NEW ULM — Nuns 115 years ago pushed wheelbarrows to haul the bricks used to create hillside niches along a steep path to the Sorrowful Mother Chapel.
On Monday volunteers at The Way of the Cross made that same 700-foot-climb riding in a cart behind a John Deere garden tractor. Their arms encircled fragile religious statues being returned to the shrine's meditation spots.
The century-old statuary depicting Jesus' path to crucifixion had been removed for a monthslong restoration project.
"Paint was chipped and this figure's hand had a little piece broken off," Ken Stadick said as he pointed to a small plaster sculpture made at the Bavarian Royal Academy of Art in Munich.
Stadick helped place wooden crosses inside the 14 station niches.
"We prayed for a day like this, it's so nice," Earl La Plante said while standing in early morning sunshine.
He and Stadick are members of a committee that, along with the New Ulm area Knights of Columbus organization, takes care of the shrine's upkeep. They were grateful for a break from rain and that two members of the restoration crew from Missouri were on hand to help place the statues.
"The guys from St. Louis were here right at 8 a.m.," La Plante said.
"We fell in love these pieces," Rich Dean of Restorations Plus said describing the statues he had helped repaint.
Dean was carrying a golden-winged angel across his shoulder on his way to one of the meditation spots when he paused to explain how the restoration crew removed coats of paint that had masked the statues' original beauty.
Restorations used exterior paints that closely matched the colors first used on the figures of Christ and witnesses who saw him carrying a cross through Jerusalem to his death on Calvary.
A layer of sealant over the paint was applied to the statues as protection against Minnesota's harsh winters.
"80% of what we do is sacred art and 85% of that is for Catholic churches," he said.
After the statues were positioned, each station niche was enclosed in specially designed wood-framed glass. The committee contracted Wood N Windows in New Ulm for that project.
"We wanted to use a local business," La Plante said.
The land at 1500 5th N. Street is owned by the Diocese of New Ulm, but The Way of the Cross committee relied on donations to fund the restoration project, which cost about $35,000.
Volunteers also are responsible for the shrine's general maintenance work. Denise Richter, who was taking photographs during the re-installation, is one of the caretakers for the shade plants that grow along the pathway behind New Ulm's hospital.
She was introduced to the shrine by her husband in 1957, when they were newlyweds. For the past 19 years, she has helped keep the grounds spruced up and ready for visitors to enjoy.
The city's Chamber of Commerce recently contacted Richter about the shrine. New Ulm is planning to resume offering visitors bus tours to The Way of the Cross.
The location is dedicated for meditation on the Passion and the death of Jesus Christ; however, people of all faiths are welcome to stop at each station and read the German and English inscriptions.
Opportunities for peace, serenity (and healthy exercise) are there for anyone who wants to walk the path.
"This is for everybody," La Plante said.