By Elizabeth A. Alexander
Respite from the stresses of city living is about an hour southwest of St. Louis. Sheltered in the foothills of the Ozarks, the secluded, rustic Black Madonna of Czestochova Shrine and Grottos beckons anyone seeking solace.
The open-air Chapel of the Hills welcomes all visitors, even animals. Sparrows might swoop in and perch themselves on the altar, and wild turkeys often strut by. Next to the chapel, a small clearing is home to twelve stone crosses, each standing about seven feet tall, that lead visitors through The Stations of the Cross.
Polish Franciscan monk, Brother Bronislaus Luszcz created the shrine and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary. He began in 1937 by building each grotto by hand. A stone bridge downhill from the chapel leads the visitor to these grottos, which are made of Missouri tiff rock. All are decorated with seashells, glass, and pebbles donated by visitors.
The large white cross above the Crucifixion and Gethsemane Grotto has been a hiker’s landmark for years. Nearby, trails lead to more shrines. The Mother’s Sanctuary is a new one, an Eagle Scout project to slow the effects of soil erosion.
Unfortunately, Bronislaus Luszcz did not live to see his beautiful shrine capture the attention of the public. The
Franciscan monk spent twenty-three years creating a place of remarkable beauty. One summer day, while working on one of the grottos, he was overcome by the heat and died at Our Lady of Perpetual Help grotto. His body was discovered that night when he didn’t arrive for dinner at the monastery.
The shrine is not supported financially by the archdiocese or any neighboring parish. It is dependent on revenue from gift shop sales and donations of visitors. Visit FranciscanCaring.org for more information.