Our Lady of Guadalupe travels Wisconsin roads Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Tom Michele, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, Dec. 08, 2011 -- 12:00 AM

People approach and relax by the 25-foot tall statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church at Sauk Junction on the Southern Wisconsin Sandhouse Crew Railroad. (Photo courtesy Tom Michele)

MADISON -- Our Lady of Guadalupe does not just stand as a statue in a church, as a painting on a church or home wall, or as an art image on a book page. The Patroness of the Americas also travels on roads throughout the Madison Diocese.

Specifically, Our Lady is seen off Hwy. 69 in the city of Monroe, along the Madison Beltline at the Alliant Energy Center, along Highway 92 in the village of Brooklyn. A 25-foot statue is also located in the side yard of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, in Madison.

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is December 12, and St. Juan Diego’s is December 9. Two of the three days the Blessed Virgin appeared in 1531 on Tepayac Hill near what is now Mexico City.

Special ‘appearances’

Our Lady can also be seen along the railroad tracks as part of my exhibit with the Southern Wisconsin Sandhouse Crew, an HO Scale model railroad club with its membership centered in the Madison area.

The club exhibits at railroad shows in Monroe on a weekend in mid-September, in Madison the second weekend in February, and in Brooklyn in mid-April.

Spectators can find the Lady of the Americas greeting the freight train crews, the passenger trains, and visitors to the three model railroad shows.

Exhibited starting in 2006

The shrine and church scene is one of the exhibit’s primary scenes on the eight-feet long, 30-inch wide Sauk Junction, the church, train depot, rail yard, and veterans monument that make up my HO scale model railroad module.

The Sandhouse Crew exhibits its 15-feet wide, and up to 61-feet long layout at the annual train shows.

They have shown at the shows yearly since starting in 2006, and my Sauk Junction with Guadalupe has been part at each show. I plan to continue as part of the exhibit in 2012, beginning with the Madison show on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18 and 19, at the Alliant Energy Center.

Detailed and handcrafted

Part of my model railroad version of the Guadalupe story has a three and one-half inch hand-carved and painted wooden statue of Our Lady, beside a rural country church, and at the foot of a 12-inch bluff in the style of Devil’s Lake State Park’s Devil’s Doorway.

A three and one-quarter inch crucifix tops the bluff. Three-quarter inch high people figures abound throughout the scene.

With HO scale model railroading, that statue of Our Lady would be 25-feet high in real life, the bluff 42 feet and the crucifix 23 feet. HO scale is 1/87th of real life.

The scene is complimented with a hexagonal retreat house-conference center, in the style of the Octagon House in Watertown, my hometown and where I grew up at St. Bernard Parish.

Sandhouse Crew scene

I constructed my Sandhouse Crew scene while working at the Baraboo newspaper. I continue to operate with the Sandhouse Crew, which includes members from Madison, Beloit, Evansville, Baraboo, Reedsburg, Mount Horeb, Sun Prairie, Middleton, Fitchburg, and Monticello.

The Sauk Junction name was chosen from Sauk County, the county seat in Baraboo. Much of the enjoyment of model railroading is taking actual scenes, situations, places, names, and weaving them into whatever the modeler wants, be it exactly like the original, or anywhere along the line, to totally different.

Grass, shrubs, trees, parking lot with vehicles, and a painted background to further realistically enhance the “model” scene which includes Mother Mary’s appearance and message.

The Guadalupe statue is set on a pedestal of cut stone, with lichen trimmed to have particular branches poking above the greenery, with those tips painted red to “model” the Castilian roses Our Lady arranged in Juan Diego’s tilma and gave to Bishop Juan de Zumarraga.

Show exhibits 40 layouts

As at all of the model train show layouts, there are about 40 club layouts at the Madison show. Club members run trains around the loops of the entire layout. Trains are of most every variety in United States railroad history, steam engines to present day diesel locomotives.

Freight trains of every variety, coal, corn, general merchandise, iron ore, and petroleum products such as ethanol are seen passing by. There are passenger trains of former railroad history through present day Amtrak.

Each club member constructs, sets up, and operates his or her own module scene, and these vary as the members present different scenes, depots, rail yards, rail-served industries, town businesses, homes, rural scenes, mountains with tunnels, and simple river scenes.

Sharing Our Lady’s message

I chose the Guadalupe scene for my module to present the Guadalupe story and Our Lady’s message. I want to remind or introduce the story to visitors at the train shows in a small, simple, yet definitive way, and to present the word of God, that Jesus urges every person to do.

Our Lady visited Mexico 480 years ago, but the Guadalupe story says she gives her love, her mercy, and her care to anyone who needs it, and brings her Son, Jesus Christ, to everyone who receives him.

The Guadalupe story tells of Our Lady saying to Juan Diego, “I desire a chapel in this place where your people may experience my compassion. I will console them and they will be at peace.” A model chapel now stands at Sauk Junction on the Southern Wisconsin Sandhouse Crew Railroad.

For more information on upcoming railroad shows, visit:

Tom Michele lives in Tomah, where he works at Fort McCoy as a photojournalist at the public affairs office, and where he is a member of St. Mary Parish.

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