A peaceful place of beauty and comfort.
Situated on 23-acres overlooking the Platte Valley, along Interstate 80 between Omaha and Lincoln, is a wood and glass structure that many people have wondered — what is it? This common curiosity is what brings more than 25,000 people each year to visit the Holy Family Shrine, a place where all are welcome to find relaxation, comfort, peace, and solitude in a divine setting.
Like most of life’s journeys, creating, developing, and building the Shrine followed a varied path. Its four founders shared a vision for a space where travelers could stop, similar to other shrines built around the country. After an anonymous donor gave funds to purchase the land and build the structure, architects were hired to design it, inspired by the works of renowned architect Fay Jones, who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and designed the Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas.
Deacon David Christensen, who gives tours of the Shrine, schedules retreats, concerts, and other events, said Holy Family is a place where people of all faiths can come and be in a private setting. “It’s a place for people to just be with the Lord,” he said. The founders were all of Catholic Faith, and a Catholic mass is held in the chapel every Saturday morning at 10:00 am. But it’s not a parish—there is no priest—so weddings, funerals, and baptisms aren’t allowed. “Celebrating anniversaries or holding memorial masses are welcomed,” Christensen said.
The Shrine consists of the chapel and a visitor center. Guests enter the visitor center through an entrance carved out of the side of a hill to resemble Christ’s tomb. Inside they are greeted by a spiraling sculpture from the lit ceiling, which represents Christ’s shroud found in the tomb. Underneath is a pool of water that creates a path leading outside where you’ll find a covered grotto on the way to the chapel. The water feature continues inside the chapel all the way to where it collects underneath the altar, its ripples gently echoing throughout the serene interior.
The Shrine took five years to complete due to its intricate design and labor-intensive construction. It was first built using only wood, but a windstorm blew it down during construction, so the next build included steel beams for reinforcement. The chapel’s entry façade is made of western red cedar and glass with upper trusses that interlace to resemble wheat blowing in a field. The floor is covered in hand-laid limestone blocks. Wooden pews, which can hold up to 130 people, are surrounded by glass walls the look upon the traditional Catholic altar. “It’s amazing to be in the chapel at night and see the stars,” Christensen said.
On the grounds outside the chapel there is a picnic area and additional benches at the base of the crucifix that towers in front of the Shrine. “Many people don’t realize this is a chapel, so we added the crucifix several years ago,” Christensen said. They are also adding life-size walking Stations of the Cross throughout the grounds. The first statue, Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, is finished, and as the Shrine receives donations, they will continue to add more.
Donations are necessary for the continued operation of the Holy Family Shrine. There is no charge to visit and they aren’t funded by government or religious organizations, so they rely solely on contributions. They conduct giving campaigns twice a year, at Christmas and again in the spring, but funding is needed year round.
Matt Sakowski is the full-time groundskeeper and performs maintenance, such as sanding and resealing the pews, flooring, and seasonal landscaping. He’s also leading a project to find help restoring fourteen wood and metal donated plaques, depicting the Stations of the Cross that will hang on the chapel walls when finished.
In addition to donations, the Shrine relies on more than 30 volunteers to help with a number of daily aspects from greeters to gift shop workers. Bus tours, elementary school retreats, and scout troops all come to visit. “The volunteers are the best part,” Sakowski said. “It’s amazing the amount of time they give, and the Shrine couldn’t survive without it. Their individual stories are also touching, and what they experience while here is what inspires others to come and visit for themselves.”
The Holy Shrine relies on donations each year, you can donate by visiting www.HFSGretna.org to read more about the Shrine and donate today.