When Bob and I passed a sign saying “The Cross in the Woods” on a recent trip to Michigan, the car turned of its own accord (its GPS is tuned to the Holy Rover frequency).
And sure enough, we found a cross in the woods. A very big cross in the woods.
The National Shrine of the Cross in the Woods is a remarkable sanctuary, especially considering its location in a sparsely-populated corner of the country (just a few miles south of the bridge that connects Upper and Lower Michigan). The shrine reinforced my belief that sacred sites can be found virtually anywhere.
The shrine traces its origin to 1946, when Father Charles D. Brophy was named administrator of a new Catholic parish in the area. As Brophy drove north to his new assignment, he noticed the beautiful woods on either side of the road and kept thinking of the life of Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk convert to Christianity in the seventeenth century. She loved to make small wooden crosses and place them in the woods to encourage people to stop and pray. It would be very appropriate, he thought, to have a church named for her in this landscape similar to that of her home in upstate New York. The problem was that she wasn’t yet a saint (though she was on track to become one).
Through the following years, the idea simmered. And in the meantime, other plans flowered. Under Brophy’s leadership, the little parish decided to build both a church and an outdoor gathering area that could accommodate the many visitors who come to the area in the summer. And at the dedication mass for the new church in 1949, Brophy talked about his dream of having a large cross on the property, funded by donations from around the world.
Father Brophy’s vision became a reality in 1954, when a 55-foot wooden cross was erected. Five years later, a bronze image of the crucified Jesus (sculpted by Marshall Fredericks) was lifted into place.
In 1997 a much larger church was constructed, one with large windows so that the cross could be clearly seen.
And today, in the center of the outdoor worship area is a statue of Kateri Tekakwitha, who was canonized in 2012 as the first Native American woman to become a saint. The statue is dedicated to Father Brophy.
The grounds of this peaceful shrine include an outdoor Way of the Cross as well as other statues. Saint Francis of Assisi is here, along with Saint Peregrine (the patron of those suffering from cancer). And there’s a beautiful statue of the Holy Family.
But my favorite statue is Our Lady of the Highway, who’s honored at the shrine as the patroness of all travelers and pilgrims.
Here’s the lovely prayer that accompanies this statue: