By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
ST. JOSEPH – Three people knelt in silence before the altar in the small chapel as the gentle summer sunlight streaming through large glass windows bathed the monstrance in light. The aura of the Chapel of the Holy Rosary was one of peace, meditative quiet and reverence. The chapel sits back from the edge of a ridge overlooking gardens, a lush green valley and, in the near distance, the 102 River.
A farmhouse built around the turn of the 20th century stands near the edge of the 10-acre property along Missouri State Highway 6 east of St. Joseph that Rose Marie and David Pfaff purchased in the mid 1980s. While they were building their log home a short walk from the farmhouse, Rose Marie discovered that its screened-in back porch provided a tranquil spot to meditate and pray on summer evenings and enjoy the beauty that lay before her.
The rest of the old house wasn’t so lovely. Dust, dirt, snakes, a raccoon or two and many small four-legged occupants inspired Rose Marie to dub the house Mouse House. But the back porch more than made up for it.
Despite the critters, Rose Marie wanted to share the beauty around her with others, wanted others to find consolation and peace also. She began to dream about a house of prayer, an exciting dream.
In 1987, she decided to finance the restoration of Mouse House, dedicating the work to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
She posted notices on the bulletin boards in area churches that the rosary would be prayed at her home every Thursday in October. Seven people came to pray the first Thursday, and the religious outreach that started then grew, expanded and is still alive 25 years later.
That summer her nephew Matthew had stayed with her while discerning his future and worked with Rose Marie on Mouse House. Family, friends and friends of friends joined in the labor and the house took on new life.
They helped with repairs including the removal of several layers of wallpaper, stripping woodwork, stairs, banister and floors. The Franciscan Sisters of Laverna Heights in Savannah and others donated wall hangings and furniture. Rose Marie’s brother-in-law built an altar using the wood of an altar from Sts. Peter and Paul Church in St. Joseph, which closed in 1977.
Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop John J. Sullivan dedicated Mir House of Prayer in 1989. “Mir” means peace in Croatian. Three years later, Bishop Sullivan granted permission for the Blessed Sacrament to reside in Mir House of Prayer’s upstairs chapel.
The house also served as a retreat house and as a guest house for those who wished to stay overnight. Mir House of Prayer and its acre and a half of gardens and statuary continue to attract hundreds of people who came to pray and immerse themselves in peace, serenity and Christ.
Homey touches abound throughout Mir House. White, wrought iron benches and chairs are scattered about the grounds and on the brick patio that forms a breezeway between the house and the chapel. From the driveway end of the patio a visitor can see through one of the gardens to the river valley in the distance, as well as feel the breezes.
By the end of the 1990s, Mir House was showing its age — a new chapel had been built next door and the Blessed Sacrament moved there. The Chapel of the Holy Rosary was dedicated in 1999 and named a 2000 Jubilee Year Catholic pilgrimage site.
Mir House Chapel of the Holy Rosary is the only Perpetual Adoration Eucharistic chapel in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. It serves all of the Catholic parishes in the diocese. Rose Marie said the chapel is open 24 hours a day all year long and that several hundred committed adorers come each week to spend an hour or two in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
The grounds and the contemplation-inspiring view also draw people to Mir House.
“We’ve had people from all over the world come to Mir House Chapel,” said Mike Harris, a member of the Mir House of Prayer Board of Directors. Mir House of Prayer is a Missouri 501 (c) (3) Not for Profit Corporation, operated by a Board of Directors who serve voluntarily, without compensation, headed by John Bestgen. The Mir House Chapel of the Holy Rosary is totally supported by and dependent upon private donations. It receives no support from the diocese or from any religious order.
People come to Mir House Chapel at all hours, day and night, to pray and meditate. Harris said his usual hour begins at 1 a.m., because “that’s when they needed him” to come.
“Young people come,” he said, “they bring their children, maybe bring their parents too. They may stay only a few minutes, but they come.”
Rose Marie nodded. “A few days ago, we had a jogger jog up to the chapel. He was wringing wet. He stayed a little while and then jogged back to wherever he started from.”
On Sunday afternoons, motorcycle riders pull into the small parking lot at Mir House. “When they leave,” Rose Marie said with a smile, “they wait to rev their engines until they’re back on the highway.” Apparently, no one wants to disturb the peace of Mir House.
A tall crucifix stands near the edge of the ridge overlooking the 102 River valley. Shaded by overhanging tree benches, it stands guardian over the gardens, Mir House and the Chapel, and the people who come there.
She pointed to a grove of trees near the drive. “About September 14 or 15 every year, we see monarch butterflies there. They come for two to three days and then continue on their migration flight. Unfortunately, their habitat in Mexico has been destroyed so we are seeing fewer butterflies. But they still come.” A large yellow butterfly dipped and floated by as though promising the monarch’s return in a few months.
Outside Mir House, ivy climbs the brick pedestals atop the wall in front. Flowers are blooming and the grass is cut. A straw-hatted statue of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Padre Pio, stands in a corner flower bed. Rose Marie said she was kidded about Padre Pio needing a hat, especially in the winter, so now in spring and summer he wears a straw hat, which is replaced by a stocking cap when the temperature falls.
From the small steeple of the Chapel of the Holy Rosary wafts the sound of music, played daily at 10 a.m., 2 and 8 p.m.; at noon and at 6 p.m., the Angelus is rung. Several business owners on Highway 6 have commented how much they enjoy the music, said Carl Johnson, vice-president of the Mir House Board of Directors, and head of the grounds committee.
Rose Marie turned 80 last summer. The Mir House board of directors, headed by John Bestgen, launched a campaign to raise $350,000 to purchase the 8 ½ acres of land owned by Rose Marie adjoining Mir House/Chapel of the Holy Rosary’s land, to protect the Ministry of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration for generations into the future. Rose Marie would have the option to remain in her nearby home as long as she wishes.
Mike Harris was named campaign chairman. He said that as of mid July, about $250,000 has been raised. They still need to raise about $100,000. The original campaign deadline has been extended until July 2012, by which time the board of directors hopes they will have been able to purchase the acreage and the house for Mir House.
“No donation is too small,” Harris said. “We received an envelope with two $1 bills inside. Who ever gave that didn’t have much on them but they wanted to contribute. We are grateful.” He added that all donations to the campaign are tax-deductible and will be kept anonymous.
The bishops of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph have supported the ministry of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration since the beginning of Mir House, Harris said. Bishop Sullivan dedicated Mir House of Prayer and Bishop Raymond Boland dedicated the Chapel of the Holy Rosary.
“Yes,” Rose Marie agreed, “And every time I see Bishop (Robert) Finn, he says to me, ‘keep people praying.’ That’s our mission here, continuous prayer.”
Harris said that people who have never visited Mir House Chapel might question why the board wants to raise the money to purchase the land. “Come and see for yourself,” he said. “Walk around; see the gardens, the trees and hills, the lake and the view to the River. Then, walk in to the chapel, sit down and see what happens. We want to give people a chance to spend some time with God.”
Rose Marie feels that the time, labor and love she has invested in Mir House, the Chapel of the Holy Rosary and the surrounding grounds have been blessed. The sense of peace is with her always and it shows in the serenity of her smile.
To make a tax-deductible contribution to the campaign, send it to Mir House of Prayer, P.O. Box 534, St. Joseph, MO 64502. For more information, visit www.mirhouseofprayer.org.
For those who wonder about the name of the river — the 102 River supposedly received its name when Brigham Young told his followers on the Mormon Trail to Utah that the river was the 102nd they had crossed since leaving Nauvoo, Illinois.