UNSTOPPABLE Stacey receives a mystical message during her zero-day in Slinger. Later at Saint Matthias Catholic Church, she meets up with the Wisconsin Way Introduction Pilgrimage led by Fr Kurz. Although it’s a National Historic Site, most do not recognize St Matthias Church as a Catholic shrine in Wisconsin.
START: St. Peter Catholic Church, Slinger | END: Saint Matthias Catholic Church, Auburn
0 mi/ 35.6 km | Zero-day | Forest Section | Services: Grocery store and restaurants in Slinger
DAY TEN of the Wisconsin Way (a Zero-Day) in Pictures
What is a zero-day?
A zero-day is a day during your trek where you don’t gain any distance toward your destination. The term is usually used by through-hikers, who hike from end to end on a long-distance trail like the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or the Ice Age Trail (IAT).*
You don’t often hear the word used by pilgrims. I don’t typically take zero-days when I’m on pilgrimage. Through-hikers often use zero-days to replenish supplies. But as a Camino pilgrim, provisioning is easy. In Spain, you walk from village to village, where you’ll pass bars or restaurants that cater to pilgrims’ needs. It’s easy to swing into a market to pick up food unless you’re walking in France, where everything is closed. OK, that’s an exaggeration–I learned it from a Danish pilgrim. He lives in France and loves to grumble, “C’est France! Tout es fermé.” (It’s France! Everything is closed.)
*Maybe we should come up with an acronym for the Wisconsin Way pilgrimage. Leave your suggestion in the comments at the bottom.
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Outer Pilgrimage Activates Inner Transformation
Besides all that, I believe that the outer, physical pilgrimage stimulates inner transformation. Strain on our bodies pushes us out of our comfort zones. Exhaustion breaks down the physical part of our being, causing emotions to rise and unravel. Time spent walking helps us to connect to those emotions and the repressed spiritual part of ourselves. So to me, taking a zero-day and giving my body a break is counterproductive to getting closer to God through pilgrimage.
However, one of the purposes of this pilgrimage was information-gathering for writing the Wisconsin Way guidebook. I needed a zero-day so Fr. Kurz, the founder and steward of the Wisconsin Way, and a group of pilgrims could catch up with me.
Knowing that Fr. Kurz had much of the information I sought, I’d attempted to register for his October Wisconsin Way Introduction Pilgrimage. But his three-day pilgrimage filled up fast, and there was no room for me in the van.
What is the ‘Wisconsin Way Introduction Pilgrimage?’
About three times per year, Father Kurz leads a Wisconsin Way pilgrimage and transports pilgrims to various sections along the 140-mile / 225-km way. Pilgrims dropped-off at strategic trailheads can walk into some of the loveliest Catholic shrines in Wisconsin. With this arrangement, pilgrims cover the distance from Our Lady of Help to Holy Hill, two of the many Catholic shrines in Wisconsin, on a long weekend. I felt the Lord’s reassurance that I would indeed get on the October trip. Until someone dropped off the Wisconsin Way Introduction Pilgrimage roster, I needed to be patient.
As COVID numbers in Wisconsin climbed higher, making the state “The Nation’s Corona Hotspot,” I felt surer that there’d be a place for me on the Wisconsin Way Introduction Pilgrimage. Trusting, I added three days to my Wisconsin itinerary while booking my airline reservations. The flight into Green Bay and out of Milwaukee gave me ten days to walk the Wisconsin Way on my own and three extra days to join up with Fr. Kurz and his merry band of pilgrims.
Sure enough, it happened! Someone canceled and opened a spot for me. Even so, I hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to meet up with the group. The remote small towns along the way had no public transportation. The few cities that offered car rentals were not open Sundays.
“Ask Eileen to drive you to St Matthias Church,” said Fr. Kurz. Eileen would be my host in Slinger.
Where is Saint Matthias Church?
“Where is Saint Matthias Church?” I asked. Turns out the church—one of the Wisconsin Way holy hotspots—is located in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, not far from Shelter 2 on the Ice Age Trail. I’d walked that section of the Ice Age Trail on DAY EIGHT, passing by the path that led to Saint Matthias Catholic Church.
So then, a zero-day in Slinger made perfect sense—I had writing and blogging to catch up on. At the end of the day, Eileen would shuttle me 30 miles north to St Matthias Church. There I’d join the Wisconsin Way Introduction Pilgrimage for evening Mass and afterward have dinner and sleep at Camp Vista. The camp is located on Cedar Lake, west of Dundee. The next morning, Fr. Kurz would drive the full van back to Slinger. From there, we’d walk together to the final destination, Holy Hill, probably the most notable of Catholic shrines in Wisconsin. I looked forward to being in community with pilgrims again.
Zero-day in Slinger
On my zero-day, I joined the locals to celebrated Mass at 8 am at St. Peter Catholic Church in Slinger. The parishioners’ participation in the service brought memories of a special Mass on Camino de Santiago back in 2005. The Spanish priest at the Romanesque stone church in Triacastela chose me to read the scripture in English. He chose other pilgrims to read the same scripture in their mother tongues. The priest handed me a document and looked at it before Mass started: Luke 24: 13-35, The Walk to Emmaus.
That Bible story about believers not being aware of Christ’s presence has been meaningful to me since 1999 when I took part in the Walk to Emmaus Spiritual Renewal Weekend. The scripture and retreat started my journey towards the pilgrim life.
On my zero-day in Slinger, I felt the Lord saying: “I chose you to read then, now I choose you to write—write the Wisconsin Way guide.” It seems like a monumental task, but the Lord has put many helpers in my path. Eileen is one of them.
Saint Matthias Catholic Church in Kettle Moraine State Forest
Eileen drove me to St Matthias Church’s lofty location—a wooded ridge of glacial landscape on the Kettle Moraine National Forest. German emigrants from the village of Bengel at the foot of the Eifel, a low mountainous range near Belgium, came together to build the church in 1861. To put that in context with the Belgium emigrants, who lived outside Green Bay, that was only two years after Mary appeared to Adele Brise.
Saint Matthias Catholic Church’s History of Pilgrimage
Saint Matthias Catholic Church has a history of processionals or mini-pilgrimages. In late May or June, parishioners processed outdoors to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. In the fall, they took part in harvest processions. Also tied to their agricultural lifestyle were springtime blessings of the fields.
Before you enter the church, check out the square bell tower, which parishioners added in 1888. On top of it sits an octagonal spire originally covered in hand-split wooden shingles. The steeple rises to 65-feet high carrying the eye heavenward.
Enter through the south-facing front doors, and when you stand in the 40 x 27-foot / 12 x 8-meter nave, try to imagine yourself attending Mass here in the mid-1800s, for behind the plaster lies the log walls of the original frontier church. Neighbors would be greeting you in German. In fact, Church services were in the German language until 1941.
Both the Gothic Revival—also called Prairie Gothic—church architecture and the interior design reflect the European ethnic heritage. Bavarian emigrant Egid Hackner and his German and Czech woodcarvers and marble sculptors created the main and side altars from cherrywood. Egid’s company, Hackner Altar of La Crosse, Wisconsin, also made the oaks pews added to St Matthias Catholic Church in 1919, along with the fourteen stained glass windows. Restorationists faithfully reproduced the stencil designs that frame the windows, vaults and wainscotting in 1977.
The Cemetery at St Matthias Church
Outback, north and east of the sanctuary, check out the cemetery and look for the earliest tombstone date of 1862. Headstones mark the graves of individuals from twenty-four German Catholic families who were the early settlers here. The land that the Germans owned and farmed—mostly in dairy—was sold in the 1920s to create a wildlife refuge, which is today Kettle Moraine State Forest.
St Matthias Church is located on Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive (County Road S) between County Road GGG to the north and Gross Road to the south in the Kettle Moraine National Forest. 1081 County Highway S, Auburn, WI.
After Father Kurz conducted Mass, we piled into the Wisconsin Way Introduction Pilgrimage van and he drove us to Camp Vista, outside of Dundee. There we’d take part in a communal pilgrim meal and sleep in bunkbeds, just like on el Camino de Santiago.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Day Eleven and our pilgrimage to Holy Hill WI.
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