On the side of Interstate 95 in northern Maryland, travelers zooming down the highway toward the Delaware border may catch a glimpse of a shrine to "Our Lady of the Highways." The shrine was created by a group of local priests after a multi-car crash in the 1960s that killed several people.
"It is a visual, even if people don't know the history or the significance of it, or the background behind it," says Rev. Michael Murray, the superior of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales. "Anyone who travels this part of the interstate network with any frequency knows exactly where this is."
The 12-foot statue of the Virgin Mary faces northbound traffic on I-95 in Childs, Md. Black letters mounted on a low brick wall beneath the statue proclaim her "Our Lady of the Highways."
"Friends of mine - like in Northern Virginia and D.C. - they say, 'now where is that again?' And I say 'if you're driving on I-95, just before you hit the last exit in Maryland,' and they usually stop me and say, 'oh is it the place with the statue?'"
Shrine marks tragedy on the highway
The tragic motivation for the shrine - occurred in Oct., 1968. Back then, the interstate was just a few years old, and in the early morning hours of Oct. 2, Oblates on this campus ran down to the highway to help the victims of a 17-car collision. Three people died in the accident. Brother Dochkus says poor visibility was likely to blame.
"This area, a fog used to settle over it, because a paper mill that was in the area used to change the temperature of the creek that runs through here, and it would form a fog," he explains.
The memory of that day lives on with the statue. The Oblates replaced the original in 1986 with the 12-foot, Vermont Carrera marble figure so many drivers recognize today. Although the paper mill and the unnatural fog are now gone, Dochkus fears certain aspects of travel on the nation's roads have gotten worse.
"We've lost a great civility toward each other in driving," he says. "If you don't put your foot on that gas pedal in a nanosecond, someone's yelling at you, someone's honking their horn."
Praying for safer roads
Father Murray says he hopes motorists driving past "Our Lady of the Highways," can cast a glance toward her and remember to be calm, no matter how fast, or slow, the traffic is moving that day.
"You know, your hands are burning through the steering wheel, but maybe just looking at the statue of the Blessed Mother just reminds you there's a bigger picture."
Brother Dochkus says you don't have to be Catholic to get the message "Our Lady of the Highways" is sending.
"It's a reminder to be a bit more kind, a bit more humane, Christian - if that's your belief. Whatever your belief is, to remind yourself within that belief to be a little kinder, a bit more civil and a bit more courteous on the road."
And let's face it: on some days it seems like bringing just a little civility to the roads... would take a miracle.
[Music: "Drive" by Supercore Karaoke from 85]