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.

Early "Albertype" postcard of the Grotto.

Early "Albertype" postcard of the Grotto.



And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed
with the sun, and the moon under her feet: and on her
head a crown of twelve stars. --Apoc. xii.,I.


The August moonlight silvers all the dome!

How many summers thus? what lifted eyes---

That since have known beginning of their peace

In gazing on one Face--have gleaned this sight?

How many shall, when mine perchance have met

The fadeless Vision?

Pray God, until the moon

Is made the fixed footstool of her feet,

And all the stars, compact in golden twelve,

Shall glimmer deathless round her perfect brow,

May Mary stand 'twixt heaven and Notre Dame.



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


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:

Jim McGuire graduated from Notre Dame with an undergraduate degree in 1936 and a law degree in 1938. During his six years at Notre Dame he visited the Grotto daily to pray to Our Lady. He always said that is how he succeeded at Notre Dame. From the time he left Notre Dame, he had the greatest desire to build his own grotto. Jim finally made his dream come true when we retired to Florida in the early 1970s. We collected rocks for months. As Florida has mainly soft, porous coquina, we completed our rock collection on a trip to our home town of Rochester, New York, and returned with a car full of rocks. Our grotto was build inside our screened-in porch. We started with a large baby's bath tub, lined it with concrete, and built up concrete and rocks around it until the grotto was about six feet tall. We purchased a pump and tubing to create a waterfall, and placed a statue of Mary into the Grotto to complete our special project.

For the next twenty years, sitting on our porch was peaceful, as we listened to the water trickle over our grotto of Notre Dame. We often said our Rosary sitting by the grotto. In 1980, Jim had his larynx removed in a cancer operation, and after that travel became difficult for him. After years of not visiting the Notre Dame campus, our son Jim, Jr. (ND Class of '95) helped us travel to the campus for the Northwestern football game in the fall of 1993. It was exciting because our grandson, Jim III (ND Class of '94) was a current student. Our first night in South Bend, Jim suffered severe heart pains and was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered he had angina and, also, fluid on the lung. Our family ended up watching the game with Jim in the hospital. When Jim was able to travel, Jim Jr. took us first to the campus where we visited the restored Sacred Heart Church and, of course, the Grotto. It was Jim's last visit to Notre Dame. He proudly talked on the telephone to our grandson, Jim III, on his graduation day in May 1994.

Our four sons and our daughter helped me plan a Notre Dame-theme funeral Mass. It was held at Queen of Peace Church in Rochester, where Jim was the first trustee and led the building of the church. Our son, Jim Jr., gave the eulogy, highlighting his father's devotion to Our Lady. Our oldest grandchild spoke on behalf of our fourteen grandchildren and some of the older grandchildren were pall bearers. The younger ones took up the gifts, which included a Notre Dame banner, Jim's favorite ND hat, and a family picture from our 50th anniversary celebration. The Mass was supported by hymns to Our Lady, including the Notre Dame Alma Mater and, at the end, Jim's casket was walked from the church to a moving, organ-rendition of the Notre Dame fight song. It was an appropriate tribute to a man who loved Our Lady and the University of Notre Dame so much.

Jim's days at Notre Dame, and his daily visits to the Grotto, formed the basis for our life-long devotion to the Mother Mary. She continues to give me strength, and I pray daily that Jim's devotion to Notre Dame will be continued through his family.




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.



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