The church is located on Ohio 269 just south of Bellevue — a 25-minute drive from Norwalk.
Even though I am not Catholic, I have been making weekly visits to the shrine once a week for most of my adult life. I love the place and for a number of reasons. First, I like walking through the beautiful acres of forest on the 10-foot wide winding paved walkways that take you past the magnificent Stations of the Cross and to the replicas of Lourdes, France (where Sister Bernadette saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary many years ago) and the Sepulcher Grotto in Jerusalem.
Second, I enjoy visiting the very nice gift shop on-site where I often purchase unique and special items for myself, but primarily gifts for others. The wonderful gift shop manager (Mary) and volunteer (Rose) know me well and they have become my friends as a result of my weekly visits.
Third, I like to end my visit with some prayer time inside the historic chapel itself where I sit in a small room alone and have a nice conversation with God, with Jesus and with my/the Holy Mother.
And fourth, I always take time to fill my little container with holy water from the well or spring at the chapel and to rub it onto my joints where I then ask God and Jesus to help alleviate and heal my aches and pains. After doing all of these things, I always feel relaxed, refreshed and at peace by the time I leave.
Now, here's a little historical information about the place. The Shrine is the oldest place of pilgrimage dedicated to the Blessed Mother in the Midwest and east of the Mississippi River.
In 1850, Fr. Frances de Sales Brunner, a missionary priest, built on this site a small brick chapel to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. He did so because of his devotion to Mary who he credited with guiding him and his priests from Germany and Switzerland safely to the USA.
The shrine quickly became a place where people could come and feel the presence of God. In 1870, a second and larger chapel was built replacing the original.
In 1912, the chapel burned to the ground. Two years later, the new existing chapel was built with its spectacular stained glass windows, large ceiling paintings and a charming bell tower. Today, it has become a devotional landmark and popular pilgrimage site in northern Ohio, right here in our own backyard in fact. An outdoor chapel was built in 1968 to accommodate increasing numbers of pilgrims and visitors, which is used primarily for summer services.
I had the privilege and pleasure to attend the very special and inspirational Good Friday service at the Sorrowful Mother Shrine in 2018 with a good friend of mine from Norwalk. She and I, along with about 100 other people, were each given votive candles and handouts to read from as we walked through the forest under the light of a gorgeous full moon and stars blazing above the trees to each of the Stations of the Cross, where a priest and his assistant said prayers at each of the stations as we all responded to them in unison. It was simply amazing, the most memorable Good Friday service that I have ever attended anywhere. I didn’t attend this year's service due to the unusually cold and rainy weather that evening, but look forward to doing so next year if the weather cooperates.
The Sorrowful Mother Shrine depends on and operates solely upon donations and contributions from the public, including sales from the gift shop and from the memorial pavers/plaques that line the main walkway through the forest that people can purchase for themselves or for their departed loved ones. In fact, I have already made arrangements to have a memorial paver purchased in my memory when I leave this world, whenever that may be. As Mother Teresa once said, "we take with us only what we give to God."
I do hope you will make your own pilgrimage and visit to SMS sooner than later. You won't regret it and they will certainly love seeing you there. And if you visit the gift shop while there, please tell Mary and Rose that Gary sent you.