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Holy Hill shrine attracts 300,000 pilgrims annually

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 7th, 2011
Catholic Online (

Holy Hill, located 30 miles northwest of Milwaukee amid mountainous scenery, is a historic sacred site and registered national landmark. The shrine, maintained by Discalced Carmelite friars attracts more than 300,000 pilgrims and visitors each year.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Shrine's history begins with a French-native hermit named Francois Soubrio, who began to live there in the mid-19th century. Soubrio was at first regarded with suspicion but was soon welcomed by the local community. Local farmers began to provide him with food and eventually built him a small cabin.

The Holy Hill area was first settled around 1842 by Irish natives. The immigrants dedicated the hill to the Virgin Mary and were the first to call it "Holy Hill." They fell upon hard times fell on hard times and were forced to leave the area. In 1854, German settlers began buying the small Irish farms.

Holy Hill was for a time known as "Government Hill" for surveying work that was done there. It remained government property until 1855, when the 40 acres atop Holy Hill was purchased by Fr. Paulhuber, a native of Salzburg, Austria.

An oak cross made from a tree growing on Holy Hill was erected and consecrated on top of the hill in 1858. The cross, which can be seen today in the Marian Hallway of the Shrine, originally stood 15 feet high and is engraved with the German words, Ich Bin das Leben wer an mich glaubt wird selig, "I am the life, who believes in Me shall be saved."

The faithful flocked to the shrine on Holy Hill, and by the end of the 19th century it was felt that the important shrine should come under the administration of a religious order. The Shrine of Mary was put under the care of a group of Discalced Carmelites, who came to Holy Hill from Bavaria at the invitation of Archbishop Messmer on June 26, 1906.

In 1920, the building now known as the Old Monastery Inn and Retreat Center was completed. It was remodeled into a retreat center in 1955.

Holy Hill is the highest peak of the Kettle Moraine, a chain of hills and pot shaped valleys that begins in the Whitewater area and extends northeast to Door County. The shrine itself sits on about 40 acres, but over the years the friars there have acquired an additional 400 acres of surrounding woodland to preserve the area's contemplative atmosphere.

Visitors can tour the shrine chapel and the grounds, attend daily services, climb an observation deck and, during the summer, eat at the Monastery Inn Cafeteria.

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