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Miraculous Petals

Today 573 Magazine had the pleasure of visiting one of the most beautiful and popular destinations in the 573 area. St. Mary’s of the Barrens & The Association of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri has been drawing people from all over the country and around the world to its sacred grounds for decades. Lately, there’s been a rather large influx of new visitors, many non-religious. We had to find out more.



Meet Renee Brueckner

Previously serving as the Chief Information Officer for 25 years, Renee is the Operations Director at The National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal and currently manages the Direct Mail Program which serves over 250,000 active members. The Direct Mail Program at The National Shrine mails over 11 million pieces of mail annually promoting devotions to Mary, and receives 1.5 million back which they then answer back. On top of that, they take phone calls, emails, and all sorts of other communications, including website and social media pages, from people who are seeking answers, making prayer requests, or hoping to strengthen their relationship with their Lord and Saviour.



573: So tell us about The National Shrine of the Miraculous Medal and what you do here.



Well, we have two parts of The Shrine here. We have The National Shrine and we have The Association of the Miraculous Medal. The Association is the office building that employs about 60 people and we have a mission of bringing people to Jesus through Mary, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. We promote devotion to Mary under her medal, which we distribute for anyone who would like to have it, we give it away at no cost for people who want to wear the medal.


People come to work here and they stay.




We have about 60 employees. They do all kinds of things from running printing presses, designing applications, helping us create the website, writing, answering letters, answering the phone, keeping track of all the information about our donors and our members here at The Association. People come to work here and they stay. It’s a very family friendly place to work. It’s a great place to be. I’ve been here for over 30 years and it’s a joy to be working for the church and to be able to be in our wonderful town of Perryville and have the advantage of a really good job and be able to stay here.





573: Tell us more about the church and its history.


The order here was the Vincentian Order, they were followers of St. Vincent De Paul. He was a priest in the 1600’s in France. He formed an order of priests and also several lay organizations like The Society of Saint Vincent De Paul, and The Association of the Miraculous Medal in one of the apostolates also. So it was all started by Saint Vincent De Paul in France in the 1600’s. And the men who came here, came from Europe and then actually traveled from Kentucky to here to form the church. And they came and set the cornerstone here in Perryville in the 1800’s.



It was around 1818 that they came and founded the church here. The church here was built on donations from the local people. The land was donated to the priests and the money was raised among the local people here to support this. They wanted them to form a church here. So they began building the actual church that still stands here in 1827, and it was completed in 1837 and was blessed then by the Bishop to serve the people here in this area.



It was formed as a replica of a church that was in France at the time, the mother house of the Vincentians in France. I believe it was called Monte Citorio. It also became a seminary, a training ground for priests. At one time I believe there were over two hundred young men who lived here that were training to be priests.





A hundred years after it was built, we added on The Shrine, which is on the right side of the church and it’s an outcropping that’s just specially for Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. That’s where her image is, and where the prayers are said there daily.

Our Blessed Mother appeared...

573: What is the Miraculous Medal?


The Miraculous Medal is a medal that was presented to Saint Catherine Laboure in 1830 in France. Our Blessed Mother appeared to her and gave her the image of this medal and asked her to spread this devotion to the medal. She wanted people to become more devout and more connected to her son, Jesus. We, as Catholics, believe that you can get closer to Jesus through His Blessed Mother, Mary. That’s our faith and so we are promoting that devotion to His Mother under the title of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.


573: We couldn’t help but notice the beautiful gardens on the grounds. Can you tell us about the Zinnias?



Well, we’ve always had beautiful grounds, we’ve always had groundskeepers to keep it up, but last year we wanted to plant some wildflowers or something...and because we had just finished some construction, we had a spot over on the side there, and we planted Zinnias because Zinnias last a long time and their colorful. It’s really been amazing.




For year and years and years we’ve tried to advertise The Shrine here, tried to bring people to The Shrine. We put up billboards, tried to get it out on the radio, all kinds of things to draw people here to The Shrine. But last year when we planted the Zinnias, it got posted on [social media] by multiple people who came out here, and it sort of went viral and all of a sudden we have hundreds of visitors coming to see the Zinnias. And while they’re here they’re able to discover the beautiful church and The Shrine, the surrounding grounds like the Rosary Walk and the Grotto, and just the beauty of this area.



It was kind of an accident, but it’s been a major blessing to us, and to our area. It brings people to Perryville to see what else Perryville has to offer. We now have the Vietnam Wall Replica, we have the Tractor Museum, we have wonderful restaurants, and our parks are beautiful. I know a lot of people come here for soccer tournaments and things like that, but there are other things in Perryville to explore and to do here. So it’s nice that the Zinnias attract people and bring them here.




...hundreds of butterflies.

But it’s not only people who are being drawn to the beautiful new flowers on the grounds. While we were there we saw hundreds of butterflies. All different kinds, including the Monarch which was recently named a candidate to be added to the endangered species list and is being closely monitored to track any changes in its decline or progression. Maintained habitats such as the Zinnia gardens on the seminary grounds at St Mary’s of the Barrens are a big step in the right direction for insects such as bees, butterflies and the Monarch to thrive, increasing their populations and their chances of long term survival as a species.


Speaking of bees…


573: Tell us about the bee boxes we saw earlier walking the grounds.


We had some local Girl Scouts work on their gold award here and they brought bee boxes in to facilitate the growth of bees, which is a much needed thing in the area and everywhere. We need more bees. So they posted the boxes on the trees out here and the boxes have been inhabited by the bees, so now they have a safe place to be.



573: This is such a peaceful place. Was it designed that way on purpose?

Yes, actually. In 2018 we did a refurbishing of the entire property here. We put in a half-mile Rosary Walk and made sure that it was handi-cap accessible. Our main focus was on peace and serenity. To give people a place to come and walk or be where it’s peaceful and serene. You don’t have to be Catholic to come and enjoy, we have many people who do their daily walks here who are not Catholic, or not religious. It’s a quiet, peaceful place. And it was important to the priests who owned the property and to those who facilitate things here that we keep it a peaceful, quiet place for reflection.


573: What’s it like here in the fall?


In the fall the trees are just beautiful, and again, it’s peaceful and serene. It’s a perfect location in the fall to come and spend a half a day. You can see the beautiful church regardless of the weather, the church is always gorgeous. There’s also some other historical things on the land, like the Log Cabin and the Grotto, and we now have the beautiful depictions of Mary in her apparitions out here on the grounds. So there are a lot of things to see.



573: Tell us about the Grotto.

The Grotto just celebrated its hundredth anniversary a couple of years ago. The Grotto was started by the priests and seminarians. The young men who were here studying to be priests helped quarry out the rock to build the Grotto and they finished it about a hundred years ago. In 2017 and 2018 The Grotto was refurbished and they cleaned out the rock and rebuilt it so that it is strong and steady and should last another hundred years.


573: Do you hold any events here?


The May Procession is an annual event we have on the first Sunday of every May. The May Procession brings about a thousand people to the grounds. They come and participate in the Rosary Walk. It’s about a 45 minute to one hour Rosary Procession with prayer and song in honor of Our Blessed Mother. And that’s always been our signature event here at The Shrine.


We also participate in the Christmas Country Church Tour which is usually the Thursday and Friday of the third week in December. There are probably around 20-30 other churches in the area that participate, and it just brings visitors to come see the beautiful churches in this area.







The dates for this year's Christmas Country Church Tour are Thursday, December 16th and Friday December 18th. For more information or this season’s map, go to visitperrycounty.com or contact Trish Erzfeld at 573-517-2069 for large tour groups.



It all sounds amazing! And the church and grounds have so many breathtakingly beautiful sights, I can’t wait to come see it all this fall! Get out there!.



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