In 1958, as the Prefect of St Klemens in Ebikon, together with Fr Gemperle in Gossau, I worked with our secondary school boys in the service of the “International Building Order” in Germany. Fr Gemperle was in Bad Soden, Alendorf with a group, I was close to Waldkappel. Both places were in Hessen. At the end of our work we traveled together to see Hamburg and Bremen, ending up in Schoenstatt. We were staying in the Pallottine College. Fr Gemperle had to leave early for Switzerland.
That evening I again visited the original shrine in the valley and was approached there by Brother Peter Schildgen. He complained that people were constantly walking over the graves of the hero sodalists and spoiling his work. Could I arrange for a chain to prevent this? At first the idea appeared strange to me and I didn’t like it.
During the night, however, the idea went through my mind that donating and putting up a chain in front of the heroes’ graves could symbolize loyalty. When I returned to Switzerland I mentioned the idea of a chain to my confreres, and they agreed joyfully. The well-known tensions could already be felt, but I was supported also by the confreres who did not leave the Society later. For us Schoenstatters the chain grew in importance as a sign of our commitment for the “unity of Pallotti and Schoenstatt”.
The chain made at the suggestion and encouragement of Fr Roland Stuber in the artistic locksmith’s in Knutwil. If I remember rightly, the number of links corresponded to the number of confreres who were prepared to leave the Society, and that without special planning. We only gave the final length of the chain.
The Swiss confreres who visited Schoenstatt and later came for a Tertianship always touched and shook this chain. We saw it and interpreted I as a symbol of faithfulness. The two posts on either side are deliberately engraved with a “Cross” to indicate our national sign.
At the time when Fr Widmer worked in Schoenstatt he saw to it that any rust was removed from the chain, and, as far as I know, he also replaced it.
So a chance encounter at that time offered us Swiss the opportunity to set up a sign near the shrine in front of the heroes’ graves that meant a great deal to us in the past years of separation and new start, and it is an obligation also for the future.