Address: 912 Chestnut Street; Arapahoe NE 68922
The peaceful outdoor shrine alongside Highway 6 / 34 in the small Nebraska town has beckoned weary travelers and pilgrims since 1956. The lush garden setting depicts the scene of the visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Portuguese children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta on at least six apparitions during 1913 in Portugal. At the center, stands Our Lady of Fatima in her traditional pose with a bowed head and folded hands holding a Rosary. The Blessed Mother and the children are surrounded by angels, cattle, and lambs in this rural scene.
The Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima was built in 1956 under the direction of Father Henry Denis, a survivor of the Dachau Concentration Camp during World War II. The promise of building a shrine came to Fr. Denis when he was a young Polish priest who had been arrested by the Nazis and held in various prisons and concentration camps in 1942 to 1945. A miracle occurred on October 7, 1944, the Feast of the Holy Rosary which led to Fr. Denis’ promise which is retold here:
It was a cold, windy and rainy morning. There was a long, long roll call and prolonged counting. There were many corpses on that day, and all the dead had to be brought and placed in line with those who were alive. There was a lot of shouting, cursing, kicking and clubbing. One prisoner was missing, and was found dead. To forget the hell on earth, deep in my mind and my heart, I prayed the Rosary. The Rosary took me up there, into a different world. There were moments that I did not hear anything. Around 7:30 A.M. we left the camp to our working places. One German priest, a good friend of mine, asked me: “Henry, why did they call your name and your number?” My blood stopped to circulate. To be called and not to report at once – that’s death, and death flashed in my mind as never before. Oh, what excruciating hours. But when we returned to the camp, nobody called me. Evidently, they got their number of victims. They always called more than they needed. A dear friend of mine, Fr. Francis Dachtera, was also called on that day, he reported, and he never came back. And it was on that day, October 7, 1944, that I made a promise, a vow, that if I ever leave the camp alive, I would give the Blessed Mother some kind of visible gratitude – maybe a little shrine.
The Shrine promised by Fr. Denis came to be in 1956 after his immigration to the U.S. and assignment to St. Germanus Parish in Arapahoe, NE in 1949.
Special things to see at the Shrine
• The re-creation of the Fatima apparitions setting is the central focus of the Shrine. In front of the life-size statue of Our Lady is an altar with an inscription reading, “TO THE IMMACULATE MOTHER OF GOD AND OUR HEAVENLY FATHER / OUR LADY OF FATIMA / WITH HOPE AND PRAYER FOR PEACE / REV. HENRY J. DENIS AND HIS FRIENDS OF ALL FAITHS / 1956 / “E PLURIBUS UNUM”
• A statue to the west of the main shrine area is called “Rachel Weeps for Her Children” sculpted by a local artist Sondra Johnson – it is dedicated to the victims of abortion. The sculpture depicts Rachel of the Old Testament kneeling in prayer with an empty basket; and a rose at her feet showing confidence in God, and hope.
• A “Rosary Walk” surrounds the grounds to the north. A walking path with four bronze monuments commemorate the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.
Interesting Facts About the Church
St. Germanus Church is located to the east of the Fatima Shrine serving the St. Germanus Parish which originated around 1878. The current wood-framed church was built in 1885 and has undergone several renovations over the years, including the replacement of the steeple in 2015 which had been destroyed by a 2014 lightning strike. The interior is filled with wooden pews between walls lined with yellow and white stained glass windows studded with sacred medallions. Statues of the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart of Jesus occupy side altars on either side of the sanctuary. The simple beauty of the church is focused on the Blessed Sacrament beneath a large Crucifix on the north wall.