Reverence to this site, on high ground so tall that you can see Milwaukee’s towering downtown buildings nearly 30 miles away, began with a hermit named Francios Soubio in the mid-1800s. Soubio suffered from partial paralysis. According to the legend, after praying and sleeping on Holy Hill one night, he was cured.
Soubio did not claim credit for discovering the cone-shaped mountain. He had found a parchment map in Canada made by an earlier pioneer, who back in 1676 raised a cross, set up an altar, and dedicated the hill to Saint Mary.
The hill and much of the surrounding property was purchased for $50 by Friar Paulhuber in 1855. Twenty-one years later, The Milwaukee Archdiocese came to own the hill. The Discalced (Latin for “shoeless”) Carmelites, monks wear a caramel-brown garment to honor the order founded at Mount Carmel, Jerusalem, took custody of the site in 1906. A monastery was constructed in 1920 and the final complex, including a double-spired church, was completed in 1931.
Since the days of Soubio, numerous miracles have been reported by pilgrims. In a side chapel and in the back of the main church house, you’ll find the many crutches and canes left by those who claim to have been miraculously cured. The shrine is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of 85 minor basilicas in the United States.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the hill. The snakey roads nearby and spectacular views at the top of the hill make for an excellent biker run. The vista is stunning, particularly during the fall, when the surrounding deciduous forest covers the slopes of the hill with brilliant colors from the maple, apple, and elm trees. During the spring and into the late fall, you can climb up one of the spires and achieve a view that lends to the hill’s name of being holy, for it is truly inspirational.
Know Before You Go
To get here, take a short 10-mile hop northwest of Milwaukee, exit Highway 167 west off of I-45, and go roughly eight miles west. Allow at least an hour if you plan to scale the tower (closed on windy days for safety). If you are not up to scaling the tower, you still can still get some great views from the concourse in front of the main church.
There are picnic grounds available for family outings. The monks run a commissary open to the public where you can buy craft bakery and sweets or a light meal. They also operate a gift shop where you can purchase mementos of the pilgrimage.
Nearby apple orchards are a must-stop as the local, mineral-rich soil creates tart and tangy fruit. The farmer will give you a choice of picking the apples yourself (fun for the kids) or getting a basket already picked.