A vacation side trip surprises our family with a vintage journey of faith.
A family trip along the Mississippi River leads to a journey of faith.
St. Donatus Catholic Church serves about 135 families in the Jackson County area, near Dubuque, Iowa. Built in 1908, the church is a beautiful structure with a bell tower that was constructed of stone quarried from nearby bluffs. But it’s what lies just beyond the church that drew our family’s attention during a road trip along the Mississippi River.
Through tall trees and rocky ground, a meandering self-guided path rises up a moderately steep hill behind the church. Every couple of hundred feet along the way, in small brick structures with arched openings, black-and-white lithographs display the scenes of Jesus on his journey to the cross. These outdoor stations were built in the 1860s and are considered to be the first outdoor Way of the Cross in the United States.
A herd of friendly sheep keep watch over the route, our kids noting that they were probably the “lambs of God.”
Trekking up the winding path, our family of six paused at each alcove, taking turns reading all the inscriptions. At the top of the hill sits the Pieta Chapel, a small building resembling the Chapel du Bildchen in Vianden, Luxembourg, which is the heritage of many in the local community.
Panoramic countryside views from the hilltop chapel reveal the peaceful Iowan landscape. Inside sit a simple altar and a statue of the Pieta. We sat reverently in the four small pews, saying silent prayers of thanksgiving and listening to the sheep rustling around outside.
Every year on Good Friday, hundreds of people travel from all around to join the journey up the hill through the stations and to worship and pray in the Pieta chapel. This small stop on our trip was a wonderful way for our family to bring into focus the important things, to step aside from the speed of our travels, and to appreciate the nature and beauty in God’s journey as well as our own.
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