GROTTO STORIES: From the Heart of Notre Dame

"From the great Golden Dome of her University, Our Lady reigns as our Queen. Yet at the Grotto, she seems to have stepped down a little closer to us that she might emphasize the other side of her personal relationship with us--that of Our Mother."

Rev. John E. Fitzgerald wrote in the Scholastic, May 2, 1950.

This charming photo of the Grotto is from the 1932 Commencement Booklet.

 

 
The title of this column has been borrowed from the Internet journal of research, A Cave of Candles: The Story Behind the Notre Dame Grotto , which inspired the collection of Grotto Letters that became, Grotto Stories: From the Heart of Notre Dame. The Web address for the A Cave of Candles is: The Story behind the Notre Dame Grotto

 

From the forward in Grotto Stories, I have excerpted two paragraphs that give some background history on the Grotto, how and why it was built and what it means to the life at Notre Dame. It's by Rev. Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Father Basil Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and Father Edward Sorin, the founder of the University of Notre Dame, both visited Lourdes on several occasions and both firmly believed in the miraculous nature of Bernadette’s visions. In fact, the first organized pilgramage to Lourdes from outside of France was led by Holy Cross priest from the University of Notre Dame. The earliest known representation of Our Lady of Lourdes in the United States can be seen in the stained glass window in the west transept of Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It was always Father Sorin’s fond desire to build a replica of the Lourdes Grotto at Our Lady’s School. His dream was accomplished three years after his death when in 1896, Father Corby constructed and dedicated Notre Dame’s Grotto.

Almost everyone who visits Notre Dame spends at least some time at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. For the last hundred years, nearly every student who has ever studied here has found the Grotto to be a place of welcome and prayer. Countless candles testify to the devotion of generations, all inspired by the loving witness of Mary. Here the Mother of Christ is deeply revered as the Blessed Mother of all those who believe in his Gospel and trust in the power of his grace. Hearts are comforted, lives are changed, and real miracles continue to happen. Faith is at the very heart of this University’s life and mission and the Grotto is at the very heart of Notre Dame.

The book Grotto Stories was a labor of love for two very talented, dedicated and inspiring women: Dorothy Corson and Mary Pat Dowling. For the story behind their book, please see HOW GROTTO STORIES CAME TO BE, below.

Here is this month's excerpt from Grotto Stories:

I recall vividly, though it occurred well over 40 years ago, when as a teenaged freshman I first stopped at the Grotto on the way back to St. Edwards -my dormitory -from the Dining Hall. While the Grotto is particularly lovely and serene in the snow, my first views of it in 1950 were with its craggy surfaces outlined in the special radiance of the late summer sun reflecting off the dappled surface of St. Mary's Lake. I recall stopping at the Grotto at first as much out of curiosity, all of us freshmen having heard a great deal about it asa campus landmark and as a piece of Notre Dame history, as I did out of any need to communicate with Our Lady or to be comforted by her.

However, as the pressures of collegiate life started to build that autumn and the waves of homesickness and loneliness washed over me, I found that my nightly visits to the Grotto went beyond the curious and into the necessary. So, what began as a tangential element of my walk back to St. Ed's after dinner became a very important, almost indispensable, part of my student day.

Then, more readily than I would have expected, the autumn of 1950 stretched into weeks and then months and then years. All of a sudden, I was a senior at Notre Dame and, soon there after, I was an alumnus living and working thousands of miles away from "That Special Place," as Father Hesburgh so beautifully terms the campus. But visits to the Grotto remain as important to me in my sixth decade of life as when I was a teenager. Upon return visits to the campus, which are less frequent than I would wish, I always make a point to visit the Grotto. But reflecting the changes brought by the intervening years, my prayers at the Grotto are no longer to pass the history exam or the accounting final, but for the well-being of my family, for the health of surviving classmates and for the repose of those friends who have passed beyond.

So, in celebrating the centennial of the Grotto, we celebrate both the fragility and the flux of life, which the Grotto has witnessed these past 100 years, as well as the stability and the continuity of life which it also has witnessed during this century. I am happy that it was there for students of early eras when they needed it.

And, I pray it will be there for another hundred years to repair and to enrich the lives of future generations.

ROMANO L. MAZZOLI

CLASS OF 1954

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

Click here to purchase Grotto Stories

 

How Grotto Stories Came To be

I am indebted in this project to the dedication, spirituality, and trust of Mrs. Dorothy Corson. Her four years of research into the history of the Grotto honors its centennial and the labors of her father, William Buckles, who built a replica of the Notre Dame Grotto on the grounds of St. Stanislaus Church in South Bend.

Dorothy and I see our own Grotto experience as something of a miracle. We first met when I worked in the Local History Room of the St. Joseph County Public Library. I was intrigued by the subject of her research and inspired by her perseverance.

In the fall of 1994, Dorothy brought her work to the attention of Elaine Cripe, editor of Alumni Publications, and asked if a request for personal stories relating to the Grotto could be placed in The ALUMNI Newsletter. Not long after hiring me as her assistant in March, Elaine gave me the assignment of writing the request for stories about the Grotto for the May 1995 issue of ALUMNI. I called Dorothy and said "You'll never guess where I'm working now and why I'm calling you." As the project evolved, Dorothy needed someone to adopt it. She says I was "planted in her path." Often when a question arose that seemed an obstacle in our path, Dorothy would say: "We'll just have to leave it up to Our Lady." During dry stretches in her research, Dorothy's prayer at the Grotto was: "Lady dressed in light, show me the way."

Rev. Thomas McAvoy, C.S.C., former University Archivist and historian once said: "To have a history is to have a name, and the richer the history the more glorious the name." The more Dorothy dug up the historical facts of the Grotto's first hundred years, the more she realized that it's the faith, the feelings, the stories of the people who visit there that is the true history and glory of the Grotto. And she wished for such stories to eventually accompany her manuscript in the University Archives. Here, I mingle the stories with some of Dorothy's findings from countless hours of perusing archival documents and unindexed campus publications.

On behalf of the readers who find inspiration in Grotto Stories, I thank the authors for their part in spreading the glory. I sensed great appreciation for the invitation to put their feelings into words. Months after writing her poignant Grotto remembrance, Mary Murphy said in a telephone conversation: "It was so good for me to reflect and make heads and tails of the experience." Expressing it in writing helped to make it a "learning moment," she said.

My life and the lives of those around me have certainly been enriched -not only in collecting the Grotto letters, but also by the personal notes that came later. Upon learning of the project many of the letter authors sent words of encouragement. Kathy Ferrone wrote: "Behind your work is another Mary. It was for her that the Grotto was built, so she will probably show the interest she has in your project in some amazing ways ...In your work, you are not alone. Expect many blessings as you watch things fall in place before you."

You were right, Kathy.

Thank you all.

MPD

 

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