The Discalced Carmelite Friars of Holy Hill
The Discalced Carmelite Friars of Holy Hill belong to the reform order of Carmelites begun by St. Teresa of Jesus (1515 - 1582) and St. John of the Cross (1542 - 1591). Teresa and John worked to establish the reform of the Carmelite order in Spain during the later part of the sixteenth century. This reform resulted in the Discalced Carmelites becoming a separate branch of the Carmelite order. Teresa's goal in the reform was for members of the order to return to the original rule of St. Albert as mitigated by Pope Innocent IV. The ancient Order of Carmelites is designated by the letters "0. Carm." and the Order of Discalced Carmelites by "O.C.D."
The images of Teresa and John are portrayed in mosaics above the two side altars in the upper church. Teresa is represented with the child Jesus in the mosaic above the left side altar. The illustration represents an experience Teresa had of being interrupted by a little boy while at prayer in the courtyard of her cloister. The child asked, "Who are you?" She answered, "I am Teresa of Jesus, and who are you?" The child replied, "I am Jesus of Teresa" and disappeared. St. Teresa of Jesus is also referred to as Teresa of Avila (she was born in Avila, Spain) or the Great St. Teresa. Cannonized in 1614 (her feastday is October 15), she is the first woman to be declared a doctor of the church. This honor was awarded to her on September 27, 1970.
St. John of the Cross was cannonized in 1726; his feastday is December 14. The honor of doctor of the church was given to him in 1926. John is represented in the mosaic above the right side altar. The illustration is from an occasion when John heard the Lord speak to him while looking at a painting of Christ carrying the cross. The Lord asked John what he could do for him and John replied, "All I ask is to suffer and be despised for you." This painting is hanging in the Historical Museum of Segovia Spain.
The Discalced Carmelites came to Holy Hill from Bavaria at the invitation of Archbishop Messmer on June 26, 1906. These first Carmelites were Fathers Eliseus Mackina and Irenaeus Berndi and Brothers Adam Modimayer and Alphonse Merl. The men were officially introduced to the local community by Fr. Bertram on the feast of the Visitation, July 2, 1906. Three more friars, Brothers Andrew and Martin and Fr. Otto, joined the Holy Hill community in September of that year.
The men braved their first Wisconsin winter in a farm house known as the old Whelan home. The conversion from house to friary was complete by December 8, 1907. Hardships were many. The men wanted to leave often, but Br. Adam insisted upon staying. He was convinced that God wanted the Carmelites to remain at Holy Hill. Br. Adam died on October 7, 1916 and was originally buried behind the second shrine. During excavation for the third shirne, his body was moved to the approximate location of his marker, which is near the tenth station just below the current friary parking lot. His actual grave site was covered over during construction of the present friary.
Fr. Kilian Gutmann, then superior of the Discalced Carmelite residence in Fond du Lac, replaced Fr. Eliseus as superior of Holy Hill in October 1906. Fr. Kilian remained as Holy Hill's superior until October 1914. His administration was responsible for digging a 230 foot well near the top of Holy Hill to provide water for the pilgrims. His greatest privilege was to celebrate the Hill's Golden Jubliee (1863 - 1913). Fr. Kilian was succeeded by Fr. Corbinian Penzkofer in April 1914. Fr. Corbinian's office commissioned sculptor Joseph Aszklar of Milwaukee to create the third (present) set of outdoor stations. These are life-size statues of Bedford Stone set in fieldstone grottos. Work on them began about 1918 and was completed in 1928. Fr. Corbinian also supervised construction of the building that is known as the Old Monastery Inn and Retreat Center.
Construction for this monastery (friary) began in 1919; the dedication took place in 1920. It was a novitiate from 1921 until 1943. The position of novice master for the first nine years of the novitiate was held by Fr. Gottfried Hirschberg. From 1934 until 1953 it was a minor seminary. Fr. Patrick Shanley was the first rector. By 1955 remodeling of this building into a retreat center was complete. What was once the oratory and choir (second level) became a cafeteria in the late 1940's. The friars cells on the third and fourth levels became guest rooms. The assembly room and parlor became conference room and lounge. In the late 1970's that conference room was made into a chapel (fourth level) and that lounge into a conference room (third level). A new lounge replaced what was formerly the cafeteria supervisor's quarters (third level). For the convenience of private retreatants, a rustic home style guest kitchen was installed on the first level in 1982.
Third Shrine and New Friary
When Fr. Corbinian's term ended, Fr. Cyril became superior of Holy Hill (about 1921). One of Fr. Cyril's accomplishments was the authorship of an early history of Holy Hill published in 1923. Two years later, Fr. Cyril was entrusted with the construction of the third shrine church of Our Lady - Help of Christians. The architect was Mr. Herman Gaul of Chicago and the contractors were H. Schmitt & Son.
The last services in the second shrine - a tearfull moment for many - were held on September 8, 1925, the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady. It was necessary to raze this church, destroy Fr. Bertram's Lourdes Grotto and level the hill another twenty feet to provide a suitable foundation for the new church. Materials for construction were routed from Milwaukee, via North Lake and Richfield and then to the hill. Once at the hill they were transported to the top by a skip hoist, which is a system of cables and track. During the construction period, a temporary chapel (the Little Flower Mission Chapel) was used on the grounds. The chapel was later given to Camp Villa Jerome at Friess Lake. This camp is now Glacier Hills County Park, Washington County Park System, and the chapel is still used on occasion, but not always for religious purposes.
On August 22, 1926 the cornerstone of the present and third shrine to be erected on this site was placed by Archbishop Sepastian G. Messmer. Written in Latin, the inscription translates, Because of the increased numbers of those honoring the helper, the Blessed Virgin Mary, lam already the cornerstone of the third temple on the summit of this mount. In the year of Our Lord 1926. The homilist was Monsignor Rempe of Chicago.
By November 7, 1927, the outer structure of the church was complete. Mary's shrine officially reopened to pilgrims on July 15, 1929 owhen the lower church, now the Chapel of St. Therese of the child Jesus (the Little Flower), was blessed and the first Eucharistic Liturgy celebrated by Monsignor Bernard G. Traudt of Milwaukee. Two more years passed until the upper church was ready for blessing and dedication.
Bishop James Griffin, of Springfield, Illinois officiated in the name of Samuel A. Stritch, then Archbishop of Milwaukee, on July 18 and 19, 1931 for the dedication ceremonies. Traditionally, as soon as the altars in a new church are blessed they are immediately decorated with flowers and appropriate linens in preparation for the first celebration of Eucharist. This first Eucharistic Liturgy took place on July 18, 1931 and was attended by invited guests. The official dedication ceremony for the new Shrine of Mary - Help of Christians at Holy Hill, Wisconsin was celebrated on July 19, 1931. For this ceremony, the doors remained closed and the sanctuary empty until Bishop Griffin blessed the doors with holy water and opened them to the public.
The next major construction at Holy Hill was the present friary done under the superiorship of Fr. Bernardine Tinnefeld. This split-level structure is built into the side of the hill and is joined to the rear north side of the church. A type of inverted stair design in the construction of the building makes each floor progressively longer than the floor below. The front of the building is six stories high. The section which adjoins the church is only two stories high. These two stories are the fifth and sixth floors of the friary. The friary choir is on the sixth floor of the building and overlooks the upper church sanctuary (pilgrims enjoy hearing the friars recite their community prayers when the choir windows are open). The oratory for the upper church is directly below the choir. This is the fifth floor of the friary and the same level as the floor of the upper church. The friars moved into their new home between February 7 and II, 1938. This building was blessed on May 24, 938 by the order's provincial, Fr. Augustine.
The construction of the friary was the last major work done at the hill until the construction of the present shrine chapel (described in the section on Mary). There were two objects of interest added to the hill in 1956. These are the eight-foot double-white carara marble statues placed above the entrance to the upper church. The statue of St. Mary - Help of Christians is on the left, and the statue of St. Joseph protector of the order is on the right. The statues, which were raised into position on July 2,1956 under the superiorship of Fr. Stephen Dzuban, are anchored to the church structure by iron rods that pierce through the back of each niche.
Efforts to provide modern conveniences for the pilgrims led the friars of Holy Hill to their next major enterprise: the construction of the elevator tower, observation deck, new gift shop and guest house. This massive undertaking was accomplished by the Hutter Construction Company. Fr. Columban McGough was superior of Holy Hill at the time. The dedication took place on October 28, 1962. Many pilgrims welcomed the modernization, but just as many felt deep regret over the loss of the beautiful staircase that graced the shrine entrance for thirty-one years.
There is a hallway located between the elevator tower and the lower church entrance, which is now known as the Marian Halway. When it needed painting in 1967, Br. Francis Enders decided that he would undertake this task. His artistic efforts reproduced several symbolic representations of Mary's titles. His labor of love was completed in 1968. Br. Francis had entered the order as a young man, but left to marry and raise a family. He re-entered in later life as a widower.
On May 16, 1976, an addition to the Sacred Heart Shrine arrived. Donated by our Catholic brethren from the Ukrainian Eastern Rite, it is the beautiful mosaic icon of Our Lady of Pochaiv. Many of our Eastern Rite brethren make yearly pilgrimages to Holy Hill. The Catholic Church owes much to them for their courageous battles against the heresies that plagued the early church, especially those concerning the Incarnate nature of Christ. Modernization began again with the superiorship of Fr. James Hushek in 1968 when much needed and greatly improved restroom facilities were added to Holy Hill. These facilities were added on to the new gift shop.
Improvements continued with Fr. Leonard Copeland as superior. Through the fall of 1982 and spring of 1983, landscaping efforts restored the charm of the past to Holy Hill. In remembrance of the original staircase, a rustic walkway through the wooded area between the upper parking lot and the upper church was constructed. This attractive addition made good use of otherwise wasted space. A reverent addition to the path was the statue of St. Therese.
A long association with the Conrad Schmitt Studios was renewed in 1984 when their artistry was once again required. "It was in the early 1920s that the Conrad Schmitt Studios first became involved with the art and architecture of Holy Hill..." In 1952, the studios redecorated the shrine and now, thirty-two years later, were again exercising their skilled craftsmanship in redecorating and completely reworking both the upper and lower churches. Both have been completely cleaned and repainted in off-white tones.
The wall behind the main altar in the sanctuary of the upper church was painted in gold tones heavily modeled (textured), and covered with gold leaf. This background captures the gold highlights in the Court of Heaven mosaic. The sanctuary ceiling, basically preserved from the 1952 decoration, was frescoed with an application of gold leaf creating a brilliant canopy over the entire area. The story of creation was painted in seven individual circles around the sanctuary archway. Each is a symbolic representation of a single day of creation. At the top of the arch is a Greek symbol that means Jesus Christ, victor or conqueror. The gold and off-white tones add warmth to the Romanesque style of the church interior besides giving it an ethereal effect.
The Sacred Heart Shrine was stripped and gilded. The stenciled pattern on the back wall was kept simple to enhance the pictorial filigree of the windows. According to the Conrad Schmitt Studios, "The character of decoration and ornamentation within this structure is based on the quiet orderliness of the Romanesque structure from which this architectural form was designed."
The old confessionals were removed exposing the beautiful and symbolic Marian windows they had kept hidden for many years. A reconciliation room was constructed in the bell tower to replace the confessionals. The upper church was finished in time for Easter 1985.
In the spring of 1985, the Chapel of St. Therese (lower church) was completely cleaned and repainted. A gold leaf decoration resembling a blossomless rose stem was added to the wall behind the altar. The rose has been the traditional symbol for the Little Flower because of her promise to send a shower of roses to all who ask her for prayers and because of her great suffering on earth. Other changes in the chapel include replacing the old plaster set of stations with the set from the old monastery before it became a guest house. Further remodeling removed two of the old confessionals and converted the remaining two into comfortable reconciliation rooms. As a final touch during the summer of 1985, new carpeting was added to the upper and lower church sanctuary and to the shrine chapel. New sanctuary furniture was purchased for both the upper and lower church.
Three exterior improvements were made during the summer of 1985. Tuck pointing the twin spires of Holy Hill was the first. This procedure involves removal and replacement of old mortar and brick, and repair of the lime stone trim. After the mortar is dry, it is waterproofed with a silicon sealer. When this is complete, the entire structure is sprayed with liquid silicone building sealant. The men worked upwards of 152 feet. The average for this type of work is thirty to fifty feet. The work was done by the Eldun Construction Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and according to their representative, Holy Hill "...is good for another hundred years." Holy Hill's observation tower is a major attraction for many.
Landscaping and beautification of the Lourdes Grotto was the second and more attractive improvement to the grounds that summer. The third set of improvements made involved enclosing the lower parking lot, and the picnic grounds near the first station with railroad ties for better traffic control. The Parish Center parking lot was also enclosed, but with a rustic fence. Since then, the roads have been resurfaced.
In the fall of 1986, a new sound system was installed in the upper church. It was designed in the shape of a large cross and suspended from the center arch of the main sanctuary.
The installation of a gate system to prevent after hours trespassing, and more powerful lights for the parking lot have been two of many improvements for 1987.
Physical renovations are constantly done at Holy Hill to help make Mary's shrine more contemplative and comfortable for the thousands of pilgrims who visit each year. The physical needs of the pilgrims are important to the friars of Holy Hill, but greater still is the concern for their spiritual welfare, for "what good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Mt. 16:26). The strength of Holy Hill is in the faith of the pilgrims who come and in the prayer life of the friars who minister to them.
In all the Discalced Carmelite Friars do at Holy Hill or anywhere, their life is prayer-centered. This is their primary apostolate. As it is written in Ps. 113:3, "From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets the name of the Lord is to be praised." Early morning and early evening prayer have special meaning. According to Gen. 3:8 it was in the cool of the day that God walked with man in the garden of Eden before the fall. The friars begin their day with community prayer at 6:30 am followed by one hour of contemplative prayer at 6:45. The climax of their morning prayer is the celebration of God's perpetual presence in our lives, the Eucharistic Liturgy, at 8:00 am, for as the Lord our God says, "Never will I leave you, Never will I forsake you" (Heb. 13:5).
Their apostolates begin some time after Eucharist and/or breakfast and continue until 11:55 when they gather in the refectory for recitation of the Angelus and then lunch. After an optional rest period, their apostolic works continue from 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm when the friars return to the choir for community evening prayer and their second hour of contemplative prayer. The day concludes with dinner at 6:15 pm The remainder of the evening is open. "
There is a change in the schedule on Sunday and Wednesday when the hour of contemplative prayer is between 4:00 and 5:00 pm. Community evening prayer is between 5:00 and 5:15 pm and is followed by a special recreation time. This community recreation is time set aside for the friars to enjoy each other's company as a family. It is this family atmosphere that the Discalced Carmelite Friars seek to nourish. Through their shared experience in prayer-filled brotherhood, the friars are able to become effective ministers to the thousands of pilgrims who come to Holy Hill each year. The friars strive to be a living witness to their patron St. John of the Cross when he says: "Now I occupy my soul and all my energy in His service...""
Within the spirit of John's teaching, these friars engage in apostolates that are in accordance with their interests and abilities. Some practical apostolates include gardening, general maintenance of buildings and grounds, tailoring, guest house management, nursing, cooking and more. Other apostolates include celebrating liturgies for pilgrims, retreats, spiritual talks, spiritual counseling, administration of the sacraments, personal blessings, Benediction and Marian devotions (rosary, litany and scripture services). The ordained Carmelites of Holy Hill often help out the neighboring parishes with liturgies on Sundays and holy days.
The friars of Holy Hill are responsible for St. Mary's of the Hill parish and provide it with a pastor. In August 1968 the parishioners bought ten acres of land from the friars of Holy Hill for the center, which is located on the grounds below the shrine church opposite the lower level parking lot. Most parish activities such as CCD programs and Sunday liturgy are held in the parish center.
Originally St. Mary's of the Hill parish was founded to replace St. Augustine's parish. St. Augustine's parish began about the year 1840 with Sunday liturgy celebrated in the Kohler home. In 1846 a log chapel was built that served the parish until it was destroyed by fire in 1855. This was replaced that same year with the stone church that burned down on October 21, 1922 (the ruins may be seen on the northeast corner of highway 167 and county road CC). At the time of this fire, there were sixty-eight members of the parish.
The Carmelites of Holy Hill were in charge of St. Augustine's and welcomed the parishioners to make Holy Hill their temporary home. The loss was heavy for the small congregation with estimated damage at approximately $12,000. The parish had carried insurance but was left with only $5,000 in insurance money after companies with which they carried additional insurance went into bankruptcy. New policies had not yet been secured. Fr. Corbinian went to Archbishop Messmer to get permission to rebuild the church. Permission was granted under the condition that Fr. Corbinian collect enough funds. Fr. Corbinian went to the parishioners to solicit funds but was unable to raise enough money for the project. Two years later, on September 22, 1924, Archbishop Messmer officially dissolved St. Augustine's and established St. Mary's of the Hill parish.