The Cross in the Woods

Prior to 1996, The Cross in the Woods and Indian River, Michigan, were not on the editor's map.  They were not part of my vocabulary, and perhaps not part of anybody else's vocabulary in Victoria either.  However, since Father Elstan Coghill, OFM, left St. Victoria in July of 1996, after eleven years as our priest, and moved to this location just one-half hour south of the Mackinac Bridge, the shrine and the place have become familiar to many of us.  Memories and photos have accumulated over these past five years, with a variety of accompanying passengers, but this is the first time, in October of 2001, that  I recorded the trip with a digital camera … for this webpage.

The ten-hour road trip from Victoria to Indian River leads us through Wisconsin on Highway 8, then across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on Highway 2.  The roads remain the same, but the scenery is ever-changing.

Autumn is breathtaking across the peninsula.  As a matter of fact, it's out of this world, literally, as it seems to give us a glimpse of the beauty and brilliance of the next world.

When we reach the Mackinac Bridge, which lies on Hwy 75, we are only 30 minutes from Father Elstan.  This magnificent piece of engineering and construction connects the Upper and Lower parts of Michigan and spans five miles of open water.  Groundbreaking began in 1954.  It was opened in 1957.  The fare to cross it is a modest $1.50.  Total length of wire in the main cables (which are 24" in diameter)  is 42,000 miles.

After a total of ten hours or so (sometimes only 9 hours and 27 minutes) of singing and talking and stopping at fast food places, we finally arrive at The Cross in the Woods ...

… where we are greeted by two handsome men.  Father Harry Speckman is the pastor with the suspenders.  Father Elstan Coghill is the colorful gent on the right.  Over time we've also come to know Father Donard Paulus, Father Willie Hegener, and Father Flavius Czuba -- all OFM's, Franciscan priests, these of the Sacred Heart Province headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri.

Father Elstan was delighted that his brother Jesse Coghill (of Jordan, MN) was a passenger of mine this time.  On this very first night of Tuesday, October 9th, they got a chance to visit at Bob's Place, a dining establishment just down the road a piece at Alanson.

The next morning we toured the grounds of the shrine, and found Jesus on The Cross in the Woods.  No outdoor Masses are conducted here after Labor Day.  Over 300,000 people from around the world visited this past summer.  It is a very popular place.

As we approached The Cross, to get a better look, we found The Stairs.   According to tradition, Jesus had to climb 28 stairs to the throne of Pontius Pilate where He was condemned to death.

The 55' high cross was made from an enormous Oregon redwood and erected in 1954.  Sculptor Marshall M. Fredericks created a bronze 7-ton image of the crucified Christ which was raised into place in 1959.  The entire scene was first envisioned by Monsignor Charles D. Brophy in 1946, as he was inspired by the example of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, Lily of the Mohawks, who had a custom of placing crosses on trees in the forest as places to stop and pray.

To the immediate right of Jesus on The Cross, at the foot of The Stairs, is a bronze sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the Franciscans, among others.

Mary Moore, one of my favorite traveling companions, this time and other times, poses here with her patron saint, the Blessed Mother.

The latest addition to the grounds is this rendition of Kateri Tekakwitha.  Father Elstan told us those turtles at her feet represent the name of the tribe to which the saint belonged.  Her eyes gaze directly at The Cross in the Woods.

Jesus on the Cross gazes directly at everyone and everything, including the new church ...

… which was completed in June of 1997.

According to Father Donard, construction cost was $2.45 million; construction time was one year; seating capacity is 870.

Twice daily Mass is said in the little nearby chapel.  This week Father Elstan had the 8:30 a.m. service and Father Harry had the 12 noon service. 

Fr. E. scoots around from his room to the chapel, and other places on the 13.5 acre campus, in a sporty four-wheeler.  Sometimes he speeds, just like the editor.

Another attraction at the shrine is a huge doll collection, only a tiny part of it seen here.  Every order of men and women religious is depicted in authentic dress.  Some of the dolls are life-size.

Next to the doll museum is a fine gift shop managed by Jerry Bode.  Hi, Jerry, and hi also to your friendly assistants.  Fr. E's book, PRINTS OF A PRIEST, is a best seller here.

Hi, Sweet Cindy Muszytowski.  You make me smile in person and also when you answer the phone at The Cross.  Hope you make Fr. E. tow the mark.

Hi, Fr. Harry.  When's the last time you checked with Father Elstan?

Thank you, Bob Vente, for letting me park where it says, "Absolutely no parking."

Fr. E. begins performing for us each day at the breakfast table.  Usually we are at Wilson's or Michael's.  This time we are at Noka's Nook.  Did you know that a giraffe can clean its ears with its 21-inch tongue?

All aboard for the day?  Ready, set, go!

The winding road on the way to Cross Village lies along Lake Michigan and gives us thrills of ooohs and aaahhhs and also sing-along-tunes with Eddy Arnold ("Whispering Hope") and Elvis Presley ("In the Garden").  As Fr. E. said of the occasion, "Top drawer!"

Patriotism extends from sea to beautiful shining sea.

On the way to Cross Village, Father directs us to  this little church in the vale, billed as "the first mission church under American rule built by the Indians."  It was originally established as the Mission of St. Ignace in 1741.  This existing building, the third church here, was built in 1889 and is maintained as a historical landmark as well as a functioning parish.

One time we saw a red fox run over these hills.  Other times we've seen wild turkeys and deer and black squirrels.  There are horse farms here, too, and golf courses that Father has played on.

The light at the end of the tunnel is a delicious meal at Legs Inn, another historic landmark.  One time we celebrated Father's August 27th birthday here, dining outdoors in the backyard.  The young and friendly waiters and waitresses come from Poland and other countries each summer.

After another morning Mass ...

… Father waits for us by the window of his recreation room ...

… and then we play cards (500 or poker) at "our" trailer.  We love this place.  It's less than a block away from The Cross and it's like home away from home.  Thank you, Sharlene and George of Norgate, for your hospitality. 

An exceptionally fine dining place is The Pier, located in Harbor Springs, which is where Father Elstan was stationed for six years in the 1960's.

If you peer from the large windows at The Pier, you see this pier on Lake  Michigan.

If you peer inside the Pier, you might see Mary Moore ...

… and also the attention of either Steve or Dee.  When they spoil Father Elstan, they also spoil us.  Everything at The Pier is "Top Drawer."  We love it.

Before we leave, we say goodbye to The Cross.

Goodbye, Jesus.  Thank you for keeping an eye on our friend.

The return trip home is quiet for a while.

Our tears evaporate with the fog over Lake Michigan.

We rejoice with all that has gone before us, and all that lies ahead of us.

The End

Love, Sue