Lady Pastor: Perpetual prayer fills a holy place

Some spaces are so sacred that awe-filled silence is the only fitting response. I recently had the opportunity to visit the St. Rose of Viterbo Convent in La Crosse. The entire place is beautiful and holy, but it was the Perpetual Adoration Chapel that left me fully without words.

While at the convent, a wonderful tour guide named Marilyn led a group of us through the two chapels. She noted the history of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. While we roamed the space, Marilyn thoughtfully noted details about the building's architecture, stained glass and hand-carved wooden pews. The Perpetual Adoration Chapel was our last stop on the tour, and I underestimated how impactful the experience would be.

Before entering, our guide noted a breath-taking fact. Since 11 a.m. on Aug. 1, 1878, at least two people have been praying before the altar in that chapel at all times. Day and night. Every moment of every hour. Since 1878! That's more than 49,230 continuous days of prayer.

The sisters and their affiliates take two-hour blocks at a time to pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

As we drew nearer to the entrance of the chapel that day, I found my mind racing with thoughts and questions about those who have prayed in that space for so long.


How do they concentrate on what they are praying for? How do they decide what to pray about? What has inspired them to continue praying continuously for the last 135 years? Where do the sisters see God at work in the world today?

I regularly struggle to pray for five-minute intervals, let alone two whole hours. Witnessing these intentional, faithful women so fully devoting themselves to prayer was a reminder that there are folks in the world taking the instructions of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to heart: "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances."

As I overflowed with questions, Marilyn led us toward the door. She held her finger to her lips as we moved ahead, reminding us that there was no speaking in the chapel. It was also the only place where no photography was allowed.

The heavy wooden door opened, and I was enveloped in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It seemed that the presence of God was in every particle of air. In front of the altar sat two women in chairs, deep in prayer.

There were spaces for people to kneel and pray around the perimeter of the chapel. I found a spot to pause and absorb the wonder.

I scanned my thoughts for an appropriate prayer. In the midst of the chapel, few words came to mind. Only this, "Thank you, God," a few tears streaming down my cheeks.

As I reflected on the experience later, I pondered what exactly my soul was thanking God for in that moment. Perhaps it was gratitude for sacred spaces, the gift of prayer, and generations of persistent women of faith.

As the tour concluded, all of the participants paused to connect, shake hands, and thank our tour guide. One fellow, Ivan, mentioned that he was originally from Slovakia and immigrated here more than 40 years ago. He brought along two friends from back home on the tour. "I bring everyone here," he said with a holy sparkle in his eyes.


I can certainly see why Ivan brings all of his out-of-town guests to St. Rose. There's nowhere else quite like it, and my moments in their prayer-filled chapel are forever etched upon my heart.

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