
He said that last summer, the shrine chapel, which seats just under 300 people, “regularly exceeded capacity on Sundays and on Saturday healing services.”
“This building is going to allow us to meet those demands that we have during our busy time of year,” added Warden. “The other thing it’s going to allow us to do is serve pilgrims during those off months.” Presently, about one-third of the shrine’s annual visits happen from November to April, he said.
“I think we are going to be able to do things during Lent and other times that (part of the) year that are really going to help in the mission of our catechesis,” said Warden.
The building will seat up to 1,200 people and will house a pilgrimage coordination center. It will include additional bathrooms, a kitchen facility that can be used for catering meals and a first aid station with two patient exam rooms. It will feature movable wall panels that allow the facility to be divided into six smaller rooms.
Before blessing the ground with holy water and joining dignitaries in a groundbreaking ceremony, Bishop Ricken told guests that the shrine’s expansion is “a beautiful thing … that’s out of our control in many ways. The Blessed Mother is calling people to her son Jesus, and I have a feeling that, over the years, this is going to continue to grow.”
He thanked supporters of the shrine for making the project possible. “We can’t do it alone and all of you have been a big part of helping to get us this far and we’re very grateful for that,” he said.
Following the ceremony, Bishop Ricken told The Compass that the expansion project “is really going to help us welcome people properly and help us to be able to make a place where people can come year-round” and not just during the summer.
“I think it’s going to be hugely helpful,” he added. “The great thing about it is that it’s multi-functional, multipurpose. So we can have a lot of variety of events in there, including Masses at times, but also other events.”
According to Warden, Van’s Lumber and Custom Builders, Inc., is serving as general contractor and Performa, Inc., is serving as project architect. “The very specific mission given to Adele Brise by the Blessed Mother in 1859 will drive what we use the building for and what we won’t,” he said.
Building costs are estimated at $2.3 million, with funds from the Shrine Capital Fund, held at the Catholic Foundation, covering the project. “We certainly will accept any donations people may give to the shrine to help carry out our mission,” added Warden.
Those interested in donating to the shrine expansion project can contact Warden by email: [email protected].