PINE BLUFF — The small farming community of Pine Bluff sits at the cross roads halfway between Cross Plains and Mt. Horeb.
In 2005, Pine Bluff was at a different crossroads. A local tavern was planning to rent out a portion of its establishment to a strip club and would place this sleepy little town between its traditional values and the forces of immorality and indecency.
The beautiful parish of St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff is only a short walk down the road from where they were planning to open the strip club.
Vibrant parish of immigrants
The first European people to settle in Pine Bluff, a community which lies at the bottom of a circular valley once surrounded by pine trees, were the English, followed by the Irish and Germans.
While the English moved westward toward more desirable, open prairie, the Irish and Germans staked land claims, cleared fields, planted crops, and built a community of families in God’s grace and providence.
Unlike other communities where different national groups built separate churches, this faith community elected to build one together. On the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1854, the new church was dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians and the first Mass was celebrated by Fr. Lorenz Conrad.
Many of those first families still are members of this vibrant parish. Their names can be found on the stained-glass window; Kalscheur, Krantz, Haack, and others the local parishioners fondly remember.
Plans for strip club
In the summer of 2004 a new priest, Fr. Richard Heilman, was assigned as pastor of two parishes, one of which was St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff. It was just months after the people first heard of the plans for the strip club.
Neighbors were appalled, and the little town was stunned. But there was not, it seemed, much that anyone could do.
The folks in Pine Bluff, however, hardly knew their new priest, Father Heilman. Little did they know the big plans he was formulating.
The ‘miracle mile’
Discerning God’s will, Father Heilman organized a mile-long Stations of the Cross through the town. He invited everyone — parishioners, townsfolk, people from the wider diocese — to pray along this “miracle mile,” in an effort to reclaim this surrendered ground and to consecrate the soil back to Our Lord.
The inaugural prayer walk was held on Palm Sunday 2005. Over 200 people spilled into the little town of Pine Bluff to participate in the “miracle mile.” Pine Bluff residents had prepared for the walk by placing two-foot-high crosses in their lawns stretching all the way down the main road and back, the length of the “miracle mile.”
Participants carried their prayer sheets and a white ribbon (a symbol of purity and anti-pornography). The 12th station found them at the entrance to the beautiful parish cemetery on a bluff with a life-size crucifix of our Lord and a 100-year-old stone kneeler in front. The participants tied their white ribbons to this kneeler as a prayer form, much like lighting a vigil candle.
Prayer warriors persist
After that first prayer walk, a container holding prayer sheets and ribbons was placed at the first station on the walk. All were invited to pick up a prayer sheet and ribbon, and pray at anytime, day or night.
Over the next six months, prayer warriors walked the path, prayed the Stations, and sang hymns nearly round the clock. “This is holy ground, we’re standing on holy ground . . . ,” they sang.
The white crosses on residents’ lawns served as a tangible reminder to pray for God’s mercy. Over 600 ribbons were tied to the kneeler.
Victory was won
The “miracle mile” was, indeed, miraculous. Even though many say that the porn industry is more protected (under First Amendment rights) than are the babies in mothers’ wombs, within six months the strip club was chased out of town. Pine Bluff was overjoyed, and a victory was won for Our Lord.
Seeing that the power of prayer moved a very significant mountain, a seed was planted and a lion awakened. Recall that the year of 2005 was also when our mercy pope, John Paul the Great, went to be with his merciful Savior (he died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday).
Knights of Divine Mercy born
Pope John Paul II’s love for the Divine Mercy devotion and the inspiration of this faithful remnant in Pine Bluff, who believed and saw their prayers answered, led Father Heilman to found the successful Knights of Divine Mercy, an organization calling Catholic men to heroic virtue, to be strong husbands and fathers, and to be spiritual men of prayer.
The Knights of Divine Mercy has grown into a powerful apostolate reaching men from all over the diocese and training them to be “God strong” soldiers for Christ through prayer, spiritual talks, confession, sacred music, forgotten devotions, and yearly retreats.
Powerful speakers such as Bishop Robert C. Morlino, Catholic media personalities, and priests from around the diocese challenge the men with topics such as mental prayer, the Rosary, liturgy, faith and politics, and living holy lives as men.
This upcoming year will be even better with the following speakers:
- Popular priest and blogger Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, “Father Z” as he is known to regular readers of his blog “What Does The Prayer Really Say” (www.wdtprs.com).
- Fr. Frank Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio where listeners know him as “Father Rocky” from his daily program Go Ask Your Father.
- Bishop Morlino of Madison.
- The apostolate’s founder and spiritual director, Father Heilman, introducing his already popular book, The Church Militant Field Manual.
The Year of Faith
The mission for the men this upcoming year is formed by Pope Benedict’s call to the Year of Faith beginning in October 2012. Father Heilman wants the men prepared spiritually and physically for this amazing year and the battles ahead.
Father Heilman frequently quotes in his book, The Church Militant Field Manual, from the words of our Lord in the Gospel of Mark 12:30 when asked what is the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
The priest believes we must be given the tools to develop ourselves in all four facets of life: the emotional (heart), the spiritual (soul), the intellectual (mind), and the physical (strength). The Knights’ training strives to develop each of these and the monthly Night of Knights on first Fridays is the place to start.
Spiritual Boot Camp
For the Year of Faith, Father Heilman will be using his new book, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, to lead the men (and all who wish to participate) on an online 12-week Spiritual Boot Camp, which includes attention to our physical well-being. Father Heilman has started inviting others to join him at a local health club a few times a week and praying a 20-decade walking Rosary around our State Capital each morning.
Also, over 300 people have been gathering every Thursday at 7 p.m. (until Nov. 1) to pray for life, family, and souls converted to Our Lord.
Join the Knights
Men from all over the diocese are invited to join this mission as a new season of the Knights of Divine Mercy begins in September.
The Night of Knights is held every first Friday at St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff Parish and starts with a Votive Mass to the Sacred Heart of Jesus at 5:30 p.m. followed by Eucharistic Adoration with opportunity for confession and to learn chanted Vespers from the Knights of Divine Mercy Schola Cantorum.
Friday, Sept. 7, will feature Father Zuhlsdorf giving the talk on “Save the Liturgy, Save the World” at 7 p.m. with Benediction and a social hour following in the school gym.
Find details and registration at www.knightsofdivinemercy.com
Tim Virnig is a parishioner of St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff and national director of the Knights of Divine Mercy.
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