Several years ago, I heard about a magical place in Wisconsin, the grotto in Dickeyville. A grotto is a man-made cave, meant to be a picturesque place for reflection. This grotto is located on the grounds of the Holy Ghost parish and was built by Matthias Wernerus, who was a priest at that congregation from 1918 to 1930.
Picturesque reflection isn’t exactly what this particular grotto inspires, but it is definitely picture-worthy. It was constructed out of thousands of pieces of glass, shells, rocks, fossils, and countless other bric-a-brac. It is a whole garden, with multiple shrines dedicated to faith. Mosaics of Mary, Jesus, and the disciples are scattered around the place. It’s a little wild, a little weird, and certainly kooky.
Fr. Wernerus is buried in the parish cemetery, which are on the grounds with the grotto. Looking at his headstone, I thought he must have been a man of faith. Who else would look out their office window, imagine a grotto like this, and then spend five years building it? It really got me thinking about how we describe admirable or exemplary faith.
We use words like “strong” or “deep” or “incredible” to describe some of our faith heroes. Those are all good adjectives. However, I would also like to add “wild” and “kooky” and “quirky” to the list. Oftentimes we want to trim away the ragged edges, or clean up the wild parts of our faith. Things that don’t fit into the box of normal or with our perceived ideas of holiness are dropped out. We sanitize the bits and pieces that may look weird to other people, and in doing so miss some of the best parts of our faith. Some of the most relatable and life-changing parts of our faith story are also the parts that are a little wild.
Decades after Fr. Wernerus served his community, people flock to Dickeyville to see what his faith inspired him to do. They aren’t coming to learn about his rich devotional life, or read his sermons, or even count up how many catechism classes he taught. They are coming to see what was a little kooky. So perhaps, those are the parts of our faith we should cling to tightly. After all, we follow a God who decided to take on human form and come to earth to live with us. If that isn’t a little wild, I don’t know what is.
–Amy Diller, pastor-in-residency
3 Comments on “Kooky faith”
I like this, Amy, especially it being “wild and kooky”. We do want everything to make sense and that is not how it happens. (Just a side note, there is another grotto in north Central Iowa, another place to visit.)
We drive through this town on our way to visit family and friends further north. One time when my daughter and I made that trip we stopped (we used to make unusual stops when we were by ourselves) It’s my understanding that this grotto was a church community effort. Broken pieces from many families are included. I’m sure stories have been handed down through families about dishes and glassware from ancestors.
Nice piece Amy. I’ve been through Dickeyville many times on my motorcycle. I love that place.