Spirit Matters: A cow, an orchard and a someday saint

This past Tuesday my fiancé, Scott, and I took a much-needed road trip to Tanner’s Orchard in Speer, about a half hour north of Peoria on Route 40.

On our way, on Route 17 between Streator and Wenona, a loose cow greeted us, standing in the road.

I have traveled this road literally hundreds of times in my life, to visit family in Toluca and more.

This is the first I have encountered a cow standing in the road. I’m surprised it took this long, to be honest.

As we approached said cow, and the cow approached us (it was walking straight toward us), I scrambled for my phone so I could get a photo.

By the time I was able to grab the phone from my purse, the cow had moved to the side of the road, politely watching as it allowed traffic to pass. I did manage to get an 11-second video of it standing on the side of the road as we passed.

Our day was definitely off to a fun start.

An annual trip to Tanner’s has been a tradition in my family for years.

There is nothing that says “autumn” in central Illinois as much as a requisite trip to an apple orchard. (Yes, I know it is not officially “autumn” yet, but everyone knows autumn doesn’t begin on a specific date on the calendar, but with a unique vibe in the air.)

Apple cider. Apple donuts. Apple crisp. Apple pie. Apple everything ...

I quit going to Tanner’s on weekends years ago. Just this past week, several people have told me they also refuse to go on weekends. It is just not worth getting stuck in a sea of people for hours to get my hands on a dozen apple donuts.

Weekdays are the best time to go. We arrived by 10:30, to a practically empty car lot, went inside, filled our cart, and left by 11. As we exited, Scott noticed three busloads of people pulling in the parking lot.

Good timing on our part.

We then headed to Peoria.

I had read a recent article about the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Museum near St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria. I knew Archbishop Sheen’s remains were interred in the Cathedral, but I was not aware of the museum, and it sounded interesting, so that was our next destination.

For those who might not know, Fulton Sheen was born in El Paso, Illinois and ordained in the Diocese of Peoria. He went on to become a famous orator, having hosted the popular “Life is Worth Living” television show in the 1950s and 1960s. He attracted a wide audience, Catholic and non-Catholic.

Sheen is under consideration for sainthood in the Church. One miracle has already been attributed to his intercession. He needs one more miracle to be canonized.

James Fulton Engstrom was stillborn at home on Sept. 16, 2010 (I did not know his birth date until I just looked it up. I happen to be writing this column on his 12th birthday).

James had no pulse and no heartbeat. He was transported to the hospital, where doctors worked on him for 61 minutes. Meanwhile, his parents, Bonnie and Travis, prayed ceaselessly for Sheen to intercede (to pray for) their son. Just as the doctors were about to declare him clinically dead, James began to breathe.

The matter was sent to Rome for careful consideration and a team of physicians and theologians agreed unanimously there was no scientific explanation for James to be alive.

James’s mother, Bonnie has written a book detailing her son’s birth in “61 Minutes to a Miracle.”

Sheen was to be beatified in Peoria in 2019, when legal matters stalled the process.

Scott and I arrived at the museum in the Spalding Pastoral Center around 11:30 and were guided through the museum by a nun, who was quite knowledgeable about Sheen and his life. We were both surprised at how much is on display and how broad was his influence. Definitely worth a visit.

We then went to the Cathedral, which is open from noon to 2 pm, Monday through Friday for pilgrims to visit the place where Sheen’s remains are interred. A registry is inside, and people from all over the country and the world have signed in.

On a side note, in my 20s, my grandmother asked me if I knew of Sheen, and handed me a book, saying “I think you will like this.” Although I have been aware of him for a long time, I have never felt a real connection to him other than our shared love for communicating about spiritual matters, and that he is from central Illinois. Looking back over my life since then, I sense Grandma knew what she was doing when she introduced us.

Deciding at the last minute to visit his museum and the Cathedral was certainly nowhere on my agenda. I made good use of the time, and prayed for some much-needed guidance in my work life.

This was both Scott’s and my first visit to the Cathedral, so after sitting quietly for a few minutes before Sheen’s tomb, we explored the rest of the sanctuary. Pictures don’t do the inside justice. A visit to this sacred space — a true refuge from the mess of the world outside — is medicine for the soul.

The only thing Scott and I knew for sure when we left Streator on Tuesday morning was we were going to an apple orchard. By the end of the day, we had encountered a wandering cow and a dynamic and charismatic son of central Illinois, who almost certainly will be a saint.

I believe this road trip turned out exactly the way it was meant to be.

  • SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.