Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Patroness for a Priest

"Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you looking for?" She thought it was the gardener and said to him,"Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him."  Jesus said to her, "Mary!"  She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni," which means Teacher.  Jesus said to her, "Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.  But go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord," and then reported what he told her." ~John 20:15-18

A first priestly blessing for my family

This past weekend my family was graced and blessed to attend a beautiful Holy Hour Vigil of Prayer, an Ordination Mass and the First Mass of Fr. John Baumgardner.  The Ordination Mass happened to fall on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene.

At the beautiful holy hour vigil held at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, the priest spoke to a full chapel about the Magdalene and how she will be the special patroness for Fr. John.  He said, "As Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to cling to Him, so we, too, must not cling to Fr. John.  We must let him go in freedom to serve the Lord as he has been called.  Neither his family nor any future parishioners he may come to know should cling, so that he may be open to love all.  And this is hard for a priest, too.  But out of obedience the priest must go where he is sent."

In his homily at the ordination, Archbishop Listecki also spoke of Mary Magdalene.  He said that she possessed two essential characteristics:  faith and love.  Because she had confidence in the person of Jesus she was faithful at the foot of the cross and her love for him opened her eyes upon hearing her name spoken in a loving manner.

Then, the Archbishop addressed the ordinand directly:  "John, I know the same voice called your name.  His invitation, framed in love, was to join the priesthood and become an apostle announcing His life, death and resurrection which is the only hope."  

Holy Father, May Fr. John Baumgardner be blessed with a long and holy priesthood under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene!  May she guide his every step with her faithful love.  May he ever hear the voice of Jesus calling his name and leading him along the path to sanctity as he, himself,  leads so many souls along that same path.  Amen.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Abandoned St. Ambrose Church in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin

St. Ambrose church and monastery in St. Nazianz, Wisconsin
There's something mysteriously romantic about old, abandoned buildings, and when that building happens to be a Catholic Church, the mystery and romance increase.   So many questions come to mind:  Who put their heart and soul into building it?  How many thousands of faithful worshiped here, their prayers embedded within the walls like the smell of incense? How is it that this holy space is no longer used for worship?  How many hearts were broken when the decision was made to close the church and no longer use it for the honor and glory of God?  How could it be put to use today? These questions and more came to mind when my family and I recently visited St. Nazianz, Wisconsin and were able to venture inside the abandoned St. Ambrose Church on the old Salvatorian Seminary grounds.
Fr. Ambrose Oschwald
St. Nazianz in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin was founded in 1854 by Fr. Ambrose Oschwald, a German immigrant who brought a group of lay faithful with him from Germany.  Together they lived a communal life and thrived in St. Nazianz (named for St. Gregory Nazianzen).  Fr. Oschwald died in 1873 and the community he built fell apart shortly afterward.  

The property was purchased by the Salvatorian Fathers in 1896, fifteen years after the order was founded in Italy.  The Salvatorians built a beautiful seminary that was very successful.  The property was continually built up through the 1920's and 30's to accommodate all of the seminarians who studied there.  Then, in 1968 with enrollment at an all-time low, the seminary was converted to JFK Prep School, named for our only Catholic President.  By 1982 enrollment at the  high school was dwindling and the school closed.  Unfortunately, all of the empty buildings were severely damaged by vandals throughout the years, and stories of ghosts haunting the building served as encouragement for curious youth to explore the property, now in dangerous condition due to the excessive vandalism.

The Seminary Gate

Entrance to the Seminary/JFK Prep
In 2008 the property was purchased by United Ministries which hopes to create a Christian summer camp program for troubled youths.  To raise funds, United Ministries has opened a thrift store in the former gymnasium.

Having grown up in Manitowoc I was familiar with St. Nazianz but had never actually been there and only remembered vague stories about JFK Prep which closed two years before I graduated from high school. Nostalgia for my youthful days in the area of my hometown piqued my curiosity about this Catholic space with such an interesting history and so I was eager to visit.

On the day we arrived we happened to be the only visitors to the property and the only shoppers in the thrift store.  After purchasing a few trinkets we noticed that the doors to St. Ambrose Church were open.  A caretaker on the grounds told us that the church is open every day until 4 pm so those who want to stop inside and pray may do so.  What we found inside the church was heartbreaking to see. A holy worship space that had obviously been stunningly beautiful at one time, and which still retained much of its beauty despite its long history of neglect, was in ruins.  We were fascinated as we marveled at the beauty that still existed here and mourned what was no more.  

The cornerstone of St. Ambrose Church

An open door inviting us inside.
Notice the tree branch growing underneath the statue of St. Ambrose?

The pews were all covered with tarps

Still beautiful even though it's crumbling

The Agony in the Garden

St. Michael the Archangel has a hole in his armor

I have these same pictures in my living room!  They were heirlooms from my parents and used to enthrone my family and home to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I was so surprised to find these here!

We happened to visit on the Feast of St. Bonaventure

Leaving the church we wandered to the back of the property and found a very well-maintained cemetery for the Salvatorian Fathers.  Some of the grave markers were dated as recently as last year. Just behind the cemetery we discovered the quaint little Loreto Shrine Chapel, the original church of Fr. Oschwald's community which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and is maintained by the St Nazianz Historical Society.

Part of the cemetery of Salvatorian Priests some buried here as recently as this past year.

Mausoleum burial place of Fr. Ambrose Oschwald

Loreto Chapel
Inside the Loreto Chapel.
Inside the Loreto Chapel

Former Station of the Cross
The only Station of the Cross that was still standing

Close up, so beautiful!

Does that say Boss on the bottom of the statue?  The red sunlight rays are like Divine Mercy.

Today, St. Gregory Parish, not too far from the seminary, is the current church for St. Nazianz' Catholic Community, and a beautiful Orthodox monastery, Holy Resurrection, can also be found in St. Nazianz.

St. Gregory Parish

St. Gregory

St. Gregory

The Sacred Heart of Jesus at St. Gregory

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Holy Fire

I recently heard of an astonishing religious experience that has been occurring regularly for thousands of years.  I'm still scratching my head over how I  had never before heard of this astounding occurrence but am so grateful to now be in the loop.

Each year on Holy Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Orthodox Patriarch enters the tomb of Christ where a mysterious fire ignites from the slab of the tomb and quickly is shared among the thousands of faithful both in and outside of the church.  The church becomes alive with fire, excitement and joy! The flame is said to be warm, not hot, for the first thirty-three minutes (one minute for each year of Christ's life on earth).  Men are shown holding the fire directly in their faces and yet their beards don't scorch.  But, after thirty-three minutes the fire becomes naturally hot like any other fire.  

But here's something even more miraculous.  The fire isn't contained in the church building alone but it's shared around the world asking only for prayers for peace in Jerusalem in return.  For the first time this year it came to America on board a Russian Airline. There is a facebook page, Come Receive the Holy Fire!, that tracks the flames arrival in each destination, whether that be a church or a private home.  Those posting share pictures and practical details such as how to safely travel with the fire and how to keep it burning in the home. The excitement of those posting the receipt of the Fire is palpable.  This is truly a grace-filled gift of faith!

While there is much speculation that this annual ancient fire is a fraud and the fire could be produced with phosphorus, I believe that anything that comes from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, from the very place where Jesus was buried and rose from the dead, and is shared with the world, is miraculous in itself.  

When my friend, Mary Anne, and her daughter Evanka, shared facebook posts about the Holy Fire that they had received from Abouna Moses, a monk at Holy Resurrection Monastery in St. Nazainz, Wisconsin, I was enthralled and eager to learn more about it.  Mary Anne generously offered to share the flame with us so my daughter, Mary and I, took her up on that offer and drove out to her house where we very carefully transferred the fire in a lantern and in a Seven Day Our Lady of Guadalupe Candle that Mary Anne shared with us.  I knew that I would only be able to keep the fire burning for that one evening in my home and would need to snuff it out for safety before bedtime so I decided to light every candle I had in the house with the Holy Fire.  Now each time I re-light my candles I will remember that the wicks had burned with the Holy Fire and I will enjoy the graces all over again. 

Imagine!  Flames from the tomb of Christ burning in my humble home!  If that isn't a miracle I don't know what is! 

My family used this opportunity of having the Holy Fire in our home to relight our children's baptism candles and to renew our baptismal vows with this special Easter Holy Fire.  Although not all of our children could be there, we lit all of their candles and prayed for them just as we did at their baptism.  We found a beautiful handout with scripture readings, prayers and vows tucked inside each candle box and used those for our prayer.

I am so filled with excitement and joy over this grace-filled blessing from God.  What a wonderful opportunity to learn something new, to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to grow more deeply into the faith!  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

I highly recommend that you spend a few minutes reading about and watching a video of the Holy Fire.  You will be entranced!  It is so amazing!  Perhaps you can search out a source of the Holy Fire where you live and can bring the Flame to your own home.  You can learn more about the Holy Fire at these links:




Here's the prayer format that we used for our Baptismal Vow Renewal:
A Renewal Celebration of Baptismal Vows
A Renewal Celebration of Baptismal Vows by Rev. Joseph Champlin

Prior to the actual renewal of baptismal vows, parents or godparents might read one or two biblical passages to remind participants of the meaning of baptism and of God’s presence through these inspired words.

Here are two excerpts which are commonly used at baptism:

A reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans:

Are you not aware that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life.  If we have been united with him through likeness to his death, so shall we be through a like resurrection. (Romans 6:3-5).

A reading from the Gospel according to Mark:

One of the scribes came up, and when he heard them arguing he realized how skillfully Jesus answered the.  He decided to ask him, “Which is the first of all the commandments”  

Jesus replied:  “This is the first:  ‘Hear, O Israel!  The Lord our God is Lord alone:  Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

This is the second:  ‘‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

There is no other commandment greater than these.”  The scribe said to him:  “Excellent teacher!  You are right in saying, ‘He is the One, there is no other than He.’  Yes,‘to love Him with all our heart, with all our thoughts and with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves’ is worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice.”  Jesus approved the insight of  this answer and told him, “You are not far from the reign of God.”  And no one had the courage to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)

After a period of silent reflection or group discussion on the readings, a parent or someone from the family next could explain the meaning of baptism for this child in these, or similar words, and lead all present in the renewal rite which follows.


Some time ago we presented N…. for baptism.  By water and the Holy Spirit he (she) received the gift of new life from God, who is love.  On our part we have made it our constant care to bring N...up in the practice of the faith.  We have tried to see that the divine life which God gave be kept from the poison of sin and might grow always stronger in N….’s heart.  We share a common faith, the faith of the Church, and it was in this faith N….was baptized. At that time we rejected sin and professed our faith in Christ Jesus.  Now that you, N...are older and your faith makes you ready to accept this responsibility, we ask you to renew the vows of your own baptism.  

Leader:  Do you reject sin, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children?

Child:  I do.

Leader:  Do you reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin?

Child:  I do.

Leader:  Do you believe in God, the Father almighty,, creator of heaven and earth?

Child:  I do.

Leader:  Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?

Child:  I do.

Leader:  Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?

Child:  I do.

Leader:  This is our faith.  This is the faith of  the Church.  We are proud to profess it, in Christ Jesus our Lord.

All:  Amen.

Leader:  You have renewed the vows of your baptism.  You are called a child of God, for so you are.  In confirmation you will receive the fullness of God’s spirit.  In holy communion you will share the banquet of Christ’s sacrifice calling God your Father in the midst of the Church.  In your name, all of us, sharing a common sonship, now pray together in the words our Lord gave us.

All:  Lord’s Prayer

Leader:  May God the almighty Father, who filled the world with joy by giving us the only Son, bless N...May he (she) grow to be more fully like Jesus Christ, our Lord.

All:  Amen.

Leader:  May almighty God, who gives life on earth and in heaven, bless the parents of N...May they always show their gratitude for the gift of life and  grace in N….by loving and caring for this child.

All:  Amen.

Leader:  May almighty God, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, generously bless all of us who are his faithful children.  May we always live as God’s people, and may the Lord bless all here present with his peace.

All:  Amen.

Leader:  May almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bless us.

All:  Amen.s

Thursday, February 23, 2017

St. Joseph, My Hero


O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.

This prayer is sometimes printed with the following information:  This prayer was found in the fifteenth year of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In 1505 it was sent from the Pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into battle. Whoever shall read this prayer or hear it or keep it about themselves, shall never die a sudden death, or be drowned, nor shall poison take effect of them; neither shall they fall into the hands of the enemy; or shall be burned in any fire, or shall be overpowered in battle. Say for nine mornings for anything you may desire. It has never been known to fail.

Image result for greenfield apartment building fire
photo credit: JS Online

In the middle of February I had been blessed to take a Monday off from work and planned on spending it with my daughter who was off from school that day.  I'm usually up and dressed by 5 am but since I had the day off I was enjoying a leisurely morning and was still lounging in my pajamas at 6:30 am when the phone rang.  My son, Joe, was on the other end and I listened, not quite believing what I was hearing, when he said, "Mom, my apartment is on fire and we're trapped on the balcony!"  I took a second or two to absorb the obvious panic is his voice as he shared this horrific news and then asked him if he had called 911, which he had. I told him I was on my way.  Mary and I quickly dressed and drove to Joe's apartment as fast as we safely could, praying all the way.

We had to park three blocks away because the street was closed by the police.  We ran most of those three blocks until I couldn't run anymore.  There were multiple fire trucks on the scene when we arrived.  We went to the back of the building where we expected to find Joe still on the balcony but all we found was a solitary police man.  My panic was evident and he reassured me that everyone had gotten out of the building safely and that they were all re-located to the apartment building next door.

the ladder in back is leaning on Joe's balcony

Tears of relief were flowing from everyone's eyes as we found Joe and his girlfriend, Cici, and embraced them.  We looked around and saw so many people looking completely dazed and many dogs and even a bird among the residents who had been displaced from their homes.  Joe had said that he woke up when he smelled smoke and then woke Cici.  They saw flames coming into their apartment door and the room was so smokey that they couldn't find the cats.  Had they not had the balcony to escape to I don't think they would have survived.  We were greatly relieved when the firefighters brought both of Cici's cats, one by one, safely back to her.  The cats were shaking badly and needed a little oxygen and anti-nausea medication at the vets, but both are fine.

What a blessing it was to be on the receiving end of other's generosity and kindness!  Joe and Cici were showered with support that will be of great assistance to them as they work to rebuild a home and replace all of their belongings.  But the greatest blessing of all was that they survived the fire physically unscathed.

I completely credit St. Joseph with saving their lives.  As we were driving home later that day  Mary said she was thinking about St. Joseph and how the angel woke him up so that he could take Mary and Jesus and escape from Herod to Egypt. She said she had a feeling that it was St. Joseph who woke Joey up so that he and Cici could escape the fire.  I didn't realize the powerful providence behind Mary's gut feeling that day.

The following week as I was waiting to pick Mary up from work, I pulled one of my prayer books out of my purse and found the Ancient Prayer to St. Joseph. I don't know why I even looked at that prayer, what brought me to that page out of all the pages in the book at that time.  Maybe it was St. Joseph who tapped me on the shoulder and said, "I want to show you something."  When Joe was still living at home he had this prayer taped to the wall by his bed and he prayed it every morning. But even if Joe might have forgotten about St. Joseph when he grew up and moved away, St. Joseph did not forget about him.  When I read all the way down to the last sentence below the prayer and saw "nor be burned in any fire"  I was stunned!  Mary was right! St. Joseph obviously has a love for this young man named after him, this young man who had a youthful devotion to his patron saint.  

I will be thanking St. Joseph for saving Joe's and Cici's lives for all of my days. He truly is powerful with God and a perfect patron for Joe!  I'd been neglecting St. Joseph and that prayer but I won't anymore!  He is officially my hero!

the stairs leading to their apartment after the fire

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mother and Child in Sea Glass

Working on this sea glass mosaic under the guidance of St. Mark and Our Lady brought me peaceful memories of warm and quiet days walking the beach to collect the bits of glass.  I'm pleased with how this turned out and am ready to begin another mosaic.  What a wonderful way to pray!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Year of St. Mark the Evangelist

Image result for getty images st. mark composing his gospel
Each January for the past few years I have enjoyed participating in Jennifer Fulwiler's Saint Name Generator where, after saying a short prayer I click a button and a saint comes forward to accompany me for the coming year. This year St. Mark the Evangelist is my prayerful companion.  I find it especially providential that the Gospel readings at daily Mass just happen to be from Mark so I have been paying extra close attention to them.  I've also spent the past month reading and reflecting upon the Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the four Gospels to be written, in my daily prayer time.  What a great way this has been to immerse myself in learning about my friendly saint and the Lord as well!

In researching St. Mark I found so many different stories and they all seemed to contradict each other. In the end I'm not sure what is really the truth of his life but will share what I found to be the most fascinating aspects about the saint.

St. Mark had traveled with Paul and Barnabas and was possibly a source of contention dividing the two in their evangelic travels.  In the end, all made peace and Mark was known to be a great help in spreading the good news of Christ.

St. Mark was a close friend and possibly a relative of St. Peter during the early years of Christianity, and it was from Peter that St. Mark learned about the life of Jesus.  St. Mark payed close attention to Peter's preaching and recorded everything that he learned from our first Pope, and that's where I feel that I just may have something in common with my 2017 patron.  Most of the blog posts that I share here are taken from my notes written while listening to moving homilies or talks given by great priests.  In addition, St. Mark is a patron of imprisoned people, so there's a connection with the title of this blog, too.

In St. Mark's Gospel he mentions a man with a water jug at whose house the disciples were to prepare the passover.  That house may have belonged to Mark's mother, Mary.  His Gospel also mentions a man who ran away naked from the Garden of Gethsemane. There is speculation that St. Mark may have been the man with the water jug and the man fleeing from the Garden.  He is also mentioned as having been present at the wedding at Cana where water was changed to wine.

St. Mark is identified with a lion because he begins his Gospel with St. John the Baptist described as a "voice crying out in the wilderness." St. Mark was martyred in 68 AD when he was dragged through the city of Alexandria for two days until he died.  His relics can be found in Alexandria and at St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice.  St. Mark's Feast Day is April 25th.

St. Mark is the patron saint of stained glass window makers, although I haven't been able to make a connection as to why that might be so other than the fact that he painted pictures with his words.  But with that patronage I've decided that this will be the year that I will work on making more sea glass mosaics under his guidance.  From the time I started collecting sea glass ten years ago I had always thought that I'd like to make a mosaic of the Virgin Mary but never thought I would be up to the task and had no idea about how to begin on my own.  So it must have been St. Mark's influence that caused me to discover a lovely mosaic of Mary and Jesus made by a woman from Helsinki that was shared in a sea glass group on facebook, and upon seeing it I knew that I, too, could piece together the same image.

My friend Christi of Lumen Christi Art who designed and helped me to make a Sea Glass Tree of Life mosaic two years ago had sent her Milwaukee Journal Sentinel entry for Christmas Artwork, the icon of "Mother of God of Tenderness," as a Christmas card this past year. Of the icon she wrote:  "Christ draws our attention to His mother and there is an additional detail of love where we see that Jesus' arm is around His mother's neck.  The little face tenderly pressed against His mother's face is Christ Immanuel, the Glory of God and Creator of all."  

Using Christi's icon and my new friend from Helsinki's art as examples I have begun the work under the patronage of St. Mark.  Our Lady's face was certainly the most difficult part so far and I'm nervous about bringing Jesus' face to life after the difficulty I had with His mother's face.  I'm sure that if I would try to replicate this mosaic I would make lots of changes the second time around to improve it, but for a first effort on my own I'd say it's going pretty well and I am learning a lot.  I only have so much glass available to me so using limited supplies poses a challenge, as well.  My mosaic definitely has more of a folk art feel than classic art but I am enjoying the work and the deep prayer that accompanies the task.  The image below is my humble beginning.  I'll be sure to share the finished project in a future post.

Prayer (source)
“O glorious St Mark, through the grace of God our Father, you became a great Evangelist, preaching the Good News of Christ. Obtain for me I pray you, lively faith, firm hope and burning love; patience in adversity, humility in prosperity, recollection in prayer, purity of heart, a right intention in all my works, diligence in fulfilling the duties of my state of life, constancy in my resolutions, resignation to the will of God and perseverance in the grace of God even unto death. Through the same Christ Our Lord, Amen.”

Here's a nice reflection on St. Mark by my friend, Fr. James Kubicki, SJ from the Apostleship of Prayer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ex Votos

Ex votos at the Basilica of San Domenico in Sienna.
When Paul and I went to Italy last summer I was so impressed by the silver Sacred Hearts that I saw displayed in so many of the churches that we visited.  I had never seen displays like this in the United States and wondered what they were and wanted to know the meaning behind them.  Our guide in Sienna told me that they were votives, offerings of thanksgiving to God.  I was immediately fascinated and wanted to learn yet more about these offerings.  

Ex votos found at the Cathedrale de Santa Maria, also known as the Duomo or Divine Beauty in Siena

Ex Votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, in Rome

While in Rome we found ex votos at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Sassia,
also known as the Church of the Divine Mercy, which were
just dripping with colorful rosaries.

So many rosaries!

Arriving back home, I researched these votives a bit more and found that they are actually called ex votos.  Ex votos are common in Europe and in South America.  In Europe a framed silver heart is often left behind in a church in thanksgiving for a favor received or an answered prayer. Perhaps a loved one has been healed of an illness.  Maybe the longed for beau finally appeared and marriage plans were on the way or a child was accepted to seminary to begin a life of service to God. Sometimes the ex voto is a silver body part such as a leg or a hand to signify the part of the body that was healed.

In South America the ex votos take on a different form.  Rather than using a silver Sacred Heart in thanksgiving, a picture is painted of the actual incident which required prayer and then, in a corner of the painting, the saint to whom the thanksgiving was offered was portrayed.

The only example of ex votos that I have ever seen at home were a display of crutches at Holy Hill Basilica of Mary, Help of Christians in Hubertus, Wisconsin, which, although miraculously dramatic, aren't as beautiful as the hearts.   I've been told that Americans are more practical and we usually give monetary offerings in thanksgiving for answered prayers.

I had become so enamored (obsessed, really) by the ex votos that I wanted to find some of my own.  I searched everywhere on the internet and only found some antique ex votos for sale but the price was in the hundreds of dollars which was beyond my reach.  I did find some reproductions of vintage ex votos on Etsy and purchased two that I found to be particularly charming, but none of those ex votos came with the oval frame that encased so many of the ex votos that I saw in Italy.  I still have not been able to find the simple oval frames anywhere that I have looked.

The beginnings of my ex voto collection.  The two largest hearts were purchased on Etsy.  The heart on the right was made with an embossed stamp.  The ex votos in the middle are antique religious medals.
This display includes two ex votos that I printed from images online and the
ex voto in the middle was made from a heart that I purchased in the gift shop where I work.
The little jar of sea glass and piece of pottery were found at the Adriatic Sea in Italy during a short stop there.

Here's a bulletin board covered in velvet displaying a few more ex voto pictures, some wooden scrolled hearts, and a few framed holy cards.  The Virgin with Child card was purchased in the Holy Land and given to Paul by a co-worker.
 Not Italian, but beautiful nonetheless.

Paul suggested that I find an image of an ex voto and print it and frame it.  I thought that was excellent advice so I did print a few pictures of some beautiful, antique ex votos.  And then I thought, why not make my own?  So I played around with stamps, holy cards and religious medals and found that they stood in quite well for authentic ex votos.  And then, after much searching, I found a roll of heavy-duty craft aluminum and used it to make my own silver hearts which I glued onto red cardstock and this project has kept me busy for quite some time.

Then I came upon a silver, oval embroidery hoop at a thrift store that was run by the School Sisters of St. Francis.  Sister Geraldine told me that I could have the hoop free of charge.  It was such a simple thing but I was thrilled by it!  I framed a piece of red velvet in the hoop and then searched through a jar of my mother's antique buttons looking for every silver button available.  I used those buttons to sew an ex voto heart onto the velvet and am so delighted by my unique ex voto that reminds me of my beloved mother.  Each pull of the needle and thread was a prayer for her soul and a sweet reminder of her love.

Now that three of our sons are out of the house we have a little more space so Paul and I have decided to decorate our spare room with mementoes from our pilgrimage.  We're calling the room our Italy Room.  My ex votos have filled the walls and shelves quite nicely and serve as a wonderful offering of thanksgiving for the miracle of being able to take that fantastic, life-changing trip.

A homemade ex voto using heavy-duty foil and cardstock.  The "GR" stands for "Grace Received."

The "M" stands for our Mother Mary, of course!

 A mini ex voto tree to complement a sea glass tree.

The button ex voto underneath framed photos of the ex votos I found in Italy.
I just had to add a few clusters of rosaries!

One-of-a-kind antique button ex voto.