The shrine complex of Our Lady of Sorrows overlooks the rolling farmland west of St. Louis. This peaceful place is home to a bewildering array of different chapels and
representations of the Blessed Mother, with a tangled and miraculous history. The first Germans who settled here in 1847 worshipped in a
barn, in which they placed a statue known as the Weisse Dame (White Lady). In 1852, the statue moved to the log Church of St. Martin, and in 1873, to a new stone church. A few years after taking charge of the parish in 1877, Franciscans replaced the statue with a larger one, storing the old White Lady in an attic. In the fall of 1887, a new pastor came from Germany, bringing his nephew, August Mitsch, to serve as sacristan. In May, August discovered the old statue and made a shrine for it under a blooming dogwood. As more people came to the shrine, August and his friends built a log hut to protect the statue, and then a little octagonal log chapel complete with German stained glass and bell. Then in 1890, the parish acquired a replica of Wilhelm Achtermann’s Pietà in Muenster Cathedral (destroyed in WWII, copy in S. Prassede, Rome). They placed it in the chapel, and once again the aging White Lady moved to an attic. The Sorrowful Mother shrine became a popular place of devotion. In the spring of 1891, the area received so much rain that farmers couldn’t harvest their wheat. It was still pouring on June 21, when the pastor, George Hoehn, vowed an annual pilgrimage to the Sorrowful Mother, if the rains would stop. The next morning, clear skies heralded a sunny summer, in which crops were harvested and the rain-delayed church renovation completed.
The first annual pilgrimage was held at the thanksgiving services on the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin on September 8. An opposite situation occurred in 1894: a terrible spring drought. Farmers burned candles to the Sorrowful Mother, praying for rain. On the night of June 24-25, the chapel caught fire. Everything burned but the Pieta and its veil. Rain followed this miracle, and again the harvest was saved. Meanwhile, a Lourdes Grotto was built on the grounds, with statues of the Immaculate Virgin and St. Bernadette, but unlike the French pilgrimage site, lacking water. With prayers to Mary, despite general skepticism, Fr. Hoehn ordered a well dug. On September 3, 1900, the diggers struck a source. Before long the restored chapel couldn’t hold all the pilgrims. Parishioners quarried building stones and moved the old Sorrowful Mother Chapel north. Father Hoehn broke ground for a new chapel in the sacred spot July 28, 1906. For its dedication in 1910, the Pietà was placed at a side altar, and the old White Lady, in new paint and robe, restored to the main altar. A standing statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, her heart pierced by swords, occupies the small log chapel. Additional shrines on the grounds include a Mount of Olives, Way of the Cross, Holy Sepulcher, and grotto of St. Isidore, patron of farmers. There are two annual pilgrimages, the third Sunday in May and the second Sunday in September.
Pietà (National Register of Historic Places Inventory, www.dnr.mo.gov)
(Information from the shrine’s site, http://historicshrine.com/shrine-of-our-lady-of-sorrows )