Virgin of the Poor Shrine has offered a place for prayer for 40 years
By Emily Booker
When people think of making a pilgrimage to a Marian shrine, they often think of a long journey to France, Mexico, or Portugal.
But pilgrims can find a place of solace under the mantle of Mary right here in the Diocese of Knoxville at the Virgin of the Poor Shrine in New Hope, Tenn., which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
So, what is the devotion to the Virgin of the Poor, and how did the shrine get built in rural Marion County?
It starts with a generous donation of 600 acres of farmland overlooking the Tennessee River, willed to the Catholic Church by Lewis Duncan.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church in South Pittsburg was nearby. The small mission parish relied on priests from Chattanooga to come celebrate Mass.
In 1970, the mission was elevated to an independent parish, and two Benedictine priests from St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana arrived in Marion County at the Bishop of Nashville’s invitation (at the time, East Tennessee was still part of the Diocese of Nashville).
The priests served at Our Lady of Lourdes and contemplated what to do with the farm.
Father Pascal Boland, OSB, a monk from St. Meinrad and a scholar of Marion theology, suggested a shrine to the Virgin of the Poor.
In 1933, the Virgin Mary appeared to an 11-year-old girl, Mariette Beco, in Banneux, Belgium. Over two months, she appeared eight times, describing herself as the “Virgin of the Poor.”
During one of these apparitions, the Virgin Mary pointed to the nearby spring and declared, “This spring is reserved for me…to alleviate suffering.” A chapel was built on the site, and pilgrims traveled to pray and visit the holy spring.
When Father Boland saw the property in New Hope, he thought it resembled Banneux, Belgium. It was decided to build a duplicate shrine on the land.
Father Basil Mattingly, OSB, who was serving as pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, first built a small wooden chapel, but it burned down. The current stone chapel was built by Father Mattingly with help from St. Meinrad monks and local parishioners. It was the first American shrine built in response to the apparitions in Banneux.
The dedication of the Virgin of the Poor Shrine and its chapel was celebrated by Bishop James D. Niedergeses of Nashville on Oct. 24, 1982.
For forty years, this small shrine off the beaten path has offered a place for quiet contemplation and prayer for the pilgrims who venture there.
A mosaic on the outside of the chapel depicts the appearance of the Virgin Mary to Mariette Beco. An interior mosaic depicts the moment when Christ gives St. John, and thus the Church, his Mother. In the 1990s, Stations of the Cross and a walk-around rosary were added.
The statue of Our Lady of the Poor is particularly significant.
Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Elke Abate purchased a statue in Banneux and donated it to the New Hope shrine. In 1993, the statue was personally delivered and blessed by Father Wim Geelan, the rector of the Banneux shrine. He brought water from the Banneux spring for the blessing.
The Virgin of the Poor is not just for those poor in material resources but the poor in health, poor in spirit, and poor in soul. After 40 years, the shrine in New Hope continues to draw people seeking solace and reflection under Mary’s intercession.
Every Sunday in May and October, a Marian devotion is held at the shrine, including praying a rosary.
Interestingly, this Marian shrine is located in Marion County, just outside of Chattanooga, and is regularly visited by Diocese of Knoxville parishioners as well as visitors from outside the diocese.
Parishioners from the Diocese of Knoxville journeyed to the shrine in June 2020 to take part in a worldwide event encompassing Catholic churches from around the globe.
East Tennessee’s participation in the 11th annual Global Rosary Relay took place at the shrine, one of the few Roman Catholic shrines in the state.
Participants in the relay prayed the rosary to thank God for priests and to ask the Blessed Mother’s protection for priests. The annual relay was sponsored by the Worldpriest Global Apostolate.
Father Mark Scholz, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, and the parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes continue to care for the shrine and welcome pilgrims.
Anyone wanting more information about visiting the shrine or wanting to make a donation toward its maintenance can contact Our Lady of Lourdes Church, ourladyoflourdesparish.org, or (423) 837-7068.