Wayside Shrine Apostolate
How a trip through Europe changed the countryside of Ohio
USA, Bill and Pat Simpkins. It happened to them what happened to John Pozzobon in 1979; and to the farmlands of Sidney, Ohio, happened what happened to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and other Latin American countries after John Pozzobon returned home from his visit to Germany in 1979: he started to build what had so much fascinated him in Southern Germany Ė wayside shrines. Today, hundreds of wayside shrines fill the roads of the countries where the Schoenstatt Rosary Campaign succeeded to become popular and make Schoenstatt popular. A little wayside shrine in Sidney, Ohio, USA, tells the same story of picking up and applying inspirations from other countries and cultures, in an original way. At the same time, this little wayside shrine, dedicated end of October, reminds of the Year of the Eucharist.
Bill and Pat Simpkins of Sidney, Ohio, have made membership dedication into the Family League. They are active in leading Schoenstatt groups and are parents of ten children, and told their story to the Schoenstatt Family Magazine of the USA:
"Fall 1995 was an especially beautiful year for an auto trip through Europe... Bill (my husband) and I had two weeks (three weekends) to act out our adventurous natures, so we contacted Sister Jessica, then in the English Office in Vallendar and she put together some stops along the way from Vallendar to Quarten, Switzerland, and our eventual destination in Rome.
On our first day we made it our goal to see Dachau but after arriving at the town of Dachau, we were not able to find the camp. After searching and asking for directions twice, we were running short on time and decided to skip Dachau and go on to our next location. .."
"A person standing alongside the road staring at somethingÖ"
"After a nightís stay at one of the wonderful Schoenstatt retreat houses, we went into the next dayís adventures. Anyone who has stayed at a Schoenstatt center can attest to the high hospitality standards of Schoenstatt Sisters. The drive from there took us to the foothills of the Alps with its winding roads, switchbacks, grassy slopes, and meandering livestock, each of which has a bell attached to its neck. If you stop and listen quietly, you can hear melodic melodies as the animals roam up and down these steep hills. Flowers were still in abundance as they were displayed in window boxes attached to windowsills of the hillside homes. In one such hamlet, we had to stop the car and wait for a farmer to transfer his herd of cows from the barn, which was in town, to the pasture, quite naturally to the tunes played by the tinkling bells fastened around their necks.
It was in one of these small hamlets that I caught a glimpse of a person standing alongside the road staring at something, and as we drew closer I could see a little shrine on what appeared to be a beam. There was an elderly man, and the fact that we were passing by him didnít seem to be of any interest to him, for he remained there just staring as if in a trance. The shrine had a crucifix in it and the dark wood that framed it really was not all that beautiful, but the crucifix was. It took up the entire interior of the relatively small shrine.
Neither Bill nor I had anything to say, but it remained a lasting image in our minds for years. Later that image was to repeat itself over and over at least mentally. We have completed many trips all over Europe since then. Bill is often in many of the western countries for business. In thinking of the states in America, we often questioned why is it that shrines and images such as one would see in the way of roadside shrines, statues on the sides of buildings, and all kinds of religious symbols are not to be seen in America.
Why do we not see wayside shrines in the farmlands?
Bill and I have lived in a country setting for the past twenty-four years, where there are many Catholic churches throughout the countryside. But when I view our countryside where the farmlands are many and houses are spread out throughout the byways, I often wondered why we donít see shrines in abundance. Wayside shrines that can, like the man in Germany, cause us to lift our minds and our hearts to the provider of our everyday needs. Shrines that say: God is present, the Lord is here; the saints are among us; "We thank you; Mary and Jesus, we needed your help, and you did this for us! How wonderful and good you are."
Two years ago, I asked my daughter, a sculptor who lives in Florida, if she could help in developing an inexpensive roadside shrine that any family or individual could purchase, assemble, and put on their farmland or by the roadside or yes, in their garden. She asked me to give her a couple of days to think it over.
Within two days she called and told me about a dear friend, a lovely Christian woman, BJ Michaelis, who did sculpture and that she and her husband Larry live in Miamisburg. I asked my daughter to talk to her and at least give her an idea of what I had in mind. We set a date after I contacted BJ by e-mail and we talked on the phone briefly. I drove to her house feeling that something good was to come of this meeting. I immediately felt very much at home, for her house had some of her treasures neatly displayed throughout, most of which were of children. But as she was showing and explaining I could hardly take my eyes off of the eyes and hands of the various pieces.
Unity Cross, Mother Thrice Admirable, Suffering Christ
We sat in her living room surrounded by this beautiful art and we soon came to an agreement as to what direction we could take with the roadside shrines. The first shrine was to be "Our Mother Thrice Admirable" and a second one of the "Unity Cross." Then she hesitated and said, "How about a third idea?" It took a few minutes but I managed to stammer out "Ecce Homo". BJ said, "What is that"? I proceeded to tell her of the image familiar to most Catholics of the head of Christ surrounded by thorns. At about this time the talk in public was all about the new Mel Gibson movie coming out on Ash Wednesday. After B.J. went to experience "The Passion of Christ" and was deeply moved, she produced her "Suffering Christ" within a few days.
In a few months of trials, BJ had produced the three sculpture projects. Larry worked on the shrine wood parts and BJ made sculpture molds, which produce the final cast product. Several weeks went by before an installation date was discussed for the first shrine.
Carol and Gordon Lis, our Ohio Schoenstatt leaders from Sidney, continued to urge us to set the date. An installation and blessing ceremony by the side of the road on the 31st of October, 2004 suggested.
I had a problem and I didnít think that we could make this date, but I didnít say anything. One of the reasons was that I hadnít selected which of the shrines was to be presented on the roadside: the MTA, the Unity Cross or the Suffering Jesus, as BJ called it.
Then the Pope made the announcement of the Year of the Eucharist
Then the Pope made the announcement that this was to be the "Year of the Eucharist." Can you imagine that? If the Pope only knew how he can affect and influence a decision. The Pope, whose motto is "Totus Tuus." All for you Mother! It was to be the Unity Cross because, as my mother always said when she met with difficult trials, "God Provides."
He did provide. Not the least of which was through the Pope helping us to decide, and through a mother, our MTA, to instruct and educate us. And what a beautiful statement of the "Eucharist" we have in the Unity Cross!
Thus, on the eve of "All Saints" in the presence of BJ and Larry Michaelis, and our Schoenstatt friends and neighbors, Father Gerald Bensman of our home parish (Holy Angels) blessed the site and shrine, naming the shrine "GOD PROVIDES."
It is our hope and prayer that the shrine will provide for all who take the time to glance at it, a glimmer of heaven, and what God offers to all of us. It is also our hope that we can inspire others to take the step to erect a roadside shrine on lands throughout the country and turn our minds and hearts back to God and give praise to him who has provided us with everything.
BJ Michaelis and Larry are continuing to make and produce our lovely shrines. (I think her Lutheran pastor likes them as well.)
For this entire endeavor, thanks to our MTA!
Source: Schoenstatt Family Magazine 4/2004, USA
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