Husband builds a chapel
Visitors from 38 states have come to see the chapel
as a gift to his wife
By Joanne Flemming
What is the most unusual gift a husband could give his wife?
If you asked Roland Recker of rural Neenah that question, he would say a chapel devoted to the Blessed Virgin.
That is exactly what he gave Myra, his wife of nearly 44 years, on May 16, 1998, during a dedication ceremony presided over by Auxiliary Bp. Robert Morneau.
The 12 by 16-foot structure sits in the Reckers' backyard, off Highway 45, in the Town of Clayton.
It has also proven to be a gift to visitors from all over Wisconsin and 37 other states who are drawn to its quiet and the peacefulness of the surrounding grottoes and grounds.
Myra believes the chapel answers a prayer she said while on a pilgrimage to a shrine of Maria Espenoza, which shows Mary with her son's stigmata, in Venezuela. There she had asked for a healing for Roland, who has no feeling in his feet from the ankles down.
When he told her he wanted to build her a chapel, she realized that he had received a spiritual healing. Up to that point, he only attended Mass on Christmas and Easter. After he started the project, he began going every Sunday.
"What a greater gift we receive than what we ask for," Myra said.
Before Roland began construction in June, 1997, he told his wife: "Remember this is my chapel. The day it is complete, it is yours.... I have in mind how I want it."
Only one question
She only questioned his plans once, he recalled, when she asked why he put the front door to the side rather than in the middle of the south wall.
The project's first step was getting permits from Clayton Township and Winnebago County. The second was pouring the concrete floor.
Myra, who attends Scripture rosaries at St. Pius Parish in Appleton and St. John the Baptist Parish in Menasha, asked other participants if they had broken rosaries, statues and other religious items. She noted that such items are not usually discarded because they are blessed. Any she received, Roland and she planned to bury in the floor.
The day the floor was poured, the cement truck stopped on the highway, the Reckers said. They had just put in a new blacktop driveway, and the truck could not drive on it without ruining it.
The men moved the concrete in wheelbarrows to the backyard. Myra set it by handfuls in the floor and spread the religious objects around it.
Roland did most of the remaining work himself with periodic help from family. He and a grandson built the steeple in the garage. A son and a neighbor installed it on the roof.
A daughter designed the chapel's four windows. She outlined scenes from Christ and Mary's lives and drawings of religious symbols with liquid lead and painted them in with gallery stain, said Myra.
The pews came from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Menasha. They were 22-feet long when Roland got them; he cut them in half.
Behind the altar is an almost wall-to-ceiling crucifix. Roland made the wooden cross. Fr. Roy Geenan, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Menasha and a family friend, found the corpus on the Internet.
It was chalk white when he presented it to the Reckers. Myra, at Roland's suggestion, painted it in natural colors.
Painting it was the hardest thing she ever did, Myra said, because she cried every time she thought of how her actions had contributed to Christ's suffering.
Statues of Mary with the Infant Jesus and of Joseph are at the front of the chapel.
The chapel is lit at night and heated in cold weather, the Reckers said.
Roland met Bp. Morneau during his grandson's confirmation and asked him if he would preside at the dedication. The bishop agreed. Fr. Geenan and Fr. Richard Allen, the Reckers' pastor at St. Gabriel Parish in Neenah, assisted him.
More than 100 family members and friends attended the dedication Mass. That was the only time a Mass was celebrated in the chapel, the Reckers said.
During the dedication Myra was awarded the deed to her chapel, now called the "Little Chapel of the Blessed Mother."
Roland said he and his wife are stunned by the number of visitors the chapel has. News about it has spread by word of mouth. Many people who come want only to sit inside for a while and pray.
The Reckers recalled one visitor who wanted to see it again as she lay sick with cancer. Family brought her out for a short time. She sat alone. When she came out, she looked as if she had been crying.
"She seemed to be at peace with herself. She died the next day," Myra said.
During a visit by a group from Sacred Heart Church in Appleton, Rosemary Trettin asked if she could donate a statue of Mary in honor of her sister, Elizabeth Trettin Long, who had died from cancer in 1962.
She said the statue, which another sister May Trettin Schaff had bought almost 40 years ago, was in her meditation room in her Appleton home. She wanted it to have a permanent outdoor home.
The statue, which Myra refurbished, now stands outside the chapel.
The backyard where the chapel sits also has a grove with a grotto to Mary and the Stations of the Cross. A statue of the Sacred Heart overlooks two ponds and a fountain.
The Reckers ask that visitors call them first at (920)722-6700 before coming to the chapel. Their home is located at 7395 Hwy. 45 west of Neenah.
Each visitor receives a rosary and a "key to heaven" as he/she leaves the chapel.