Sweet Treats and Sacred Spaces

Sometimes people look askance at me like they are not quite sure whether to believe that I have no schedule and that nothing other than where I will sleep is planned on this journey. But, if they could spend a day with me on the road and see the countless little miracles that unfold in the course of a single day, it would be very clear. Getting in the way of Serendipity would be a foolish mistake.

This morning in La Crescent, my friends Joan and Joseph and their Lions Club buddies were serving up a pancake breakfast for about 800 friends and neighbors and they invited me along. As I sat eating my special Mickey Mouse pancake, some of their friends told me of a couple of their favorite spots in La Crosse, Wisconsin, my next stop just across the river.  When a suggestion is the perfect thing to do, it kind of tingles with aliveness as I hear it and so it was this morning when I was told about The Pearl and the St. Rose Convent.

The Pearl is a 1930s soda fountain, ice cream, candy and coffee shop on Pearl Street in La Crosse. I wasn’t lucky enough to catch Oscar there, the 90-year old owner/manager, who has now pretty much passed the scoop on to his son, but still comes in most days to help out. 

But, even on a cool, cloudy day there was a steady stream of customers wanting cones, shakes, malts, sodas, sundaes and handmade chocolates.

It’s nearly all made there in the back room and the fresh waffle cones are made right there in the front window. I was still too full of Mickey Mouse to try anything, but watching them dish up flavors like Caramel Cashew, Malted Milk Ball, Snappin’ Turtle and old fashioned ice cream sodas made me promise to try to come back later.

The St. Rose Convent may be a bit harder to describe. About 350 Sisters are part of this spiritual community of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.  At the beginning of the 19th century a group of 14 Bavarian immigrants arrived in the area. Six women among them had the calling to start a spiritual community and live in the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi helping other German immigrants. That grew to be the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Sister Jolyce kindly took me on a tour of the magnificent church constructed between the years of 1901 and 1906.

The Romanesque architecture, the exquisitely detailed stained glass windows from the Royal Bavarian Art Institute of Munich, Germany, the hand-carved wooden pews, the Italian marble altars, the statues, paintings, sculptures, mosaics and details of gold and precious stones were breathtaking.

But, what truly captivated me was this – in the center of the main altar of the spectacular Mary of the Angels Chapel is a small door for the Eucharist that opens to the back side of the altar as well. In back is a smaller chapel, accessed through a separate entrance and known as the Perpetual Adoration Chapel.

Sister Jolyce explained that a 24-hour prayer vigil here has continued uninterrupted for over 100 years. Two “Adorers” who are either two Sisters or a Sister and a lay person are seated in the front row and visitors are welcome to join in the rows behind. Before the hour is up, the next two are seated beside them and when the clock chimes they all rise, say a prayer and change seats. This began on August 1, 1878 in the former, smaller church and they have been praying for us all ever since. Even when a huge fire in the 1930s destroyed the rest of the Convent, the Chapels were unharmed and prayer continued.

As Sister Jolyce waited by the door and I walked quietly around the back of the Chapel, the Power and Divine Presence in that sacred space was nearly overwhelming. As I came out holding my hand to my heart, what I was feeling must have been obvious as Sister Jolyce smiled and said “You are not the first. I have had men walk out with tears streaming from their eyes.”

I thanked her for the tour and asked if I could put my gear in the car and come back to spend some time in the Chapel. I was given a visitor pass and welcomed. I came back, wrapped one of the prayer shawls around me and sat in the back row for an hour and a half. I am not Catholic, but something I know deep in my heart is that God doesn’t care what your version of spirituality is called – there are many ways to know God. So, I sat in deep meditation in this place the Sisters sometimes call “The Power House” and was nurtured, healed, blessed, humbled, filled with gratitude and finally just dissolved into Oneness.  And that is where words cannot go.

I will tell you this – I have felt chilled much of the past 4 days because of this cold I am experiencing and have sniffled, coughed and sneezed continually. I had the thought as I went into the chapel that I hoped I would not disturb the others there. From the moment I entered, I was deeply warmed by loving, nurturing energy and had not a single cough or sniffle the entire time.

Thank you to these women of God for holding us all in Divine Love all these years.

The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration live by the words of the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi. I have always loved this prayer and would like to share it with you here.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.    


About Gayle Harper

Travel Photographer and Writer
This entry was posted in MN - La Crescent, WI - La Crosse and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Sweet Treats and Sacred Spaces

  1. The chapel sounds really wonderful. I am wishing I could be there to join in that great continual adoration.


  2. Joan says:

    what an inspiration to read-thanks again!

  3. Gayle I just switched yesterday from a weekly digest to daily updates of serendipity. thanks so much for this lovely, inspirational start to my day. Blessings, Maggie

  4. natalie willis says:

    In a word… stunning.

  5. Hi Gayle, Assume you got on the road safely. Love the blog. You do catch the spirit of the Sisters’ Chapel. Do you know you can visit their website fspa.org and leave a prayer petition and it will be one of the many things that they pray for during their 24=7 vigil? They follow up with a card or email message to the person being prayed for. Modern technology meets historic spiritual traditon. God’s Grace is truly amazing. I’ll pray for your continued safe journey. Luanne and the kitties.

    • Gayle Harper says:

      Thank you, Luanne – I am sure some of my readers will appreciate knowing that. And thanks also for your kindness and hospitality while I was staying with you at the Neumann House B&B in Prairie du Chien! Gayle

  6. Dawn Kay says:

    I have been an adoration prayer partner for about 6 years with the FSPA. It is truly an honor to be able to pray with the sisters and help to carry out their tradition and mission. Blessings on your Journey and glad you stopped in La Crosse.
    P.S. The Pearl does have wonderful treats!

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