The look of the 49-foot-tall, wood-framed, glass-walled Holy Family Shrine captivates many travelers along Interstate 80. They often stop or turn back to find out what it is.
“People didn’t know if we were a ski lodge or a fancy grain bin or a butterfly pavilion,” said Matt Sakowski, the shrine’s caretaker. The chapel’s unique look was inspired by the architecture of Fay Jones, who designed similar chapels in Bella Vista, Ark., and Eureka Springs, Ark.
Founders of the shrine felt called to design and build it as a roadside chapel for travelers to find a quiet place to connect with God.
Overlooking the prairie, the shrine has gardens and meditation trails around it. The look of the prairie and wildflowers surrounding the shrine is intentional.
“It’s part of the experience in that the shrine is to kind of awaken our senses to God’s creation,” Sakowski said, adding that the structure gives people a chance to step back and appreciate nature.
In 2009, a 45-foot crucifix was added between the chapel and the highway, in a location that was selected to draw visitors in and welcome them to the shrine.
Plans for the shrine include adding meditation areas and a life-size stations of the cross trail.
More than 30 volunteers help greet visitors to the shrine. The volunteers also do cleaning, gardening, office work and run the gift shop. Volunteers get a chance to connect with travelers and learn why they stopped.
“It’s really an amazing place to give your time,” Sakowski said. “We all do it for God, but we do it for those travelers who come through here.”
Since the shrine opened in 2002, it has averaged about 25,000 visitors a year. Sakowski has heard many stories about the shrine’s positive impact on visitors.
“It awakens people to that one thing that kept them from being connected to God,” he said.
Designed to teach visitors about the Catholic faith, the glass chapel and underground visitor center is open daily to visitors, regardless of their beliefs or religious denomination.
The chapel holds one Mass every Saturday at 10 a.m. Monthly concerts by local musicians also are scheduled. The shrine does not hold Masses fulfilling Sunday obligation, holy days of obligation, weddings or baptisms.
“It’s really great to see all the denominations coming together and using this place,” Sakowski said. “We stress that we welcome the traveler from the highway down below.”