From the very beginning, one of the most important elements of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe has always been its beauty: beauty not only of every structure erected, but of the land surrounding them. Built on nearly 100 acres of gently sloping hillside, the Shrine has not only preserved much of the natural landscape, but augmented its loveliness with cultivated gardens throughout the grounds.
“We wanted the grounds to be another reason for people to fall in love with Our Lady and with Our Lady’s Shrine,” says Kris Quillin, who manages the gardens at the Shrine. “So we really began to work on our grounds several years ago … we developed something called Our Lady’s Garden Club.”
This Garden Club is a team of volunteers who maintain the many flower beds throughout the extensive grounds, weeding, watering, and fertilizing. “It’s a very big undertaking, but such an important part of the experience,” says Quillin. The gardens are important, first, as a way of honoring Our Lady in her Shrine: “We make them as beautiful as we can to honor Our Lady in every way we can.”
Furthermore, the experience of beauty helps to lift pilgrims’ hearts heavenward. “Everything is meant to elevate our mind to those things that are sublime, holy, and beautiful,” says Director of Development Ed Zwibel. “So we have the good, the true, and the beautiful through all the different aspects of the Shrine; then by the time people get up the half-mile pilgrim’s path to church, their hearts are already open, they’re more receptive to the Gospel message.”
In addition, the gardens are a place where friends of the Shrine can see the fruits of their support in an especially concrete way. “They want to see the effects of their impactful giving, they can see it in a garden bed,” Zwibel comments. Donors also have the opportunity to dedicate their gifts in honor or memory of a loved one.
Once a year, in May—Our Lady’s month as well as the climax of springtime—Our Lady’s Garden Club invites everyone to join in planting throughout the Shrine. This year, the planting began on Monday, May 15, the feast of St. Isidore the Farmer, and continued for several days.
Friends of the Shrine who help with the gardens often find that, in addition to enjoying the experience themselves, they rejoice in passing on the blessings they have experienced to others. “People want to take the evangelical role and go back and take what they’ve found here to others,” Zwibel explains, “but they can leave it here too. With a flower bed, they can give the same experience that moved them to other people.”
When Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego, the first sign she gave him was a miraculous gift of roses. At her Shrine in La Crosse, the multitude of flowers signifies her closeness, for she brings the abundant life (cf. John 10:10) that is her Son’s gift to all.