The sun peeked out and the rain subsided in time for the dedication and blessing of the newly constructed Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto and altar on the Marian High School campus, Mishawaka, Thursday, Oct. 7, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades presided over the Mass and rite of dedication and thanked everyone who made the grotto and prayer plaza possible, including the donors and craftsman who were among the invited guests. The outdoor liturgy was livestreamed for the students in the building.
Several pastors from the area concelebrated the liturgy, including Father Nathan Maskal; Father Daniel Niezer, co-chaplain; Father Glenn Kohrman; Father Zachary Rathke, CSC, co-chaplain; Father John Eze; Father Jacob Meyer; Father Benjamin Muhlenkamp; Father Benjamin Landrigan; Father Chris Brennan, CSC, a 2008 Marian graduate; Father John Delaney; and Father Jason Freiburger. Several Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, neighbors of Marian High School, were present as well.
Bishop Rhoades blessed the grotto at the beginning of Mass, asking the Lord to grant that all who in its presence would “pay devout homage to the Blessed Virgin, may know her protection, trace in their hearts the pattern of her holiness and be aided by her to obtain her grace in this life and everlasting glory in the life to come.”
“This grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, the altar and this prayer plaza is so beautiful and it gives me so much joy because this will be such an important part of the campus of Marian High School,” he said during the homily. “It will be a place of prayer and reflection. I can only imagine the many graces that will flow through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother from the prayers that are offered here — many, many graces.”
“This community and the people who visit will bring candles and light candles with prayers for special intentions,” said the bishop. “It’s a beautiful custom we have as Catholics, so I know there’ll be thousands and thousands of candles lit at this grotto in years to come,” he predicted. “The light of the candle reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world, and Mary is like the moon, the fathers of the Church said. She reflects the light of her Son. She reflects the light of Christ.”
“That’s my prayer, that it will be the principle lesson the students of Marian learn in their Catholic education here — that they live as children of the light and, like Mary and assisted by her protection, spread that light into the world.”
Journey to fruition
Marian High School principal Mark Kirzeder and Director of Mission Advancement Alicia Redinger shared how the grotto came to be.
Redinger said it was Jan. 9, 2014, when Bishop Rhoades announced that Our Lady of Lourdes was Marian’s official patroness and consecrated the school to her. She said it was in that timeframe that the bishop asked them to consider making a grotto on campus.
She said they started with a small group of people to come up with a way to “make the grotto a beautiful place for students to go as well as the community.”
Kirzeder said the planning and construction was a team effort that included Father Niezer, Father Rathke and Campus Minister Corinne DeLucenay. They collaborated on the design and construction and each took responsibility for different aspects of the project.
Donors made the grotto possible. Kirzeder said. “We couldn’t do it within the budget so we met with donors and for the last two years, the annual appeal was allocated to the project.”
“There were so many teachers and parents dedicated to the project and helped to move it forward, all the donations and those who donated time,” Redinger added. “It really has been done by the grace of God. We worked with so many people who guided and directed us to others who could help.”
Construction began in the spring of 2019, but the pre-planning had begun in 2016. COVID-19 slowed things down for more than a year, “but everyone has been so good at working with us,” Kirzeder said. “And the community has been very patient.”
Redinger said they obtained beautiful statues of Mary and St. Bernadette. The statue of Mary came from Italy and was said to be very similar to the original at Lourdes.
“We started praying the rosary out at the grotto space when it was still just a grassy area. We were out there in the snow just asking Our Lady’s intercession to make this happen,” she recalled.
Kirzeder began as principal at Marian High School the year the bishop dedicated the school to Our Lady of Lourdes. At the time, his wife, Lesley, was pregnant with their third child. He said there had been some complications with all of her pregnancies, so they were praying to Our Lady of Lourdes for protection.
He also shared that Lesley had done some freelance graphic and communications work for Father John DeRosi, a priest who was stationed in France during that pregnancy. Father DeRosi went to Lourdes to pray for their unborn child.
Kirzeder said he and his wife are Notre Dame graduates, and that the grotto on campus was a special place for them. For all those reasons, their third child was named Bernadette Rose; she is now a perfectly healthy 6-½ year old who lit the first candle at the grotto during the dedication.
Lesley spoke before the Mass about what that honor meant to Bernadette.
“She’s so honored. She’s been so close to Bernadette. When she was younger, we’d visit the grotto at Notre Dame and she’d go up to the statue of St. Bernadette and hug and kiss her,” she said. It was special and fitting to Lesley to see the grotto at Marian come to fruition, “especially while Mark is here, and for our kids to see the devotion of their father is beautiful. She added that having Our Lady of Lourdes’ physical presence there was another example of how Mary’s presence is magnified.
Guests and alumni
At the end of the Mass the bishop again thanked everyone, “especially those who were so dedicated to the making of the grotto.”
After Mass, the principal also thanked everyone.
“The grotto would not be here without all of you — all your prayers, donations, hard work and love have poured into this space, all with the intention of bringing more souls to Christ through His Blessed Mother. I hope this space inspires students, staff, alumni, parents, future students and visitors to stop, pray and develop a closer relationship with Jesus. I hope you come back often and bring visitors.”
He shared that future plans include stations of the cross, lighting and fencing. His hope for the space is that Marian students, staff and families will deepen their relationship with Mary under her powerful intercession and he hopes it connects the mission of the school and is a tangible aspect — a place to go and pray to their named patroness.
Jane Szlanfucht lit a candle at the grotto and said, “Since I had a re-version in my 30s, St. Bernadette and the whole story of Our Lady of Lourdes has had a special place in my heart so this is very special and beautiful and I’m glad to be here today.”
Rosemary Ravotto McNeely and Del Lupe also lit candles. McNeely said, “I think it’s a wonderful thing that they’ve done. This is a great place to come, light a candle, meditate and pray. It’s good for the campus, and it’s beautiful.”
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