Two Black Stones From Lourdes
I returned to Notre Dame and the University Archives to search for early pictures of the Grotto in order to find out when the later stone was placed there, and hopefully by whom. To my dismay, I found no photographs picturing the stones, and most of those I found, were not dated. I found the same thing at the Indiana Province Archives.
One learns very quickly in tracing history how very important it is for all of us to date our pictures and note the people and places in them. Since archiving appears to have begun, routinely, mostly in the 50s, one felt lucky to have even what little was miraculously saved from the past. It seemed in this case, I had reached a dead end, I knew of no other place to look.
Then another name to contact was suggested to me, someone who was a frequent visitor to the Grotto, a Father Edward O'Connor. I was told that he conducted the Rosary at the Grotto nightly and was a man steeped in Marian studies.
Father O'Connor was most helpful over the phone, when I asked him about the black stones. "I don't know about the small one," he said, "but the larger one I know was placed there by Father Schaerf." He explained that Father Schaerf was pastor of the Sacred Heart Church from 1957-60, and later head of the Confraternity of Lourdes which dispenses the Lourdes water from France. "No," he said, "I have no idea when he might have placed it there or how it had come about." He said he was sure there had been no ceremony involved, and most likely Father Schaerf had cemented it in himself or with the help of a workman unbeknown to anyone else. I could just picture him in the middle of the night attempting this feat, as the daytime would have surely brought too many observers and a possible refusal to allow it there. For many years, in the interest of avoiding the clutter seen at most shrines, no plaques or changes to the Grotto have been allowed.
There was a special year long celebration of the 1958 Centennial of the Lourdes Grotto in France. It was celebrated on the campus, from Lourdes Day, February 11,1958 through February 11,1959. I began looking for pictures and writings about Grotto celebrations held there during that year. It was estimated that 4000 students attended the celebration in 1958. I also looked up information about Father Schaerf in the Province Archives. I learned he had made a trip to Nevers, France to obtain a relic of Saint Bernadette from Mother General Ann Marie Crebassol of the Sisters of Charity. It was blessed by Pope XII and carried in a procession to the Grotto celebrations. It was then said to have been put in a gold box and placed on the alter in the Lourdes Chapel in the church.
The Lourdes altar was removed from in front of the Gregori painting of the Grotto scene during one of the renovations. Later writings confirmed this with the added mention that the relic was placed in a reliquary in the Sacred Heart Museum. I looked in both the church and the museum, and found nothing resembling a gold box as it was described. I knew of no other places to look. It was either hidden away or no longer existed.
Long after I had given up finding it, to my surprise, a picture of the reliquary turned up in leafing through a 1961 Notre Dame Alumnus magazine. I also found several other unindexed articles about the Grotto before, during, and after the time of the Lourdes Centennial. It was probably an obvious place to find it, yet it was the last place I would have thought to look at the time. In it, was this reference to the St. Bernadette Relic and its exquisite reliquary inspired by the Golden Dome:
A beautiful reliquary was presented to the Lourdes Confraternity from the Rome Club by Jerry Ashley '33 president of the Alumni Club in the Eternal City. A relic (1st class) of St. Bernadette will be placed in the reliquary which in turn will be placed on the altar of Our Lady of Lourdes in Sacred Heart Church on the Notre Dame campus.(71)
I had not found it because it was not a simple gold box but a very ornate and beautiful golden reliquary -- in the shape of the Golden Dome of Notre Dame, with Our Lady on top -- set upon a pedestal. It is well worth a trip to the Sacred Heart Museum to see it. It is in the center glass case where the chalices are kept.
Many pictures of this 1958 Centennial of the Lourdes Grotto in France celebrated on the campus were evident but still none showed the black stone in place at that time. Could Father Schaerf have taken a later trip to Lourdes, after he had secured the relic, and obtained the stone at a later time?
Since I didn't know where to go from there, I decided to close the door on that portion of my search, at least temporarily. I was finishing my notes ready to move on, when a long buried memory -- the manila envelope of material about the Grotto sent to me by Brother James many years before -- came to mind. Receiving the envelope, which contained no new information about the Grotto, had ended my questions about it on campus until this latest research. It had been so long ago that I didn't even know if I had kept it. I headed for my attic sanctuary and to my surprise I found it .
The 1978 postmark surprised me. It was hard to believe that almost 15 years had passed since that last inquiry. Opening it up again after all that time, I found he had included an old Our Sunday Visitor I had not remembered being in the envelope. It was printed in 1968 ten years before the envelope was sent to me. Undoubtedly, Brother James had included it because it had a very good picture of the Grotto on the front of it. The black stone was there looking as if it had been freshly cemented into the Grotto! Inside, I found an article by a John Laughlin detailing the 110 year celebration in honor of the Lourdes Grotto held at Notre Dame in 1968.
Now I at least had proof that the stone had been there since 1968 and from the fresh look of it, it seemed likely it might have been placed there then. From the article I learned that Father Schaerf, due to an illness, had left the order and his work with the Confraternity the same year. Could it have been a farewell gesture?
Armed with this new information, I again checked both campus archives hoping to find some evidence of when it first appeared there. None of my searches for photographs or further articles proved fruitful so I decided to let it steep a little.
New Avenues to Explore
That same weekend my husband returned from coffee at our local shopping mall and happened to remark about how busy it was. When I asked him why, he told me there was a show there for postcard collectors. My antenna went up immediately. Of course, why hadn't I thought of it before. Postcards had probably been made of the Grotto ever since it was built. Perhaps I could find some showing the black stones. It was a long shot, but he graciously offered to return with me so I could check it out.
Knowing nothing about collectibles, I had no idea where to begin. The first table I approached had a long shoe box filled with religious postcards. The woman behind the table said she was sure there might be pictures of the Notre Dame Grotto somewhere in it. I went through it thoroughly but found none. However, I did find several interesting and unique examples of other Lourdes Grottoes in the United States. I decided to purchase three of them for future reference. One at Mother Seton's Stonehill College was especially appealing though totally different than the one at Notre Dame. More than two hours later, I had made every table in the room finding none with the black stones and most of them undated anyway.
However, there was one much older card picturing the Notre Dame Grotto with a 1912 postmark and a dated message. Something unusual about it caught my eye. There was a bronze plague on the left side of the Grotto. I was sure there was none there now. Yet, a small part of me wondered if I just hadn't noticed it or perhaps it might have been covered with ivy. I had counted them previously. I knew there were two large plaques on the right side, the diamond shaped donor plaque and a square favor granted plaque, one made of marble. Underneath them was a small bronze plague. I remembered only one other small plaque, by itself, on the left side. Could I have missed it? Curious, I decided to purchase it. Examining it later with a magnifying glass revealed only that a number of lines of script were on it.
Then I recalled I had bought the newest Notre Dame Grotto postcard from the campus bookstore a week earlier. I went looking for it to see what was on the left side of the Grotto. There was nothing there, but to my surprise there was a triangular imprint on the stone where one had been.
I returned to the University Archives to make a second search through the photographs that hadn't produced the black stone. Perhaps in one of those pictures the plaque had been there and I'd just missed it in my concentration on the black stone. Peter Lysy and I again poured over the pictures, and to our surprise we both noticed for the first time one large picture, we must have passed over before, containing the missing plaque. Peter produced a magnifying glass and the wording became legible. It read: "In Remembrance of the First Pilgrimage from Holy Trinity Parish, Chicago, IL. June 30, 1907."(72)
Below it, Peter said, was the same message in Polish.
Unfortunately, there was no date on the picture so there was no easy way to determine when it had been there and when it disappeared. The postcard had a written message dated 1912, but the plaque said "In remembrance . . ." so it could have been put there anytime after 1907.
Then another thought came to mind. I recalled, in going through the original 1896 ledger of Grotto expenses, an entry showing money paid to McDonald Studios of South Bend for the first pictures of the Grotto. Since they were still in business, they might have an archives of their early pictures.
The present owner of the McDonald Studio, Mr. Ray Patnaude, was most helpful in explaining the previous owners and the background of the business. The original owner sold it to an employee, the employee sold it to another man and he had bought it from him. When I asked if the sale had included any archives, he said, "Oh yes, they had a wonderful archives of many early pictures but unfortunately a fire in the building, in the 1950s, destroyed everything they had." What appeared to be my perfect solution, in just a few minutes conversation had gone up in smoke. I could only imagine the thrill of seeing those first pictures of the Grotto when it was newly completed. The original McDonald Studio had the first ground floor studio in South Bend. It was located on the southwest corner of Michigan and Wayne Street.
The following week, I made my regular visit to Holy Cross House and once again received help in my quest from an unexpected source. Father George Schidel was in his usual place when I arrived that Friday afternoon, in the spacious TV room where a table is set up for assembling picture puzzles. We had often exchanged polite conversation in passing, but nothing more. This time, for some unknown reason, I felt moved to show him my 1912 postcard with the mysterious missing plaque, never guessing he was about to supply me with the means to locate more pieces in my Grotto puzzle.
I asked him what he knew of the campus and the Grotto and he admitted he didn't know when the black stones were placed there and hadn't noticed the plaque or the fact that it was now missing. Upon learning of my research, he related his background on campus and asked me if I'd checked the Annals of Our Lady of Lourdes. I told him I had, and he added, "and the Ave Maria?" I also nodded. "Then how about The Dome ," he offered. Surprised at a new source I hadn't thought of, I asked him, "What's The Dome?" He explained that it was the Notre Dame yearbook and might have many old pictures of the Grotto which might give me a clue to when the 1907 plaque was removed and the date the black stones were placed at the Grotto. "Come with me," he said, "I'll show you some of the early Domes we have in our library. The few he showed me whet my appetite to see the full collection I knew I'd find in the library stacks.
I made a mental note to pursue my quest the following Monday, pleased to discover I'd found another Holy Cross friend interested in my project. Unbeknown to me at the time, Father George Schidel, was to become not only a trusted mentor and friend but also my greatest encourager. He followed all my campus discoveries with avid interest and unfailing support. Urging me record them for others to enjoy.
His friendly encouragement and interest during our first interlude of conversation had planted me on a new path, a prelude to many an afternoon spent at Hesburgh Library. It was a new area of study for me to investigate. From the microfilm department to the stacks, to Rare Books & Special Collections, and finally once again to the University Archives, I searched for information on the missing plaque and the black stones. Several days, and a number of afternoons later, I found the answers I was seeking. The plaque reading, "In Remembrance of the l907 Pilgrimage . . .", which the 1912 postcard verified, disappeared sometime around the l920, leaving a diamond imprint from that time on. Why the plaque was missing had to remain a mystery. Perhaps it deteriorated with time, became illegible, or may have loosened from the stone it was mounted on and rather than reattach it, it was removed.
The favors granted plaque dated February 26, 1918, with the two sets of initials, G.F. & A.M., was not pictured until 1921. My first thought had been that this plaque was put there by a young couple, otherwise why the two sets of initials? Then it occurred to me that it could also have been two friends who were Notre Dame students who said a prayer at the Grotto before they went to war. If that were so, then putting a plaque there might have represented their safe return. Here, I encountered a dead end. I had to wait for time to give me the answers. As yet, I had no clues to the origin of the three Favors Granted plaques on the Grotto.
However, one day I stopped to reread Tom Dooley's letter and discovered embossed wording on the black hand rest at the kneeling rail. It was also on the circular candle tier in the candle area. It had been repainted many times and was almost indiscernible. Upon close examination, it read: In memorial of Paul Purcell 1943.(73)
As with the plaques, I wondered about him and on my next trip to the archives I located the story behind his name being there. He was killed in a plane crash during World War II. Having found his story, I was encouraged that if I was patient, somehow or other, something would turn up to explain the Favors Granted plaques on the Grotto, as well.
I decided to tackle the date the black stone was placed at the Grotto next. The little one would have to wait as it was too small to be seen in most pictures. I began by going through the microfilm from the mid 50s to 1968 which would include the year long 1958 Lourdes centennial celebration on campus. Though it looked, from the Grotto cover on the 1968 Our Sunday Visitor, as if it had been freshly cemented that year, I wanted to be sure that it had not been placed there before that time.
Unfortunately, a good many of the yearbooks had no Grotto pictures. Or the pictures used were either too dark, from too far away, or from the wrong angle to show up on microfilm. I noted a few I wanted to look up in the actual yearbooks, which would be more legible, and returned to the library stacks. This time I went backwards from 1968 to 1960. Exhausted, I was about to give up at 1960 and credit it to 1968, as it appeared on the cover of the old Our Sunday Visitor, when intuition prodded me to check out a couple books below the l960 cutoff year I'd decided upon, just in case.
In the 1958 Dome, I found it, in a picture so dark that it hadn't been visible on the microfilm. There was no doubt about it, the larger black stone had been placed at the Grotto in l958. As Father O'Connor had indicated, Father Schaerf must have placed it there, without fanfare, in secret, after the ceremonies. Nothing was written about it at the time and it showed up in none of the pictures taken during the formal celebration. Father Schaerf, in ill health, left his post as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in 1960.
In the February 11, 1968 issue of Our Sunday Visitor(74) which carried the picture of the Grotto and its black stone on the cover, the OSV editor who wrote it mentioned ". . . the Grotto studded with stones from Lourdes." Had he meant these two stones or were there more? It seemed another question I should clarify. I located the current Our Sunday Visitor in the Hesburgh Library and checked the masthead. There was no mention of this man. After 24 years the possibility of his still being there was highly unlikely.
That night I made my usual handwritten daily notes recording the disappearance of the triangular plaque in 1920 and the appearance of the black stone in 1958. I placed the 1968 Our Sunday Visitor back in its manila envelope and prepared myself to close the door on that avenue of inquiry. As I set it aside to be returned to my attic file, a curious thought suggested I look for that name in the South Bend telephone book. All the while, I'm thinking to myself what a crazy notion that was. After all, it was published in Huntington, IN. What possible good would it do if I found that name in the South Bend directory so far away? Nonetheless, accustomed to obeying my inner promptings I did just that. To my surprise, I found two names listed. I hesitated before calling the first one, then decided to try it anyway.
A woman answered the phone. I asked her if she might be able to help me. I was looking for a man with the same last name as hers. He was an editor of the Our Sunday Visitor twenty-four years ago and I wondered if she might know him. "Well," she said, "he's my brother-in-law. He's still at that publication but in another area. He's a book editor." Amazed, at my good fortune, I took a moment to recover from my surprise before continuing. She offered to relay my name and number to him and have him call when he was in town.
Several days later, I received a call from Huntington, IN from the author of the above mentioned article. He was surprised to learn that someone was reading and appreciating an article he had written so long ago. He told me the mention of "the Grotto studded with stones from Lourdes," did refer to the two stones I had been researching. He also told me he had been associated with Notre Dame for a number of years as the managing editor of the Notre Dame Alumnus so any stories for the Our Sunday Visitor about the University seemed to fall to him. It was a long time ago, he said, and brought back a lot of old memories.
Another interesting item about the stone steps on the north side of the Grotto was passed on to me in a conversation with Emeritus Professor Erhard Winkler whose field is geological sciences. We met at Grotto one day and he showed me large pieces of rock that had dropped to the ground during the 1985 fire. The extreme heat caused some of the huge boulders to chip off. A priest friend had saved them and passed them on to him for safekeeping.
As we returned to his office by way of the north steps of the Grotto he pointed out the steps which at a casual glance looked worn by time and the rain. He identified the stone as Mankato Stone from Mankato, Minnesota, and explained that the irregular patterns on the stone steps were fossils made by worms, approximately 450 million years ago, boring through the mud, digesting organic parts. As they ate it and swallowed it, the digested parts came out and formed the marks in the stone. This same Mankato stone with the worm fossils was also used as a walkway just outside the doors leading to the Hesburgh Library.
Two offspring of South Bend's the historic Council Oak Tree also share the Grotto's scenic spot. They were planted there in the early 1980s by Bro. Francis J. Gorch, C.S.C. He was making his yearly fall visit to Rockne's grave in Highland Cemetery and was walking near the historic tree when two acorns fell on his head. He said he took it as a sign that he was to plant the acorns on campus. It is fortunate that he did. The Council Oak was destroyed in a storm and they are now 15 feet tall.
Time to Retrace My Steps
At this point in time, having made steady progress thus far, I decided to retrace my steps and go back over my original sources. I knew much more about the research process, than I had in the beginning. Perhaps I'd uncover something new I hadn't recognized the first time around.
Because the Grotto was under the jurisdiction of the Sacred Heart Church, I was hopeful that at some point in time I'd be able to see their archives. This proved to be a most difficult place to access. The church was steadily in use. A year had gone by, since my first contact with them, and so far they had not been able to arrange a convenient time to see them. I had put this part of my search on hold at the time.
Now I decided to try again. This time I contacted Father Jenky and asked permission for Peter, the University Archivist, and myself to view the Sacred Heart Archives. He said he would be conducting a service at the church on Friday and could meet us there then. While he was involved with the service we could examine their files. As Father Jenky expressed it, "Hard telling what you might find."
Arrangements were made for 11:00 a.m. Father Jenky would be there for the 11:30 mass with a key to the area that housed the archives. It closed between noon and 1 p.m. An hour seemed ample, but again unfortunately an unscheduled funeral mass cut the time to less than a half hour. With so little time available, we were only able to take a cursory look at their files finding not too much, at first glance, that would apply to the Grotto.
About to call it a wash, with very few minutes left before the area would be closing for lunch, I discovered a Xeroxed page from a 1958 Scholastic that interested me. Having no time left to read it and not being able to copy it, I made a note of the date so I could check it out later. As fortune would have it, without realizing it at the time, I had come away with the answer to one more unsolved item.
When I looked it up later at the University Archives, I found this one page detailed the background of the larger black stone. It read:
From the time the Notre Dame Grotto was dedicated, the most common expression of Notre Dame men's devotion to Mary has been in their regular visits to the Grotto. The similarity of our own Grotto to the Lourdes Grotto has been captured in fine detail here at Notre Dame. In fact, there is even a stone from the Lourdes shrine in our own Grotto; it was brought back to Notre Dame by Father Maguire, who had visited Lourdes.(75)
Along with the article was a photograph of a student leaning on the Grotto wall with his head bowed in prayer and his hand on the black stone.
Finally, I had the missing piece Father Edward O'Connor had been unable to supply, where the black stone Father Schaerf placed at the Grotto had come from. I had assumed that perhaps Father Schaerf had brought it back from France in 1957 when he brought back the Bernadette relic used in the 1958 centenary celebration. It hadn't occurred to me that someone else might have brought it from France.
This same article revealed an unexpected surprise and another interesting coincidence. The Father Maguire responsible for obtaining the black stone was the same Father Joseph Maguire who had written the letter I'd discovered at the Indiana Province Archives on the first day of my search. The one correcting the misconceptions about the history of the Grotto. His letter had become the main focus of my research. Now, everything about that one stone began to fall into place. Enlivened by my new find, I was moved to revisit other avenues of my early research.
I decided to return to the Public Relations office in the Main Building, one of my first stops early in my search, and leisurely go over their Grotto file again. It was almost two inches thick, filled with letters and news clippings. It had been all but impossible to view it thoroughly the first time I was there due to a time limit. Once again, I was pleased to find a number of interesting items I hadn't noticed the first time around.
A South Bend Tribune(76) clipping showed elm trees close to the Grotto being cut down in 1955. The oldest was said to be 125 years old, which would date it back to the 1830s when Badin's Log Chapel was at St. Mary's Lake. This assisted me in dating the unmarked Grotto photographs, those taken before 1955 when the trees were still there and those taken afterward.
I also located the origin of the small Lourdes stone at the Grotto. I had assumed that it had been placed there when the Grotto was newly built as the mortar was much the same as the rest of the Grotto. However, a faded, barely legible, onion skin carbon copy of an article sent to the The New World,(77) a Chicago Diocesan magazine, though it was undated, revealed the following interesting information:
Directly beneath the elevated statue of Our Lady is a relic from the Lourdes Grotto. It is a small piece of rock from the niche in which the Blessed Virgin appeared. This relic was brought to the University by Rev. John F. DeGroote and was installed in 1939.
In a later article in a 1946 Scholastic,(78) it was mentioned again along with this added bit of new information: "A plaster of paris model of the proposed Grotto now stands in the back sacristy of Sacred Heart Church and indicates that an ornate shed was meant for the drinking well." No present evidence of this plaster of paris model has been found. Either it is missing, discarded or hidden away.
A check of the Indiana Province Archives revealed that Father DeGroote did make a grand tour of Europe, including Lourdes, in 1939. He must have obtained the small stone at that time planning to affix it to the Grotto when he returned. Twenty years later, in 1958, Father Joseph Maguire also made a grand tour of Europe, with a two day stopover in Lourdes, for his 50th anniversary. This information confirmed his part in the larger black stone. He must have obtained it then and returned with it with the same thought in mind.
How did Father Schaerf enter into it? He was pastor of the Sacred Heart Church at that time, from 1957 to 1960. Since Father Maguire would have been in his 80s, it would be reasonable to assume that due to his age he would have been unable to arrange to place it at the Grotto himself and turned it over the Father Schaerf to accomplish. Father Maguire died in his 90s in 1964. Those who lived with him in his retirement years often remember seeing him, well up in years, skating on the lake in the wintertime.
Another February 13, 1942, Scholastic article found in the Public Relations Grotto file revealed the following information:
The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which was celebrated last Wednesday, brings into the news the relics of St. Bernadette of Lourdes which are prize articles in the Museum atop the Notre Dame Library, now the Architectural Building.
Fred Snite, Jr., of Chicago, widely known victim of infantile paralysis, is the donor of the St. Bernadette of Lourdes mementos to the Notre Dame collection of relics. Mr. Snite acquired the pieces while on a visit to Lourdes two years ago, in 1939. Upon returning from Lourdes, he said that he had 'received a greater grace than a cure from Our Lady.'
Chief among the Snite mementos is a New Year's greeting in St. Bernadette's own handwriting. The letter is dated January 1, 1859 and was written to Madam and Dr. Douze, friends of the young French girl. This is considered a second-class relic. In addition to the letter, the collection includes a small piece of rock from the niche in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette, and a piece of wood from the Lourdes Grotto.
The family of Frederick Bernard Snite, Jr. donated the Snite Museum. Throughout the greater part of his life, Frederick was known as "The Man in the Iron Lung." His story was told in the December 6, 1946 Scholastic :
On football weekends you would see Fred B. Snite in his house trailer-like vehicle parked on the sidelines. Through a specially built mirror attached to his iron lung, which he brought into the public limelight, he watched the game. Despite his handicap he followed the fortunes of the Fighting Irish, seeing all the Notre Dame home games he could and listening to away games by radio.
Fred Snite was the scion of a wealthy Chicago financier, who graduated from Notre Dame in the spring of 1933. Two years later he was ready to enter his father's business, but to celebrate the event properly, the elder Snite took his family . . . on a world cruise. Snite was to enter the Chicago loan firm upon his return. But things didn't work out that way; fate had smiled in another direction. In China, Fred Snite was suddenly taken ill while on a plane trip to Peiping. . . . Taken to a Peiping hospital after precious time had been lost and after a local physician had misdiagnosed his ailment, Snite was pronounced critically ill with the dreaded poliomyelitis, or infantile paralysis. Fortunately the only 'iron lung' in China was at that time in Peiping. Snite, unable to speak or breathe without artificial aid was placed in the lung, and little hope was held for his recovery.
However, the doctors didn't reckon with Snite's pluck. With splendid disregard for cynical predictions, Snite remained alive and within a few months he was not only talking again, but was speaking Chinese almost as fluently as a native. He never complained about his plight, but accepted it philosophically. In 1937, after his case had been making the headlines for a year, Snite was returned by boat to the United States. The following years he was again watching Notre Dame football . . . from a spot directly behind the goal posts.
Grantland Rice, the sports writer, rose to lyric heights in celebrating Rockne's fighting backfield by proclaiming them the 4 Horseman, victors of the backfield. For his courage in battling his disease and his victory over his disabilities, Fred Snite was dubbed "The 5th Horseman":
Condemned to spend a life of pain in a cumbersome Iron Lung, this Fifth Horseman of Notre Dame showed indomitable courage. His special trailer in which he traveled throughout the nation was a familiar sight at the north ramp of Notre Dame stadium at home games. He was indeed, one of Notre Dame's all-time great competitors.
His own words from, The Man in the Iron Lung, expressed his philosophy:
"The faith that brought me peace also taught me that this life is a preparation for the next. In other words, I had a job to do like everyone else. I had not been left out." -- Frederick Bernard Snite, Jr. in a prepared statement published in the Miami Herald, March 2, 1952.
. . . He did his job well. His story like that of thousands of other handicapped people, is a success story. If he ever sang the blues, nobody heard him not even those of us who were with him hourly, day after day. The public never saw him without a smile on his face, and those of us who were close to him can tell you that an hour rarely passed without a little joke on his lips.
. . . The man in the iron lung was no Superman. The radiant spirit that was to become his did not develop overnight. It was the product of a long struggle. [The words of] one of Frederick's favorite nurses, and a devoted friend . . . echoed many of his former nurses . . . "as long as I live, the memory of Mr. Snite's thoughtfulness will never die."
One day Frederick mentioned Lourdes. . . . "If it's God's will that I be cured, I will be. If not, I won't; obviously He has other plans for me. Whatever happens. I figure I have a right to ask only one thing: the strength to face up to it."
Father Matthew Walsh speaks of Snite's Grotto experience at Lourdes:
"To Frederick at Lourdes," says Father Walsh, came, "the miracle of resignation. Our Lady procured that for him beyond any doubt, and he never hesitated to give her credit for it." Fred had a good faith, of course, before he went to Lourdes. He had already reached a degree of resignation. But, as he used to point out, he never before had had the deep well of peace that was his the day he came up from the waters of piscine after the doctor and others tried to persuade him to keep out of the (piercingly cold) baths (he went in twice).
"After that . . . Frederick seemed to have the untroubled conviction that he would not be cured. In later years, he had the depth of resignation to tell me more than once that if God gave him the choice of getting well or staying in the lung, he would stay put."
"He sent out countless messages of cheer to sufferers all over the world."(79)
There was no room for self-pity or bitterness in his life which, apart from almost complete confinement in the respirator, was surprisingly normal. He married Teresa Larkin in 1939, and they had three daughters. . . He became a symbol of the triumph of spirit over the body.
The image of 'The Boiler Kid' was frequently seen in newspapers, magazines, and newsreels nationwide. He published a newsletter entitled, appropriately, Back Talk, and his optimism encouraged countless other polio victims. . . . At his funeral in 1954, at the age of 44, he was mourned by many more than the 1,500 who came to say farewell to this remarkable, dauntless young man. [Excerpts from information circular "The Fred B. Snite Family," Snite Museum of Art.]
Teresa Snite, Frederick's wife, graciously supplied information about his Grotto experiences. She said there was no doubt that he had been inspired to go to Lourdes by the Notre Dame Grotto. In going there, she said, "he felt he had received a miracle of grace rather than a healing, a total acceptance that it was what God wanted him to do, that his respirator was his ticket to heaven."
I knew from a previous mention in the Scholastic that the Bernadette letter was presented to Father Hesburgh in 1939 by Frederick Snite and after his death in 1954, Hesburgh presented it to Father Schaerf in 1958 in connection with the Lourdes Centenary. I can understand their wanting to bring back a tangible remembrance of Lourdes. I have had a fascination with stones all my life, and have collected them from little on up. Mainly because, no two are exactly alike. Like people, each one is unique and interesting. Which may also explain my avid interest in the Grotto from the first moment I saw it. The unhewn rocks used throughout it, some boulders weighing as much as 2 or 3 tons, lend that touch of warmth and irregularity found in nature to its wooded knoll. There is something about it that is very pleasing to the eye and the soul.
I never thought too much about this fascination until I read Man And His Symbols,(80) by Carl Jung, a book that caught my eye upon my last visit to the library. In it, I found these very interesting references to the symbolism of the stone in religion:
Biblical references to the "stone" are numerous. "Christ is the stone that the builders rejected which became head of the corner" (Luke XX:17). Christ is also called the spiritual rock from which the water of life springs (I Cor. X:4). Many religions use a stone to signify God or to mark a place of worship. The holiest sanctuary of the Islamic world is the Ka'abe, the black stone in Mecca to which all pious Moslems hope to make their pilgrimage.
Another reference to stones is also in the Bible: "Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house . . ." 1 Peter 2:5. I related, most especially, to this comment Jung made:
Many people cannot refrain from picking up stones of a slightly unusual color or shape and keeping them, [as shells are picked up at the seashore], without knowing why they do. It is as if the stone held a mystery in it that fascinates them. Men have collected stones since the beginning of time and have apparently assumed that certain ones were the containers of the the spirit of the life-force with all its mystery.
The ancient Germans, for instance, believed that the spirits of the dead continued to live in their tombstones. The custom of placing stones on graves may spring partly from the symbolic idea that something eternal of the dead person remains which can be most fittingly represented by a stone.
In some cultures, when visiting a cemetery, a stone is placed on the grave in the belief that the dead loved one will know you have been there. The significance of the black stone at the Grotto, and my need to research its origin became clearer to me as I read on:
The stone symbolized something permanent that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one's own soul. It symbolizes what is perhaps the simplest and deepest experience, the experience of something eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable.
The Grotto at Notre Dame must inspire just such feelings in many people who visit there. As Tom Dooley described it, there is "something else" there, a special feeling, that is a different personal experience for each person drawn there by the spirit of the place.
In its own special way, it has transcended its historical origin -- becoming a praying place for all faiths. Even non churchgoers respond to its spiritual resonance. It has become a rich inspiration absorbing the spirits of all those who worked on it and worship in it. What has been said about books could also be said about the Grotto: Everyone brings something different to it and takes something different away. Visiting the Grotto is a uniquely personal experience. It is what has made it a cave of candles. My first visit there had the same effect upon me. The spirit of the place continues to call to me to do nothing less than my best in documenting the story behind it.
Recently, in the midst of editing this chapter an unexpected circumstance, in the form of a family crisis, interrupted my progress -- an unplanned but timely postscript was about to be added to this chapter about the black stones.
During a routine check-up, my husband was informed he would require immediate serious surgery. The outcome was uncertain. Like a bolt out of the blue our normal life was put on hold and my research project set aside indefinitely. Life seemed tenuous and uncertain. The day before surgery I found myself, once again, drawn to the Grotto to light a candle of hope.
It was Wednesday, we hadn't thought about it being a big football weekend. The campus was crowded with no place to park. As we prepared to leave, a space opened up some distance away. We walked briskly through the chilly air to the Grotto. After we lit our candles, I moved toward the black stone, now special and familiar to me. On several other occasions in touching it, people had asked me about it. Many times since learning of it myself, and telling others about it, I have often wished that more people were aware of it.
As I approached it, a glint of gold sparkled in the sunshine. It caught my eye. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. The first plaque on the Grotto in almost 40 years. Above the black stone was a one inch by four inch tiny plaque. On it, were the simple words . . . Stone From Lourdes France. It had not been there two weeks before. "When God wants something done . . . He sends someone," was my immediate surprised and pleased response. Someone else must have wondered about it, too, and in learning what it was, decided that it should be marked for others. The black stone can be seen best in the picture at the beginning of this chapter. It is above the left shoulder of the student kneeling to pray.
For many years additional plaques have not been allowed at the Grotto. How it was accomplished only God knows, but I am most happy to see it there and I know many other visitors to the Grotto will feel the same way. Had I not been drawn there by the urge to light a candle during a family crisis, it might have been some time before I happened upon it. I know that I will never see that plaque or touch the Lourdes stone again without thinking of, and blessing, the person who arranged for it to be there.