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:
I had a friend named
Lucy Pilkinton. Lucy was also my neighbor for ten years. We shared a common
outlook on life and a love for the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Notre
Dame. But the only time that we visited the Grotto together was late evening
My prognosis was poor and I was filled with worry, fearing that I would not live to raise my children. Lucy, however, exuded optimism. The trip to the Grotto was both her invitation and her expression of a faith that could conquer the bad news of doctors. Lucy drove us there and spoke reassuringly. The night was cold with some snow on the ground but also clear with a poignant stillness. We parked near the Grotto because Lucy was a Notre Dame employee and had a special sticker on her car window.
We knelt at the Grotto railing and gazed at the statue face of Our Lady. I prayed my desperate request for prolonged life. Then, we arose and lit candles. My special intention was for a complete recovery, a total healing. Lucy lit a candle for my family for she was aware of their mental suffering and their need for solace.
We left in peace.
The following January,
1994, Lucy died suddenly of a brain aneurysm that burst while she was teaching a
class at Notre Dame. She was in good health and good cheer at the time. She did
not know that she had a brain aneurysm. I mourned her death as I have never
mourned the death of another human being. It has been over two years since I had
the surgery for cancer and my doctors, while cautious, are also expressing
optimism. Lucy's faith was contagious. Through her faith and gift of friendship,
I do indeed feel renewed in life. There are times when it seems to me that I
even sense her presence. That this should be so does not surprise me. After all,
Jesus conquered death. The Mary who appeared to Bernadette at
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.