Persons, places and things: pilgrimage and paddlewheel


By Barb Arland-Fye

Peace accompanied us on a walk up a winding, paved path to a shrine in the bluffs of western Wisconsin on a muggy summer afternoon. Woods thick with leafy trees on either side of the path shaded my son Patrick and me from the blazing sun as we enjoyed a chance to talk with one another, uninterrupted.

Barb Arland-Fye and her son Patrick Fye take a break at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis.

Our unplanned visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., turned out to be a highlight of a get-together with my parents that began with a paddlewheel boat ride on the Mississippi River. As we watched the paddlewheel churn from the open-air upper deck of the La Crosse Queen, my dad and I reminisced. He retired 24 years ago, nearly a year before Patrick was born. Dad remembered seeing an active 85-year old man and thinking, “I hope that I live that long and can be as active as him.” Now he’s that man at age 85!

The Riverside International Friendship Gardens caught our attention after the boat ride. This collection of gardens celebrates La Crosse’s sister-city relationships with communities in China, Germany, France, Russia, Norway and Ireland, according to its website. Each garden featured unique plants, flowers and architectural features. The Chinese garden’s “Moongate” and pond below it, with artfully arranged rocks lining the water’s edge, captivated me. Our small group posed for a “selfie” photograph that my husband Steve took. We made our way quickly through the other gardens because of the heat but declared we would return some day.


After lunch, we drove to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which Steve had read about while preparing for our journey to La Crosse. This place of pilgrimage in the bluffs grew out of the desire of then-Bishop Raymond Burke to establish a Marian shrine. The Robert Swing family donated approximately 70 acres of land where the shrine is located, hoping it would become a place that draws people closer to God.
Steve and my parents took a shuttle up to the Shrine Church while Patrick opted to walk with me. We talked quietly, focusing on God’s creation and devotional areas along the way, including one dedicated to St. Joseph the Workman, the patron of La Crosse.

“It was nice being together with you and walking; not letting the heat get to us,” Patrick told me later. Our walk got him thinking about the walk Jesus made on his way to Mount Calvary. “It really was hot. It made me think of having help carrying my cross up the hill.”
Patrick appreciated seeing Latino families along our walk because of the devotion that many Latino Catholics have toward Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the hill’s summit, we walked inside the Shrine Church and saw amazing architectural features, including a baldachin (an ornate canopy) high above the altar. It reminded our family of the baldachin inside St. Peter’s Basilica. The Noak Pipe Organ in the church left us in awe with its massive, gleaming pipes housed in an ornate organ case that looked as if it were suspended from the ceiling. “I’d like to hear that organ play!” Steve said.

“The organ was amazing … the artwork was beautiful,” Patrick added. He was also impressed with the Memorial to the Unborn on the Shrine’s grounds. It featured arched columns, reflecting pool and limestone walls inscribed with the names of unborn children. That memorial left me with a heavy heart, thinking of the grieving families.

From paddlewheel to pilgrimage, we had the privilege of connecting with God, through the beauty of God’s creation and the creativity of God’s people.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at

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