Please contact the parish office at 616-534-5449 for more information and to volunteer.
The following is dedicated to the numerous men and women who were and continue to be part of the ongoing, miraculous project known as Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine.
The following is an account, as can best be recollected, of the inception of Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine.
The Story of Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine
By Pauline Brokus
The shrine is located on the grounds of St. John Vianney parish in Wyoming, Michigan. I along with my husband Edward have been the caretakers of the shrine for the past 40 years. It has been my desire to finally record this story so that it can be preserved for years to come.
The story begins in 1956. Our friend and neighbor, Dora Witheral and her family also were members of St. John Vianney parish. Dora was a person of very strong faith and when she was diagnosed with incurable lung cancer; her faith would be tested again and again. She was 45 years old at the time of her diagnosis and had difficulty with such a devastating prognosis.
It became known through others that miracles were occurring in a small town in southwestern France known as Lourdes. It was here in 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous. A church was built there and a statue of the Virgin stands at the grotto where the vision occurred. Many bathed in the sacred waters of the grotto spring, in hope that a miracle would restore them to health. Miracles were happening there. Dora knew she had to go and so did the parish.
Through individual donations, enough money was raised to send Dora to France. As she was being wheeled aboard the plane, she made a sacred vow that if a miracle was to happen to her, she would build a shrine to Our Lady here at home. Having undergone invasive procedures prior to leaving, her condition was tentative at best. Chest bandages remained in place requiring frequent changing. It was during her immersion in the bathe that the bandages fell off never to be replaced again.
When Dora returned from Lourdes, she did not need the assistance of a wheelchair. She walked. Her miracle was apparent and it was then that the work began to fulfill the promise she had made to Our Lady.
Dora began constructing a grotto in her backyard, but she was not prepared for the turn her journey was about to take. A turn that SHE was not in
charge of… God was.
In a wooded area on the northwest comer of St. John Vianney parish property, 2 young children played as many children did at that time. Suddenly, they were startled by the appearance of a woman they had not seen before. Frightened, they returned home in tears, explaining to their mother what they had seen. Their mother, not knowing what to make of this story, took the children to the pastor, Fr. John Klonowski. He knew immediately what had occurred. The Lady was trying to tell them something. The shrine needed to be built there.
And so it began. A small group of parishioners and friends of the Witheril family volunteered to help in any way they could (driven by the power of faith). Dora began to raise money by going to any church or organization that would listen. She told her story and showed films of the miracles at Lourdes. Her supporters came from Allegan, Byron Center, Dorr as well as Grand Rapids and began to clear the woods, cutting trees and digging roots. Others cooked meals for the workers. They worked feverishly for they knew they were doing exactly what the Lady wanted them to do. I know because I was one of them.
A design model was made of the grotto by a parishioner’s brother and the materials were ordered. The marble statues of Mary and Bernadette, the marble railings and altar came from Italy. Feather rock was dug from the ocean bottom in California. This rock would be used for the grotto itself and for each station of the cross. The entire area including the stations was lit and paths connected the grotto and the stations in a circular fashion. All areas led to and ended at the feet of the Lady. Individual benefactors chose and designed each station of the cross. Dedication plaques were fashioned and placed fulfilling the uniqueness of each station.
It took numerous years for the initial phase of completion to occur and in 1959 the first dedication was celebrated. Hundreds of people were there. Everyone could feel how holy this place was.
Over the years, this place comforted and healed many (and continues to do so). However, complete recovery was not meant for Dora who in 1964 was again stricken with cancer and passed away at age 53, knowing that she had fulfilled her promise to her Lady.
*Continued accounts of miraculous healings have been documented and are available for review upon request.
As with all structures, eventually the shrine too needed repair from age and wear and sometimes vandalism. And so in 1993, I began a personal crusade to raise money to refurbish the shrine. With the help of many of the original workers and some new, donations and help were solicited. The parish festival committee, the Knights of Columbus and private donations allowed for a face-lift to occur. The shrine was rededicated in 1996.
A Public Television interview with myself and my husband was aired to inspire others to be involved and utilize the shrine as it was intended… to heal and comfort.
Ironically, I too have been stricken with lung cancer. At 80 years of age I feel that I have already been blessed by being chosen to oversee this sacred place. It has been an honor to serve my God, my faith and especially My Lady.
**Dates and details of this account are available upon request.