Small Town Christmas

Small Town Christmas

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Sacred Place

In the stillness of your heart, God speaks.
Mother Teresa

Visitors are close enough to I-80 to hear the whine of 18-wheelers and the cacophony of tires hitting pavement as cars zoom from Lincoln to Omaha.

But the noise seems to fade away when you visit the Holy Family Shrine. On earlier visits to Omaha, we had seen the chapel just off the interstate. This time, we got to visit.

I'm glad we did. Other than shopping with my girl, it was my favorite destination during our recent Omaha trip.

The shrine is a Catholic chapel, but it certainly spoke volumes to this lifelong United Methodist, too. It was completed in 2002 on a 23-acre site overlooking the Platte River Valley, just off the Gretna, Nebraska, exit.

The construction was not without its challenges. A windstorm during construction caused the structure to buckle and collapse. Not to be deterred, they started yet again.

The founders of the shrine created it as a place for travelers to seek the presence of the Holy Spirit. Even though I'm sure it would have beautiful in February with the snow blanketing the prairies, it was a blessing to see it in spring. From the prairie flowers to the carefully cultivated gardens, the shrine was bursting with evidence of new life in Christ.

The floor to ceiling window panels offered a panoramic view of God's creation all around us.

The chapel's entry facade is made of red cedar and glass. The upper web is designed to look like waving wheat. The wheat symbolizes the bread broken by Jesus in the Upper Room.

The Visitor Center is carved out of a hill, designed to remind visitors of Christ's tomb. Inside, a skylight-illuminated sculpture represents the shroud of Christ as it fell to the tomb during the resurrection.

From the sculpture, water drips into a pool below.

As the pool fills, the water flows toward the chapel.

The water flows through the chapel to the altar area, where is gathers in a pool. You can see the water as you step into the pews over the limestone "bridges," an experience designed for worshipers to remember their baptism.

The water gathers at the feet of the Virgin Mary. The etching of the Holy Family overlooks the chapel and the hillside.

On Good Friday 2009, they erected a crucifix outside the shrine. It is approximately 40 feet tall, one foot for every day of Lent. The figure of Christ is just over 8 feet tall.

On the day we were there, it was a little bit overcast at times, and I couldn't help but think about the crucifixion story when darkness covered the Earth during Christ's time on the cross.

The symbolism was there - whether intentional or not. For me, the red and white peonies in the garden brought this Bible verse to mind: "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Isaiah 1:18

I would gladly return to the Holy Family Shrine at other seasons of the year. If your travels take you near Omaha, I would recommend the drive down the gravel road to reach this beautiful, peaceful place.


  1. Absolutely beautiful--Mom

  2. Thanks to you both! Unbelievably it is free, though there are places to make donations.

  3. Beautiful! I've seen it from the highway, and planned to visit it in the Summer out of curiousity -- I wasn't sure what it was. But now, I'll go see it for sure. You take EXCELLENT pictures!

    1. It is definitely worth the little detour off the interstate. I also visited in November 2010. It was a different kind of beauty then, without the green and the flowers.

      Thanks for visiting my blog and for taking time to comment. Thanks for the compliment about the photos, too!