Summer spirituality in Western Washington's great outdoors

Hikers pass by one of the Stations of the Cross during their half-mile ascent to the Cross of Divine Mercy on a Mossyrock hilltop. Photo: Karie Hamilton Hikers pass by one of the Stations of the Cross during their half-mile ascent to the Cross of Divine Mercy on a Mossyrock hilltop. Photo: Karie Hamilton
Get in touch with God in special outdoor spaces

We Northwesterners like to get out and enjoy our fleeting summers as much as possible, whether it’s hiking, biking, strolling or cruising with the top down.

And it’s easy to make faith a part of your next expedition out in God’s creation.

Looking for a hike with meaning and a great view? Check out the Stations of the Cross trail that ends with a huge cross overlooking the Klickitat Prairie in Lewis County.

Want to bicycle or drive through a verdant countryside? Head to the Skagit Valley, where you can enjoy the scenery and stop to pray the rosary at 10 shrines along the way.

If walking is more your speed, stroll through a wooded meditation park near Tacoma and soak up the serenity of its grotto.

This summer, tread where other people of faith have prayed and reflected, and leave your own spiritual footprints for others to follow.

Trek to a sky-high cross

Along Highway 12 east of Interstate 5, a white cross some 70 feet tall crowns a Mossyrock hilltop.

The 47,000-pound Cross of Divine Mercy was erected by Henry “Hank” and Hildegarde DeGoede, who started a successful bulb and greenhouse company in the small community. In their later years, the couple wanted to do something to “give thanks and glory to God for all the blessings they had received in their lives and marriage,” according to the website of the family business, DeGoede Bulb Farm and Gardens.

The couple decided to build a prayer chapel and a cross on the hill above it, with a hiking trail linking the two. The Stations of the Cross line the steep, wooded trail, with benches along the way for rest and reflection.

The DeGoedes (members of St. Yves Mission in nearby Harmony) were inspired to build the cross after visiting Medjugorje, where apparitions of Mary were reported beginning in 1981. The couple envisioned a cross like the one they saw there on Mount Krizevac, erected by the local parish in 1933–34.

The Mossyrock cross, built of concrete in 1996 and illuminated at night, is engraved at its base with the words of Jesus from Matthew 18:21–22 — that we must forgive “seventy times seven.” And so the cross, which Hank considered a sign of forgiveness, includes many “sevens.” For instance, the foundation is 7 feet deep and 7 feet square, and the cross sits on a platform reached by seven steps, representing the seven sorrows of Mary.

Those who can’t make the trek all the way up to the cross can hike some of the stations or stop at the base of the hill for prayer inside the Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, where a photo of Hank and Hildegarde hangs in the vestibule.

Outside the chapel is the Memorial and Healing Garden, added after Hank’s death in 2012. “It is dedicated to the unborn and those suffering from abortion,” said Bob DeGoede, one of the couple’s sons. The names of babies lost to abortion are inscribed on a plaque, and people can anonymously have a child’s name added. There is no charge, Bob said — just write the baby’s name and a prayer on a piece of paper and drop it into the box provided in the garden.

As the DeGoede website says, “We invite anyone seeking peace and time in prayer and meditation to come and enjoy the dream of Henry and Hildegarde and their dedication to the mercy of our loving Father in Heaven.”

The chapel, trail and cross are open to the public year-round. Access is via a small tunnel under Highway 12; follow signs from the DeGoede retail shop, 409 Mossyrock Road W. Read more at www.degoedebulb.com/chapel.

meditation park at St. John Bosco Lakewood
John Wallace visits the Meditation Park at St. John Bosco Parish in Lakewood, which offers a variety of shrines for prayer and reflection. Photo: Karie Hamilton


Peace and prayer in Meditation Park

For 20 years, people in the Tacoma area have been drawn to the Meditation Park at St. John Bosco Parish in Lakewood.

The 1.3-acre park began in 1996 as the vision of parishioner Jim Senko, after an expansion project on the 10-acre parish campus. With construction complete, Senko was working with a crew of 12 federal inmates to clean up the property. “We got to this parcel and God stopped me. He said, ‘Jim, I want you to do something for me,’” Senko recalled.

Later, he thought the peaceful, wooded parcel would make “a beautiful Stations of the Cross area.” With the help of the Knights of Columbus, other parishioners and neighbors, plans to develop the park took off.

They created a rustic, serene, native-wooded environment with trails and shrines to encourage meditation, prayer and worship. Besides the Stations of the Cross, there are shrines to Mary, the Holy Family, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua and St. John Bosco. You’ll also find a memorial to the unborn, a peace garden and a metal entry arch, the “Gateway to Heaven,” in memory of longtime pastor Father Oliver Hightower, who died in 2013.

A small grotto honoring Our Lady of Lourdes, designed by late parishioner Mike Vensas, features a 12-foot-high, cave-like dome that shelters statues of Mary and a kneeling Bernadette, and a small waterfall. Vensas “put his heart and soul into it,” Senko said. Along with shrines to the Crucified Lord and Our Sorrowful Mother, the grotto area has a marble-topped altar and seating for 100 (Mass is said there occasionally).

Rather than a garden where the plants are the focus, the flora in Meditation Park is intended to create a peaceful setting where people can encounter God, said Paul Mernaugh, a parishioner who has been in charge of maintaining the park for 15 years. “It’s really for the glory of God,” he said.

Meditation Park has been a spot for so much prayer that, when visiting, “our spiritual senses should pick up that this is a place that people pray,” Mernaugh said, explaining the concept of spiritual footprints. “When you bring yourself into the park and you encounter Jesus in the park, that gets left there, and it’s still there somehow.”

Meditation Park is open year-round during daylight hours. It’s located on the southwest corner of the St. John Bosco Parish campus, 10508 112th St. S.W., Lakewood.

Read more at stjbosco.org/medita.

woman prays at Skagit Valley Mary shrine
A decade of Marian shrines in the Skagit Valley. Photo: Janis Olson


Travel the rosary route

It all started with a forgotten statue of Mary, discovered underneath brush and trash during a work party at La Conner’s Sacred Heart Church. At the urging of parish friends, Peter Andriesen cleaned up the statue and built a wooden shrine for it, placing it between the church and the parish hall.

Not long afterward, Andriesen was having breakfast with his regular group after Friday Mass. “We weren’t even talking about this statue,” he recalled, when “I was kind of hit by this feeling, like: Build the rest of it.”

He couldn’t shake that feeling, and so began the plan to erect nine more shrines. Statues of Mary were purchased online, and “a bunch of the guys and myself built and painted and poured concrete and built brick bases for them and got permission from people around the valley” to locate the shrines on private property, Andriesen said.

“We spread them all over the valley, from the [Swinomish] Reservation to Mount Vernon.”

The idea, he explained, was a route where people could pray a decade of the rosary by driving or bicycling through the area, stopping at each shrine to say one Hail Mary. “You see the valley, you see the farms, you see all of that, and then you pray the rosary,” he said.

After three years, the route was completed in spring 2016 with installation of the final statue, of Jesus, at Sacred Heart Church. The statue serves as the starting point, where rosary travelers can pray the Our Father before heading off to the 10 Marian shrines. People can choose their own rosary routes, and some choose to pray an entire decade or full rosary at a single shrine.

To get the word out to the broader community, some friends are putting together an updated brochure (with safety tips for pausing along the road), and a website is planned, Andriesen said. But people have already been stopping and praying at the shrines — arriving by car, bicycle or even delivery truck. Some leave flowers and others leave money, which is gathered up and donated to Sacred Heart Parish.

The project, Andriesen said, is “probably my mother’s doing. She always wanted me to say the rosary.”

See the map at NWCatholic.org/rosaryroute.

Other spiritual outdoor places

Peace Garden and Labyrinth
Our Lady of Guadalupe Church
7000 35th Ave. S.W., Seattle

Stations of the Cross
St. Martin’s University
5000 Abbey Way S.E., Lacey

Trinity Garden
Holy Innocents Church
26526 N.E. Cherry Valley Road, Duvall

This story originally ran in Northwest Catholic's July/August 2017 print edition under the title "Spiritual footprints."

Jean Parietti

Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at jean.parietti@seattlearch.org.