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.

A magical photograph of the Grotto in winter. You can see the kaleidoscope of color reflected from the light to the right, and to the left-center, look for the dove of peace (in snow) flying towards Our Lady

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


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:

My story really begins on January 1st, 1991. At halftime of the Cotton Bowl, I bought some flowers, drove to Notre Dame, wrote a letter to the Blessed Mother consecrating my life to her guidance, and left it at the base of the Grotto. That moment changed my life. When it was time to marry the woman to whom the Blessed Mother had led me, there was no doubt in my mind where I would propose.

It was late February. We were living in Arizona and had flown back to visit my family in Elkhart. One evening we went to see Fr. Heppen in Corby Hall. After our visit, he excused himself to keep an appointment and Margy and I walked down to the Grotto. As my best friend Craig and my brothers looked on from the pine trees, we lit a candle, said a prayer, then sat down on a bench. At my signal (putting my arm around Margy), a few men began singing and walking towards us on the bench. They were the Notre Dame Glee Club in disguise. As they continued, Margy realized that everyone at the Grotto that night could sing. Eventually there were 10 Glee Clubbers standing in a semi-circle singing a lively love song to Margy after they had laid long stem roses on her lap. They sang a verse of a very soft, beautiful tune, then began humming as I knelt down, produced the ring and made my request. She said yes. Perfectly on key, the Glee Club chimed in again.

After one more song, a hymn in honor of the Virgin Mary (the Alma Mater), Margy's serenaders marched into the winter night, a spirited rendition of the Victory March on their lips. Emotionally over-whelmed while walking back across campus, we passed the Log Cabin Chapel and I told Margy to look inside. The door flung open as she approached. Looking squarely at her from inside were her parents who had secretly flown in from Arizona, her siblings who had driven from Columbus, Ohio, my parents, my twelve siblings, their families and a few friends who had come in for the occasion. As the children watched in quiet awe, the Glee Club sang their songs again for the benefit of those who had not viewed the event from the evergreen gallery. Presently, Fr. Heppen emerged, fully vested for Holy Mass, keeping the commitment he had mentioned earlier. And everyone prayed. When Mass was over, I had reserved the upper room at Bruno's Pizza. The rest of the night was passed in festive celebration.

Only afterwards did I realize the enormity of the weekend. Margy and I were going to be married. Our Lady's guidance had once again prevailed.



                                                                              CLASS OF 1990

                                                                        SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA


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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