The United States government owned the land until 1855, and the hill was known as “Government Hill” for surveying work was done there. Forty acres were purchased by Fr. Paulhuber, from Salzburg, Austria.
The first resident on the hill was a hermit named Francois Soubrio. Around 1862, an area farmer found him living on the hill. Soubrio had heard about the hill when he was working as an assistant to a retired professor in Quebec, Canada. He had found an old French diary and map dated 1676 showing a cone-shaped mountain in Wisconsin. The diary described how the author placed a stone altar, raised a cross, and dedicated the hill to Jesus‘s mother Mary. The diary account corresponds with Jesuit missionary work in the area between 1673 and 1679.
The name “Holy Hill” was first given to the place by Irish settlers in the area. Father George Strickner dedicated a log chapel as the first Shrine of Mary, Help of Christians on May 24, 1863. A set of wooden crosses were placed for the Stations of the Cross in 1875. In the winter of 1879, Fr. Raess sent a proposal to Archbishop John Henni to construct a new shrine to Mary. Construction began that spring. Pilgrims began flocking to the shrine, and it was decided that a religious order should administer the shrine. A group of Discalced Carmelites came from Bavaria at the invitation of Archbishop Sebastian Messmer, and the Shrine of Mary was put under their care on June 26, 1906. The building now known as the Old Monastery Inn and Retreat Center was completed in 1920. The second shrine was removed in 1925 so that a third shrine could be built. The cornerstone of the third and present shrine was placed by Archbishop Messmer on August 22, 1926. The present church was completed and consecrated in 1931.
Another tradition describes a German priest who was recreant to his vows who came to America for penance. He found a reference to the hill in Marquette’s diary and decided to take a pilgrimage. He became ill in Chicago, and was paralyzed. He reportedly found the hill, crawled to the summit on his hands, and was cured of his paralysis.”
As the rain stopped and a beautiful sunset was starting to peek through the clouds, Jackson, the alligator-tooth necklace wearing carnie and his sidekick were kind enough to make me a cup of coffee and share a few carnival stories with me.