The History of Dickeyville Grotto
Fr. Mathius Wernerus
The story of Dickeyville Grotto begins with a young boy in Germany. Mathias Wernerus was born in the village of Kettenis in 1873. He had a strong desire to move to America in order to study for the priesthood. This dream became a reality, and in 1904 Mathias crossed the Atlantic to began his studies at the St. Francis seminary in Wisconsin.
Three years later Mathias Wernerus was ordained a priest. He did not speak much English and began by ministering to parishes of predominantly German speaking immigrants. In 1918, Fr. Wernerus was assigned to Holy Ghost Parish in Dickeyville, Wisconsin. This would be his home for the remaining thirteen years of his life.
Two years after his move to Dickeyville, Fr. Wernerus took it upon himself to create a small Shrine dedicated to the Most Holy Eucharist behind the church. He used whatever materials were available, including stone from local caves, chunks of glass, bits of metal, ceramics, and broken dishes. Once this first shrine was completed, Fr. Wernerus then began work on a large artificial cave that would house the Shrine of Christ the King. Thousands of materials that originated across the globe were used in creating this large shrine.
Fr. Wernerus wasn’t finished yet. The complex was expanded to include a large Crucifixion scene in the adjoining cemetery. This would include a memorial to the soldiers from the local community who had lost their lives in the First World War. This theme of devotion to one’s country was further made manifest through the creation of a large patriotic shrine next to the parish rectory.
These construction projects lasted between 1920-1930. The grotto complex was officially dedicated on September 14, 1930. Regrettably, Father Wernerus died one year later of pneumonia.
Dickeyville Grotto remained undisturbed for decades after Father Wernerus’ death. To honor his legacy, two new additions were created. The first was a set of Stations of the Cross in 1964. The other section was a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in 1998.