Two winters ago my friend Danette and I had plans to visit the National Shrine of St. Philomena in Briggsville,Wisconsin. Our plans were foiled, however, by a winter snowstorm that made the two hour drive from our homes impossible. Instead we made a prayerful pilgrimage in Milwaukee and ended up at St. Joseph's Chapel where we miraculously discovered St. Philomena's relic in a reliquary room containing hundreds of relics. It seems we were meant to spend the day with her whether it was at her shrine or within our local area. I still had my heart set on a trip to the shrine someday, but, Danette has since moved to Florida, so I put the thought of a day trip to the shrine out of my mind. What fun would it be without her?
Recently my family joined me on a trip to Wisconsin Dells where I attended a conference for my job. Whenever we spend time away from home, I look for a nearby church so that I might still attend daily Mass, but hadn't done so on this particular trip. As we were driving into town from the hotel for a meal out, we passed a billboard advertising St. Cecelia's Church. It seems God gave me a sign, literally, that He wanted me at Mass. So on the final morning of our stay, I arose early and drove into the Dells for Mass. When I arrived at the church I was disappointed to find that there was only a prayer service and not a Mass, but I was still grateful to have received the Body of my Lord and to have to opportunity to visit a charming, small-town church, although it did make me a bit homesick for daily Mass at my beautiful home parish of Old St. Mary in downtown Milwaukee. As I was driving back to the hotel, I saw a highway sign that read "Briggsville 10 miles" and I then recalled that Briggsville is the home of the National Shrine of St. Philomena.
|The Shrine of Our Lady of the Dells at St. Cecelia Parish|
|the church boasted many beautiful stained glass windows|
|the main altar|
|Our Lady's side altar|
|St. Joseph's side altar with the tabernacle|
The last day of the conference really dragged as I was now looking forward to stopping at the shrine on our way home. As we drove into Briggsville we were greeted by another sign that read "Welcome to Briggsville, Home of the National Shrine of St. Philomena." I doubt that there are many other small towns that boast a shrine as the highlight of their area. The shrine was easy to find as Briggsville is a very small town, one of those that you would miss if you drove too fast.
As I entered the outdoor shrine, I was greeted by the strong smell of candle wax and the sight of many bouquets of silk flowers and plastic rosaries, a witness to the many prayers that had been offered there. A book for recording prayer intentions and several pamphlets about St. Philomena were also available. It was such an honor to spend a few minutes praying with St. Philomena for all of my intentions, and to offer a special prayer for Danette and her family whom I sorely miss but who were with me in my prayers at this very holy site.
There is much to admire at the lovely shrine which was built by Fr. I.C.Wiltzius, a priest with a deep devotion to St. Philomena, in the late 1940's. I admit that I was a bit disappointed that the interior of the church was very plain, but perhaps it is a work in progress and at my next visit I may be surprised to find that it will have been lovingly embellished.
Except for a man praying in front of the tabernacle inside the church, my family and I were the only ones visiting the shrine at that time. I didn't want to disturb his prayer to ask about where I might find the relic of St. Philomena, and my family and I were anxious to return home, so we kept our visit short and sweet. Now I'll just have to make a return visit some day to find her relic and to spend more time praying with one of my favorite saints!
I recommend that you learn more about the fascinating history of the shrine here. The shrine website is full of interesting information and stories of miracles attributed to St. Philomena including several pertaining to the building of the shrine.
St. Philomena, powerful with God, pray for us!