by Fr Richard Heilman | December 26, 2015 3:01 pm
In the summer of 2004, I was assigned as pastor of two parishes, one of which was St. Mary’s of Pine Bluff, a Catholic parish in a small unincorporated town in southern Wisconsin, just west from Madison. The little town of Pine Bluff has one church, two bars, and a handful of homes. It is surrounded by fields and idyllic rolling hills and countryside. It’s the kind of town where people dream of raising their kids.
So it was that just months after I arrived in Pine Bluff, one of the bar owners decided to rent out his cozy establishment to a strip club owner. Neighbors were appalled, and the little town was stunned. But there was not, it seemed much that anyone could do.
The folks in Pine Bluff, however, didn’t yet understand my resolve and my absolute trust in God’s miracle power. Lying in bed one night, I found myself in my prayer … “What in the world did you have in mind, God, by allowing this strip club across the street of my new parish?” Then one word came to me, “Mile.” It was then that I envisioned the trek from the front of our church to the end of the block, then back to the church and concluding in the cemetery behind our church. Then two words came to me, “Miracle Mile.”
These words and that image came so strong that I got out of bed at 3:00 AM in the morning and put on my sweat suit and went out in my car. I reset the odometer down to zero, and drove the path I envisioned in mind. When I reached the end of that path (up in the cemetery), the odometer rolled to exactly one mile. I knew then that God was speaking to me.
That following week, I gathered together some of the faith-filled people I had met since my arrival, and we began to make plans. Surprisingly, they did not think I had lost my rocker when I told them about my 3:00 AM drive through Pine Bluff. They, too, believed there was something to this.
We discerned that we were called to pray the Stations of the Cross along that one mile route. Some people designed little 3 foot high crosses, and we placed a roman numeral on each one, signifying each of the 14 Stations. All the neighbors allowed us to plant these crosses in their yards, near to the sidewalk. We then chose Palm Sunday to hold this Stations of the Cross. We asked people to come, and over 200 people joined us.
Participants carried their prayer sheets and a white ribbon (a symbol of purity and anti-pornography). The twelfth station found them at the entrance to the beautiful parish cemetery on a bluff with a life-size crucifix of our Lord and a one-hundred-year-old stone kneeler in front (pictured here). The participants tied their white ribbons to this kneeler as a prayer form, much like lighting a vigil candle in church.
After that first prayer walk, a container holding prayer sheets and ribbons was placed at the first station on the walk. All were invited to come, pick up a prayer sheet and white ribbon, and pray at anytime of the day or night, as they wished. Over the next seven months, prayer warriors walked the path and prayed the Stations. The white crosses on residents’ lawns served as a very tangible reminder to pray the Stations and to pray for God’s mercy.
The miracle mile was, indeed, miraculous. Even though many say that the porn industry is more protected (under First Amendment rights) than are the babies in our mothers’ wombs, within seven months the strip club was chased out of town. Little Pine Bluff was overjoyed, and a victory was won for Our Lord. We estimated that over 700 ribbons were tied to that 100 year old kneeler, represented 700 miles walked in prayer.
Seeing that the power of prayer moved a very significant mountain, a seed was planted and a lion was awakened. Calling together twelve devoted men, I asked them to join a very necessary campaign. On one evening in 2005, I asked them to load a meeting table into a truck and bring it down to the “former” strip club. I had reserved the room where the strippers “used to” dance. They hauled the four-part meeting table into that room and positioned it under the plate in the ceiling that “used to” connect the stripper pole. The meeting table was “round,” recalling the age-old image of mighty knights who met at a roundtable. I got out the holy water and blessed salt and the prayers of the Church, and we reclaimed that surrendered ground back to the Lord, and those twelve men (mighty knights!) sat down and had the “first” meeting of the Knights of Divine Mercy (the photo here is the first group of men knighted as the Knights of Divine Mercy).
2005 was also the year our mercy pope, John Paul the Great, went to be with his merciful Savior, as he passed on the very eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. Pope John Paul II’s love for the Divine Mercy devotion and the inspiration of this faithful remnant in Pine Bluff, who believed and saw their prayers answered, led me to found the very successful Knights of Divine Mercy, an organization calling Catholic men to heroic virtue, to be strong husbands and fathers, and to be spiritual men of prayer. So very needed in our times!
While we were walking and praying during those seven months, a Catholic man who, unfortunately, had lost his belief in God’s miracle power, approached me with an angry tone, “You can pray all you want, but it is going to come down to the lawyers and judges!” Without missing a beat, I calmly responded, “Sure … but I want God to bring us just the right lawyer and just the right judge.” Shortly after that, a lawyer sought us out and said he was an expert on liquor laws, and he was confident he could get anyone to lose their legal right to serve alcohol. Not too long after that, he did just that. The strip club was forced to serve lemonade, and they were now losing money. When it was brought to court, the judge upheld the decision, and the strip club was forced to close. We were told later that the judge was given our case only because it was in the rotation of cases these judges hear. The judge who “happened” to get our case, we were told, was the *only one* who would have ever been sympathetic to our case. Thank you, God!
Father Doing the Moses Thing
While I walked and prayed that mile many times, my primary way of praying during that time was to wake up before dawn every morning and drive up to Blue Mounds State Park (When one looks west at my church, from a distance, they can see Blue Mounds in the background … it looks like a mighty mountain). On top of Blue Mounds (Blue? Mary’s color? 😉 ) is a lookout tower (Fire tower?). It was 64 steps to rise to the top. I brought my Bernese Mountain dog, Angel, and I would leash her to the bottom of the tower while I ascended to the top. On top, I would look east and see much of Madison from the high point. And, of course, I was looking out over my entire two parishes. I made sure I was there before the sun would rise, so I was praying as the sun rose. At some point, I found a straight branch that I used, much like Moses’ staff, to hold up and pray … recalling the scripture passage when Moses prayed this way … “As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage” (Exodus 17:11). After I had prayed on the tower, Angel and I would walk the paths on Blue Mounds as I prayed various prayers, such as the rosary. I only missed four days on top of Blue Mounds from April through October of that year.
Local Shock Jock Turns Catholic
Unbeknownst to me, while we were walking and praying during those seven months, we were being ridiculed by a popular Madison radio shock jock (I was told this only afterwards that he had been doing this). “For whatever reason” (wink, wink … Thank you, God!), this shock jock “got religion.” He ended up inquiring at a downtown Madison church how to be received into the Catholic Church. He entered their RCIA program. The program director contacted me later to see if I had an empty rectory they could use for a retreat weekend, since I had two parishes. I told her I was already renting out the other rectory, but I’d be willing to go stay at my sister’s, if they wanted to use my rectory. Now, recall, I did not know anything about this shock jock, and I did not know he was in her RCIA program. So, now the guy that was mocking us in public a short while ago, ended up spending the weekend in my rectory (God has such an amazing sense of humor 😉 ). When I got home, Sunday afternoon, after the RCIA group had left, I saw a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream on my kitchen counter, with a note on it that said, “Dear Fr. Rick … I want to say I am sorry, and I think what you are doing here is great! Signed Sly (the shock jock’s name).” By the way, I still have the bottle … I keep it as a kind of trophy 😉
 A few years after that battle in Pine Bluff, UW Medical Clinic announced they were about to begin offering late term abortions. Of course, the whole pro-life community got out in front of the clinic to pray every day. This went on for quite some time, and the clinic was still not announcing they had begun that horrendous practice, but we feared that announcement was coming any day. Then a parishioner of mine came up to me and said, “Father, we should do what we did in Pine Bluff … we should do the Stations of the Cross.” I said, “You are right … of course we should.” We asked people to come, and over 200 showed up. We asked the Knights of Divine Mercy to hold images of each Station, and we set it up along the sidewalk in front of the clinic. That day, there was a UW sporting event occurring, so the street was jammed with cars who watched these 200 people genuflect and stand, genuflect and stand, etc., etc. Then only a few days later, the announcement came, “Univ. of Wis. Hospitals confirms it will end late-term abortion program.” Ad majored Dei Gloriam!
Join the Holy League!
The Knights of Divine Mercy have met every first Friday from September to April since 2006. We have grown and matured and now, besides offering Adoration, Confession, an inspiring talk and fellowship, we are now able to chant solemn Vespers, and we have an amazing Knights of Divine Mercy Schola Cantorum (seen below). The Knights of Divine Mercy are the inspiration for Cardinal Burke’s movement, “The Holy League” (For info go HERE). I highly recommend joining ranks with this incredible holy movement for men. It is especially well-suited for the Knights of Columbus if any chapters are looking for an amazing way for brother knights to pray together (the priest in this video is Fr. Z).
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