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History of the Shrine

A Shrine honoring Mary and depicting her apparitions was first envisioned in 1945 by Fr. Herbert Rakowski. Newly assigned as Mio's first full-time priest, Fr. Herbert Rakowski asked God to bless his congregation and petitioned Mary, Mother of God to "make this a better place to live in and [that] people visiting could find a God-fearing area." As he prayed, he envisioned  building a shrine on the church grounds in honor of Mary.  He promised God he would build such a shrine.

By 1952, his vision had garnered the support of business owners in the area who were anxious to increase tourist traffic to Mio. In 1953, a 4-foot tall sculpture of Our Lady of Lourdes made of Italian marble was donated by Anna Shilds, a Lutheran widow from Ann Arbor, in honor of her late husband.  The need for a substantial foundation for the statue compelled Fr. Rakowski to finally break ground on the structure he had promised to God. It would be a Shrine of monumental proportions. 


The pastor submitted plans of the Shrine to the Diocese of Saginaw requesting permission to build the structure and hold an outdoor Mass at the base of the Shrine when it was completed. Permission was granted under two conditions: 1) construction of the shrine would incur no debt and 2) a chapel would be built into the Shrine for conducting Mass. 

Head shot of Father Hubert Ratkowski, circa 1950

With two borrowed shovels and not a penny to spend, ground breaking took place in July, 1953 for the Shrine's footings. Being 8 feet deep and 4 feet wide, they would support a structure consisting of 25,000 tons of native Onaway stone and an equal amount of cement spanning 100 feet wide and 35 feet tall. The left and right wings of the Shrine would curve toward visitors in an arc as if two huge arms were symbolically embracing those who came to feel Our Lady's presence.  The center of the structure would form a peak, focusing the eyes of all pilgrims heavenward, with the statue of Mary ensconced near the top. 

Over the next three years, much of the work was done by hand with the aid of a huge scaffold, a homemade elevator, shovels and wheelbarrows. A diverse group of local citizens and business owners from a wide variety of religious backgrounds selflessly offered their time, labor and donations. 

September 27th, 1954, the last stone was placed on pinnacle of the monument, and the donated statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was finally placed in its alcove. Over the next 12 months, many more statues were positioned despite the pilgrimages that were already streaming to Mio from far and near, unable to wait for its completion.

On September 4, 1955, between 4,000-5,000 people attended the dedication of the Shrine. Over 100 newspapers covered the event along with many radio and television stations. Fifteen thousand more visitors came to the site that weekend. The first outdoor Mass took place at the Shrine the following spring with 2,000 in attendance.


Over the next three years, additional grottos were completed including the Family Shrine grotto and one dedicated to Our Lady of Czestochowa. 


Since the 1955 dedication, visitors have been coming to Mio by the thousands.  Although numbers have diminished throughout the years, the Shrine stays busy during the warmer months with families strolling through the grounds and tour buses lining the street. Today, the parish remains committed to ongoing Shrine development and maintenance in order to preserve this amazing and beautiful structure.

(NOTE: a more detailed history of the Shrine is available in our gift store.)

Archived image of the Marian Shrine under construction, circa 1954
Five men atop the Shrine placing the final stone.
Early outdoor Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Woods, circa 1955.
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