Back in January, before we had a clue about the global plight that would unfold, I decided to begin the new year with an overnight and silent retreat at Holy Wisdom, a Benedictine community in Dane County.
The hilltop ecumenical center overlooks Lake Mendota and a Madison skyline. Environmental stewardship – in campus building design and land restoration – has earned Holy Wisdom international attention.
Temporarily closed, because of COVID concerns, are dorm-like rooms with simple furnishings in the monastery where I stayed. Also closed, for now, are a couple of hermitages, cabins in the woods.
Still open and free to roam are the 130-acre property’s nature trails, some near a glacial lake and much within woods and restored prairie. That is what brought me back a couple of months ago, to meander and contemplate in solitude, without distraction beyond the rhythms of the natural world. You are welcome to do the same. benedictinewomen.org
Where else might you quell anxiety and count life’s blessings during this season of Thanksgiving, when we express gratitude for all that remains good?
Christine Center, Willard: Forty years ago, 250 acres of Clark County farmland was transformed into an interfaith spot for spiritual nourishment. Affordable overnight retreats, with strict COVID protocols, remain possible, in addition to two miles of walking trails and online retreats. In the neighborhood are Amish farms. christinecenter.org
Holy Hill Basilica, Hubertus: Although the observation tower is closed temporarily, drive deep into Kettle Moraine State Forest for a sense of how seriously this national and Catholic landmark in Washington County is taken as a place of pilgrimage. Hike the Ice Age Trail, which swerves into these 400 acres of woodland. On a clear day, the hilltop shrine is easy to spot. holyhill.com
Wisconsin’s Holyland, Fond du Lac and Calumet counties: At least 10 Catholic churches in 10 tiny communities still stand as a testament to the area’s farm heritage and long-ago German immigration. Some structures are vacant. Others share the services of a priest. If you appreciate a peaceful, countryside drive, download “Breaking Bread in the Holyland” at travelcalumet.com (under “maps/guides”). Check access before planning to attend Mass. holylandcatholicparishes.org
Indian Lake County Park, Cross Plains: One twisty, upward trail at the 500-acre Dane County park leads to a teeny chapel of stone, built in 1857. St. Mary of the Oaks was built by a grateful man, John Endres, after his family was spared during an epidemic of diphtheria. He and his son Peter used oxen to haul tons of stone to complete the project. countyofdane.com
National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, Champion: Look between Brown County farm fields for the only Vatican-acknowledged location of Virgin Mary sightings in the U.S. Take a self-guided tour of the grounds, grottos and – as social distancing permits – chapel. A sacred space since 1871, with daily rosary prayers live-streamed. championshrine.org
Our Lady of the Fields, Hillpoint: I’m a sucker for truly rural churches, and the farmgirl in me gravitates to this one in particular. In Sauk County, between Plain and Loganville, the church was built in 1903 and is a couple of hilltops beyond White Mound County Park’s miles of recreational trails. holyangelslavalle.org
Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse: Two miles south of the city are nature trails and religious structures on 70 acres that rise above nearby highways 14/61. Benches lessen the exertion of climbing one-half mile to the shrine. Inside a limestone chapel en route are more than 500 cobalt blue votive candleholders – stunning and flanked by stained glass. Outdoor views are of pretty coulee country. guadalupeshrine.com
Sinsinawa Mound Center, Sinsinawa:Tucked into the state’s southwest corner (Grant County) are 450 tranquil acres that are home to a Dominican community. Most in-person interactions with the public are on hold, but the sisters’ bakery is open on weekdays for the pickup of online orders. Translation: You have sweet reasons to make the road trip – fruitcake, caramel rolls, a “Sin-A-Mound” cinnamon roll or loaves of bread. Outdoors is a labyrinth of 6,000 carefully positioned limestone bricks. sinsinawa.org
Stavkirke, Washington Island: Off the tip of Door County, next to a Lutheran church and within woods is a house of worship with simple architectural beauty; the Norwegian stave design is a cousin to Viking ships of yore. The building is closed, but you can follow a little prayer path. Washington Island is accessible all year (providing weather is conducive to ferry operation). This is the season when tourists disappear, so peace and quiet are abundant. trinitylutheran-wi.com/stavkirke
Last: a quick nod to two art environments in sacred settings that I wrote about recently: Dickeyville Grotto, Grant County, on the grounds of Holy Ghost Church, and Rudolph Grotto Garden, Wood County, on five acres at St. Philip Church. These unusual outdoor shrines remain open. dickeyvillegrotto.com, rudolphgrotto.org