Keeping an open mind and a flexible schedule while traveling can result in interesting finds. Traveling along Route 80 in Nebraska, one can see a glass church not far from the highway. After leaving the highway at exit 432, the pilgrimage began (the GPS was not very helpful in navigating detours due to roadwork) to see this beautiful structure up close and learn about its history. A Catholic church, it is open to people of all faiths to recharge and reflect or simply soak in the natural beauty and calming atmosphere.
The Holy Family Shrine in Gretna, Nebraska serves as a refuge for travelers to rest and embrace the quiet and solitude of the natural surroundings. Sitting on 23 acres overlooking the Platte Valley, the entrance to the church is through the underground Visitor’s Center which has been built into the hill. A metal sculpture that represents Christ’s shroud immediately attracts attention. Water falls from the sculpture into a pool that then makes its way out of the building, across the stone path to and through the church.
The church itself is constructed mostly of Western Red Cedar and glass and sits upon a limestone slab. The simple yet complex design took a three-person carpenter crew over two and a half years to build. Inside, the stream of water continues along the aisles and to the altar where an image of the Holy Family is etched in a 16 by 8 foot single pane of glass. Visible outside, beyond the altar, is a 40-foot tall crucifix constructed of stainless steel tubing and plate, with an 8-foot tall bronze figure of Christ.
The church’s beauty is in its simplicity. Though the design is by necessity complex, the effect is simple and airy. The arched roof soars to 45 feet at its peak and the glass walls bring the outdoors inside.
The story of the church’s origin is one of divine inspiration. Strangers, each with a similar vision, came together in 1997 to plan and build the church. Undeterred by a windstorm that destroyed their first attempt in 2000, the team persevered and the shrine opened to the public in 2002. Signs in the Visitor Center explain the inspiration for building the church as well as the symbolism in design choices. The building also has meeting space, a gift shop and restrooms. Native plants surround both buildings and a path allows visitors to follow the Stations of the Cross through a field down the hill.
People generally think of highways as simply a way to get from Point A to Point B. Rest stops are typically generic and utilitarian with little thought to aesthetics. In many cases they are not “restful” at all. In a world that often moves too fast, this is one stop that serves to remind us to slow down and reflect. Though it is not an easy-on-easy-off stop, the restorative benefits are well worth the trip.
Note: The church is open to visitors from 10-5 Monday to Saturday and 12-5 on Sunday.