While visiting Voyageurs National Park in the northern part of Minnesota, I made it a point on the way to visit the Shrine of St. Odilia in Onamia, Minn.
The shrine is run by the Crosier Fathers. Several members of the order settled in the Onamia area after traveling from Holland in 1910 with a group of Dutch immigrants. By 1922, the Crosiers had succeeded in building both a church and a monastery.
The Crosiers — the word means “cross bearers” — were founded in the year 1210 in Liege, Belgium, by Blessed Theodore De Celles. Thus, in 2010, the Crosiers will celebrate their 800th Jubilee as the Canons Regular of the Order of the Holy Cross of St. Augustine, the order’s full canonical title.
In the spring of 1189, as a young student, Theodore accompanied his bishop on a crusade to the Holy Land, and then returned to Liege to become a canon of the Cathedral of Lambert there.
On the road between his ancestral home of Celles and the city of Liege is the city of Huy. There one evening in August 1066, a mysterious and miraculous light had appeared in the wooded area outside the walls of Huy.
The local people gave the place the name of Clairlieu (place of light). The bishop ordered a field chapel, named the Chapel of St. Theobald, to be built in memory of the apparition.
At a later date, Blessed Theodore was given use of the chapel. With four companions, he developed a monastic community. He subsequently founded the Crosiers, following the Rule of St. Augustine.
When the Crosiers came to the United States, they brought the veneration of St. Odilia, who is their patron saint. In the rear of the chapel, where a baptistery would normally have been placed, the Shrine of St. Odilia was established.
At the center of the shrine, behind a metal grille, is a statue of Odilia, the daughter of a powerful ruler in Britain who was martyred in the year 304. Beneath her statue in a green marble reliquary is believed to be one of her arm bones. Periodically, the bone is dipped into blessed water. That water is then placed into small containers and made available to the faithful.
On each side of the statue are other relics, which are used to bless those who come for healing.
In front of the altar, which holds the statue and relics, is a copy of the original reliquary of St. Odilia that was made in the year 1292. Of interest are the pictures of the soldiers martyring her and her companions — the soldiers are painted with the faces of pigs. The present chapel in Onamia was built in 1950, replacing the original. Until 1989, when the Crosiers closed their seminary because of a drop in enrollment, the chapel served as a seminary chapel. The chapel has continued to serve as the parish church for the community of Onamia.
The history of the Crosier Order and the story of St. Odilia, whose motto was “I Have Chosen the Cross,” have been captured visually in a number of richly colored stained-glass windows that are the work of Robert Pinart and the Rambusch Company of New York.
Her story begins in the year 300, when she and 10 other virgins set out from England on a pilgrimage to the East. By accident, their ship sailed up the Rhine River. Captured by soldiers, the 11 virgins were taken to Cologne, Germany, where they were martyred.
In 1287, St. Odilia appeared to Crosier Brother John of Eppa at the Crosier monastery in Paris. She explained that God had commanded her to be the protectress of the order.
She also explained that her relics could be found under a pear tree in the garden of Arnulph in Cologne. When Brother John and a confrere dug as directed, they found her relics. The archbishop of Cologne also was present to witness the findings.
Odilia also directed Brother John to take her bones to the motherhouse of the Crosiers at Huy in Belgium. She is known as one of the companions of St. Ursula. The feast of St. Ursula and companions is celebrated on Oct. 21, but the Crosiers celebrate the feast of St. Odilia on July 18 because this is the date when her relics arrived at the central priory in Huy in 1287.
One of the relics’ stops was at a Cistercian convent. A sister who suffered from a disease of the eyes touched the relics and was cured. Since then, St. Odilia has been the patron saint of those with bodily afflictions and, more specifically, with eye problems.
Though her relics were thought lost during the French Revolution, a Crosier priest had managed to escape with them, and, at a later date, the relics were discovered in a church in Kerniel, Belgium. The relics were returned to the Crosiers in the year 1949 and were taken in solemn procession to the Crosier monastery at Diest, Belgium.
How her devotion — and part of the relics — spread to the New World is a story of the enduring strength of the faith.
Planning Your Visit:
Masses for Sundays are on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 10 a.m. during the winter months and at 8 and 10 a.m. during the summer months. Weekday Mass is at 8 a.m. Confessions are Saturdays at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
There are novenas in honor of St. Odilia, beginning on the 5th and 17th of each month, and the national novena is held from July 10-July 18. In July, the Crosiers offer a healing retreat focusing on the saint.
From the Twin Cities Airport, take I-494 West. Exit on to I-94 West. At Rogers, take Highway 101 North. At Elk River, 101 becomes state Highway 169. Continue north on 169 until you reach the Onamia exit. Take a left on to state Highway 27. The shrine is on the right near Lake Onamia at 104 Crosier Drive North. National Catholic Register