It took about seven years for the vision of Frank and Shirley Schilling to be realized — and that dream continues to be built upon at the Shrine of Christ’s Passion in St. John.
“The family has been successful and been blessed, and they wanted to give back,” said Paul Anderson, general manager. “They wanted to build it just to make a difference in the world.”
In 2008, the shrine opened, featuring 18 scenes depicting the final days of Jesus' life. The Schillings, descendants of a founding family of St. John and owners of home improvement centers, are still heavily involved and hope to further expand the shrine. On a walk through the gift shop, you may happen to find Shirley helping out as she was during a recent tour.
The most recent scene added was of Moses at Mt. Sinai. “It was added two years ago on Mother’s Day, and the Schillings always wanted to add this, the reason being that in today’s world, the Ten Commandments have been taken out of so many public buildings,” said Anderson. “This was created so that people could experience the Ten Commandments out in a public space — and no one could take that away from this place because its a nonprofit private foundation.”
Though the path through the shrine is concrete, this scene has a more-natural gravel foundation. “This is meant to make it feel like you’re really walking into the desert, and I think that was achieved,” said Anderson, adding that the shrine was built for everyone, regardless of religious affiliation or whether they attend church.
“It tells the story of Jesus’ last few days on earth starting with the Last Supper and going through the Passion, Good Friday, the Crucifixion and the Ascension scene,” explained Anderson as he walked the grounds accompanied by the Rev. Sam Maletta, pastor of nearby St. John the Evangelist Parish.
“I think there’s a peacefulness here, but if you are Christian or Catholic, then it has even deeper meaning for you. So, you see, I think Mr. Schilling really went to extraordinary lengths to give this a feel of the Holy Land,” said Fr. Maletta. “This is not just about people coming here and seeing something. This is about people coming here and being moved and having their hearts changed.
“Everyone knows Jesus went through a passion, but the whole point of Christianity is to move it from here to here,” said Fr. Maletta, motioning to his forehead and then placing his hand over his heart. The responses he hears and witnesses show him that is happening at the shrine.
“I haven’t noticed anyone to walk this path with any intention that wasn’t moved,” said Fr. Maletta. “From my house on the hill, I look out and I see people early in the morning and sometimes I’m in my yard and I hear people crying. There’s a scene where Mary is holding the corpse of her son after they take him down from the cross and a lot of people can relate to that. They’ve lost children and that is something that brings a real emotional impact into their lives.”
Anderson stops at that scene and says that often parents who have lost a child break down in tears, “but then when it’s all over, they really feel better because they can see Mary, the greatest woman ever, what she went through with her son and they feel like they relate to her.”
Most narrations at the scenes run about 30-45 seconds followed by a meditation. “When the narrations were written and the meditations, we wanted to make it relate to today’s world so people can see what happened 2,000 years ago and how it is in today’s world,” said Anderson, standing near the scene of Jesus nailed to the cross.
The meditation in this area: “Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. Behold your Savior, pierced for our offenses.”
Anderson listens and repeats it slowly. “Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. And look at what happens today.”
This is the scene that Fr. Maletta said has the biggest effect on him. “All the different scenes have meaning, and I think people will find that they relate to some more than others. The scene where they’re pounding nails into Jesus, that one really moves me because I’ve seen little kids leaning down kissing Jesus’ face,” he explained. “The artist is showing the pain and the agony he must have been feeling and what he must have been going through. For me this has a lot of meaning because I’ve seen so many children look at his pained face and bend down and in their innocence they kiss him and that’s awesome.”
As you near the Ascension scene, you’re greeted with colorful flowers and more joyful instrumentals with a song played called "The Servant Song." “So that scene and words there kind of sum up the whole thing and give a sendoff to please go out and go change your world,” said Anderson, noting the shrine's two two slogans: "Come Take the Journey" and "Go Change Your World.”
“Walking this prayer trail brings this knowledge to the heart and that makes a world of difference. That’s where people really change their lives,” said Fr. Maletta. “There’s story after story of people that come back, and they’re just blown away — and many of them don’t even go to church. This place isn’t just for church people. People come here and they are touched.”