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An early picture of the Shrine from 1959
The Shrine of Our Lady of the Highways has watched over Route 66 (and later its successor Interstate 55) for almost fifty years, its origin rooted in a desire to honor Mary and ask her assistance guiding travelers safely on their way.

In June of 1958, members of the Litchfield Deanery’s Catholic Youth Council sought to erect a monument to the Blessed Virgin. The group included kids from Litchfield, Staunton, Mount Olive, Hillsboro, Morrisonville, Divernon, Farmersville and Taylorville amongst others, and one of the members from rural Raymond, Loretta Marten, asked her father Francis to donate space on his farm along US Highway 66 west of the town. He gladly agreed.

Ground was broken on February 11, 1959, with Father Robert Leo Heintz of St. Mary's in Taylorville presiding over the ceremony. A cararra marble statue of Mary was imported from Italy at a cost of $400, and over the summer the kids worked on preparing the Shrine: building the wooden alcove, laying the brick base and placing the cobblestone walkway up to the statue. Lights were installed so passers-by could view the Shrine day or night. Total cost for the Shrine, including the statue: around $900.

Groundbreaking ceremony in February 1959

On October 25, 1959, the statue was dedicated with over three hundred people attending the ceremony. Traffic on four-lane US 66 was brisk, and travelers frequently stopped to observe the new Mother Road attraction. Over the coming years Catholic groups made pilgrimages to the Shrine, honoring Our Lady of the Highways, and the place quickly became a Route 66 landmark made famous in countless books, newspaper articles and TV specials. Later the words of the Hail Mary were also erected in the “Burma Shave” style along multiple signs stretching southbound from the Shrine towards Illinois 48/127 to the south, furthering the Shrine’s mission to honor the Blessed Virgin.

The CYC members who erected the Shrine eventually grew up and moved on, but Francis Marten kept the landmark alive, tending to the grounds and paying the electric bill that shined light on Mother Mary twenty four hours a day. In 1991 Marten was one of five initial inductees into the Route 66 of Illinois Hall of Fame, celebrating those individuals who helped make the historic highway an international landmark. Though Francis Marten passed on in 2002, his sons Lee and Carl continue to maintain the Shrine, and passers-by on both Interstate 55 and Historic Route 66 can still view the tribute which stands as both a piece of Route 66 history and a testament to the Holy Mother’s guidance and protection.

For more information about the Shrine's association with Route 66, please visit the Route 66 page.
To view more photos from the early days of the Shrine, please visit the pictures page.