Hank – We weren’t due for a rest day but we took one anyway. In the morning Kathy and I talked about our route and decided to head for Oshkosh from here. Then we spent most of the day with Sister Nina. We met her before Mass at the chapel. The Mass was attended by a smattering of women, most of whom had silver or white hair. Other than the priest I was the only male there. The 100+ year old heavy red oak pews creaked every time you sat down. The sisters’ voices, high and thin, filled the chapel with every song.
The chapel is for the Sisters. It’s not a parish church that’s open to the public nor do they do baptisms, weddings, etc., there. After Mass we joined the sisters in the cafeteria for lunch. That is their big meal for the day. We got to meet some neat ladies. Sister Mary Myron is 102 years old and still sings in the choir. 93 year old Sister Margarite may use a walker but she’s still going strong. With a big smile she told Kathy, “Keep busy and stay young.”
Sister LaDonna gave us a tour of the chapel. The Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration promised to pray continuously and have done so for almost 140 years. During Mass I was wondering what kind of marble was used. The dark coloration was unusual. During our tour I was surprised to learn the marble columns and walls are actually cement and plaster finished to look like marble. And what look like joints are actually pencil lines. Very remarkable. We closed out the tour with a visit to the gift shop. Just about everything in there is made by the sisters. We got the last bear made by Sister Nina, some greeting cards featuring her bears, and some bowl holders used to protect your hands from the hot bowl you have in the microwave.
After the tour Sister Nina took us downtown to the Riverside Park and the International Garden. La Crosse is where the La Crosse River and Black River merge with the Mississippi. Apparently there’s some controversy concerning the future of the Hiawatha statue because it doesn’t accurately depict any of the Native American tribes in the area. We spent the rest of the day with her just hanging out and sharing touring and camping stories. Sister Nina has done quite a few tours herself and has spent quite a bit of time in the woods. She has more bear stories than anyone I’ve ever met.
Kathy – We slept extremely well in the convent guest room. We decided not to set the alarm this morning and both Hank and I slept until 7am. Please know this is just unheard of for us. We normally are both awake by 5-5:30am. After sleeping so well we took some time out this morning to work on our planning for travels though Wisconsin.
Then, we had a fabulous day spent with the lovely Sister Nina. I can’t say enough about how delightful and inspiring she is. Mass was wonderful in this magnificent chapel. Words and pictures can not even begin to describe the stunning beauty of this place. The tour provided us an up-close view and understanding of the architecture and the rationale for each of the columns, paintings, sculptures, stain glass windows, and of course the exquisite altar. We really feel blessed to be able to join the Sisters for mass and have our own personal tour of the chapel.
Spending lunch with so many truly incredible women who have given their lives to help the poor and vulnerable was just awe-inspiring. They all have such rich histories, they are so kind and compassionate, they are great listeners and story tellers, they are young at heart, and they are funny! They all are so interesting that I could have stayed and talked with them for hours on end. Our time with them went by way too fast.
Sister Nina drove us around La Crosse, Wisconsin and pointed out many places of interest. Riverside Park and the International Gardens were beautiful. Sister Nina will be planting my Wisconsin flower seeds in her yard and in another area of her choosing as part of my “Make America Even More Beautiful” campaign. One packet of flowers planted in each state we visit. We bought one of Sister Nina’s adorable teddy bears she made by hand at the chapel gift shop and mailed it home. We had yummy ice cream with Sister Nina and a delightful dinner with her as well. Sister Nina has done bike touring in the past so she can totally relate to all of our bike travel stories. And, though neither of us watch TV much Sister Nina’s favorite show is Survivor which is the same as mine. 😊 It was such a pleasure to spend the day with her. We appreciate her taking time out of her busy schedule for us these past two days. We are very grateful for this time with her.