By Jay Nies
Don Brinker felt humbled to be walking in his dad’s footsteps.
The family patriarch drove charter buses, including from St. Louis to Starkenburg for the annual spring and fall pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows.
“He would tell me, ‘It’s so beautiful, so peaceful,’” Mr. Brinker recalled. “He talked about walking through the outdoor Stations of the Cross. He said the power of prayer and the power of just being here was unbelievable.”
A member of St. John the Baptist (Gildehaus) parish in Villa Ridge in the St. Louis archdiocese, Mr. Brinker was part of a group of pilgrims ascending the hill from the Katy Trail to the shrine his father knew so well.
Feet worn and souls uplifted, the group had walked about 50 miles in four days, beginning at Immaculate Conception Church in Augusta, stepping off the trail for Mass in St. Vincent Church in Dutzow, St. Ignatius Church in Concord Hill and old St. Anthony Church in Case, and partaking of overnight hospitality in homes along the way.
They did this to honor the 100th anniversary of the Blessed Mother’s final, miraculous apparition to the children at Fatima, Portugal.
“I brought a lot of prayer intentions with me,” said Molly Callahan, a member of St. Clair of Assisi parish in Ballwin. “I don’t think I’ve gotten an answer to most of them yet, but I’m confident that I will.”
Praying the Rosary together as they walked, the pilgrims held up the needs of the world, obvious and hidden.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Mrs. Callahan. “But I just really feel that whatever happens, Mary’s got our back.”
Lead all souls to heaven
Father Timothy Foy, administrator of St. John Gildehaus parish, organized the pilgrimage and served as its spiritual director.
He said Our Lady had blessed him through all the people who took part — the participants and the helpers.
“I had never met most of the people before they signed up,” he said. “And now we have become a merry band, walking for 40-something miles, pretty much peacefully and blissfully together.”
He said offering Mass by candlelight at dusk inside bucolic St. Anthony Church east of Hermann was “a picture-perfect experience.”
“Very simple and beautiful,” he said. “And offering it up for all the intentions of the people — it was awesome.”
Inside the 1910-vintage Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, he offered a Votive Mass of the Holy Name of Jesus.
The pilgrims sang “To Jesus Christ, Our Sovereign King,” with words written by the late Monsignor Martin B. Hellriegel, a world-renowned reformer of the Liturgy, who offered his First Solemn Mass in the Shrine in 1914.
“Jesus gives us a true example of One Who always trusts in His invisible, heavenly Father, Who is always providing, always ready to provide for us,” Fr. Foy said in his homily.
He said it was great to be able to spend a few days on communal pilgrimage, learning to depend more and more on God.
“We ask Jesus Christ to continue to bless us through Mary, to help us have that faith that sets the world on fire, and receive all things that we need, heavenly and earthly, by the mercy of the providence of God,” he said.
Shirley Koenig, historian and tour guide for the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, led a story-filled examination of the shrine and the nearby St. Martin Church Museum.
Starkenburg was part of the St. Louis archdiocese until the Jefferson City diocese was created in 1956.
Erica Herman, a member of Immaculate Conception parish in Dardenne Prairie, said the pilgrimage was a great way to spend time with her son, Tom Buford.
“I also got to meet some really fabulous women, and he got to meet some neat fellows, and hopefully the Holy Spirit will keep on guiding us,” she said.
It was their first visit to the shrine.
“Very exciting!” said Mrs. Herman. “I didn’t know all of this was out here. It’s amazing.”
Marianne Hayden, a member of St. Mary parish in in Moselle, posted Facebook videos of the pilgrimage stops, ending with, “Keep those prayer intentions coming!”
Friends and followers then posted their prayer requests or sent them to her by text message.
“Our group might look small, but there are many others who are with us in spirit who are definitely counting on our prayers!” she said.
If people’s legs or feet got sore, they’d stop and stretch. “And we’d talk about how you offer up your pain,” she said.
They also shared their stories and “a lot of good laughter,” she said.
The prayers and stories are what kept her going, even when she was tired.
“It took your mind off of your body and it took it up into heaven!”
The clouds parted
Diana Smith, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Washington, visited the shrine a few months ago and knew she had to return. She felt called to make the Katy Trail pilgrimage as soon as she found out about it.
She talked about a “peace, be still” moment from the second day of the pilgrimage.
“We were stopped at the depot in Marthasville and could see the dark clouds rolling in over the river,” she said. “We pulled out a phone and looked at the radar, and there was a really bad red cell heading in our direction.”
About 10 minutes later, they looked again at the radar image, and the storm had veered north.
“I say Mary protected us from the danger of all that lightning and thunder,” said Mrs. Smith.
She took that and other signs as reassurance that she had done the right thing in making the pilgrimage in spite of last-minute misgivings.
“Mary took care of it and gave me that peace and happiness,” she said. “I just laid it in her hands.”
When one of Mrs. Smith’s feet started getting sore, “I did what Mother Mary wants us to do: offer it up and know that you’re united with her in her suffering as she watched her Son on the cross,” she said.
“Offer it up!”
For years, Gloria Del Rosario has been wanting to make a pilgrimage to the Santiago Cathedral by way of the Camino Real in Spain.
“But it hasn’t been God’s will for me to go as of yet, and I realized that this pilgrimage would be a lot less expensive!” she said.
She has a special devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows and has visited the shrine many times.
“We all have sufferings, and she knows what we’ve been through,” said Ms. Del Rosario. “People don’t realize they can offer it up, in union with Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. We offer it up for her Son.”
Four years ago, Ms. Del Rosario helped establish in the St. Louis archdiocese an Apostolate of the Spiritual Motherhood for the Sanctification of Priests. It’s a spiritual adoption process, whereby women of the Church anonymously pray and offer up sacrifices and sufferings for priests and for more priestly vocations.
“So I’m definitely walking in honor of Our Lady of Fatima and asking her to watch over our priests,” she said.
The following day, the pilgrims drove to Assumption Church in New Haven for the closing Mass.
After everyone got home, Fr. Foy sent out a quote from Pope St. John Paul II: “To go in a spirit of prayer from one place to another, from one city to another, in the area marked especially by God’s intervention, helps us not only to live our life as a journey, but also gives us a vivid sense of a God Who has gone before us and leads us on, Who Himself set out on man’s path — a God Who does not look down on us from on high, but Who became our travelling companion.”
“May you remain fixed to God and extend His charity to all of those you meet,” the priest wrote, “that we might do some of that great work that is building up the Body of Christ!”