GROTTO STORIES: From the Heart of Notre Dame

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"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.

Contemporary view of the Grotto.

Contemporary view of the Grotto.

 

 
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 Stores: From the Heart of Notre Dame.  The Web address for all A Cave of Candles is http://classic.archives.nd.edu/corson/

 

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:

When I first came to Notre Dame in 1959, the lights were turned off in the dorms every evening at 11 o'clock. So the Grotto soon became a source for candles to use when periodically, after a quick Hail Mary, I would approach the cave's interior beneath Mary's mantle -in a "prayerful" posture, of course -and cop a couple of candles to help cope with a week's work. God forgive me if I did not slip some change into the coin box. Even after the lights were lit permanently my junior year, I tried to include a path to the Grotto, without the wax merchandise, as part of my daily destinations. And a return to the campus today is not complete unless it includes a visit to the Lourdes Lady near the lakes. I've read inspirational words about the Grotto and photographed the place in all seasons, day and night. But there's nothing like being there amidst the quiet beauty of Mary's presence within those tree-lined rocks. One can't help but gaze on the blackened boulders above the flickering flames and wonder about the plethora of prayers murmured by many for nearly a century.

One visit during the winter of 1994 I'll never forget. While staying at the Morris Inn, a sudden snow storm struck South Bend. I was reminded of Tom Dooley's words about how he missed seeing the Grotto in snow. So I dutifully set out for the hallowed haven to see the winter wonder for myself and join in the daily recitation of the Rosary at 7 p.m. The snow seemed to awaken the sleepy shadows surrounding the shrine. The candles' glow completely cut off the night that had earlier engulfed the entire campus. Standing alone in the snow for several minutes, I wondered if the Rosary responsibility would remain only mine. Suddenly, four figures emerged from the far side of Sacred Heart Basilica and descended the stairs to the Grotto and took cover beneath the rock-constructed canopy. As a visitor to their established Rosary routine, I decided to remain outside the shelter of the shrine. Besides, by now, the snow had nearly completely covered me and I felt a sort of sacredness in remaining stationery. I don't think I've ever experienced a more moving or reverent Rosary. It seemed a perfect player as part of the snow. I marvelled at the motivation of the men, at least one a priest, who braved a blizzard to pray. And I half congratulated myself for also stepping out into the storm, perhaps to see if there would be any Ave's at all on such an awful night.


VINCE LABARBERA

CLASS OF 1963

FORT WAYNE, INDIANA

 

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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