Cave of Candles
A Cave of Candles / by Dorothy V. Corson

Chapter 13

The Long Sought Original St. Mary's Grotto

Finding so many conclusive clues available to me among the priests still living, to confirm the crown story, gave me fresh impetus to go after more evidence of the earlier St. Mary's Grotto. I had expected it would be a path to pursue at another time, but no sooner said, then the unexpected happened once more, in the form of an 1880 Notre Dame Class Day Book.(128) Peter Lysy, knowing the archival records available, knew it might close, as did the Scholastics at that time, with the usual mention of St. Mary's Academy. While I was concluding the crown story, unbeknown to me, another important Grotto clue was about to be planted in my path.

Peter placed the open booklet on the counter in front of me and pointed to a heading GROTTO OF OUR LADY OF LOURDES. Pleased to see yet another mention of it, I happily asked how he'd found it. He responded with a phrase I've come to associate with him, "you've got to be creative." In his case, being steeped in the University archival materials, when knowledge and preparation meet opportunity, insight takes over.

They say: "Chance favors the prepared mind." To which a new Professor friend has added, "it also favors the active mind." In my own case, most of my efforts have come by way of intuition, following my instincts and stumbling upon information by blind luck or simple dogged determination not to leave a stone unturned. The web of information was enlarging. Peter always seemed several steps ahead of me in presenting material to aid my search, often coming up with the answers before I had stumbled upon them by accident or persistent effort. The single photograph of Sorin's original Grotto and this old 1880 Class Day Book were good examples. Being unfamiliar with the archives and the college routine, I would never have known such records existed.

In this case, two pages at the end of the Class Day Book under the heading of St. Mary's Academy began with:

The description of the campus continues describing the grounds and buildings. Going from THE BUILDING (the old academy now known as Bertrand Hall) to the CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC and ST. LUKE'S STUDIO (art) attached to it and proceeding to the following brief description:

It was a small mention, but enough further proof to fuel my energies in another direction. Where exactly was this Grotto, that had so impressed the aforementioned Mary Regina Jamison and was mentioned by the Scholastic as being one of only three in the country in the year 1877? Was Sorin, as Father Maguire alluded to earlier, somehow connected with this one too? It seemed worth a little time out in my Notre Dame Grotto research to satisfy my own curiosity. After all, in those days the St. Mary's campus was closely tied with Sorin and Notre Dame, the Sisters providing domestic help and the priests providing their spiritual needs.

I began by asking every elderly nun and those in the Convent Archives if they recalled any mention or archival evidence of this 1870s grotto? No one I approached, even Sister Judith, one of the oldest at 97, knew of any reference to it or any remembrances passed on by Sisters now deceased. One Sister, a St. Mary's historian, told me emphatically there was no Grotto at St. Mary's and never had been!

Statues in Lourdes Hall

Then Sister Raymunda, who had given me my first piece to the puzzle of the Grotto in the glen, mentioned that there was an Our Lady Statue in the Lourdes Hall if that might be of help. Shortly thereafter, I visited Sister Miriam Kathryn, the Sister who had supplied me with firsthand information about the 1937 Grotto with whom I had been regularly sharing my finds. As I entered her room, she said earnestly, "I was very close to calling you," Dorothy, " I think I know where the first Grotto at St. Mary's may have been." In thinking over our conversations, she had also recalled the statue in Lourdes Hall.

I had been studying the campus grounds trying to pinpoint the location of the Grotto somewhere between the academy and the former convent. Perhaps it had been dismantled to make room for a future building. Or it might have been between the buildings which were now all attached in a "U" formation. The center of the "U" being called the "teardrop" because it was where the Sisters said goodbye to one another upon being sent on missions to far away countries. It may also have been in the way of the full length porches which were added later to provide shelter in moving from building to building.

I had obtained from Peter copies of several maps of the Notre Dame Campus(129) which we had been using to check out the location of the first Notre Dame Grotto. They included drawings of the St. Mary's campus as well. On one, an 1878 St. Joseph County map, was an overall view of the land surrounding the campuses including the Notre Dame lakes and the St. Joseph River behind the St. Mary's Academy. The others, Sanborn maps(130) for 1885 and 1891, were insurance maps with detailed drawings of the campus buildings used for fire insurance purposes. Those Sisters I was able to share them with, their archives had none, were fascinated with them but they did not seem to jog any memories. Sister Miriam having seen these maps earlier now offered her conclusions.

"I have a feeling the Grotto may have been where Lourdes Hall is now, and that is why it was called Lourdes Hall. Perhaps it was dismantled and the statue of Our Lady was put at the top of the stairway landing of one of the floors." It sounded like we were on to something. Thinking I might get lost in the maze of hallways and corridors connecting the numerous buildings, she offered to take me there the next time I came. I told her I knew the buildings and hallways very well and if she'd just tell me approximately where the statue was I was sure I could find it.

Armed with her directions, upon leaving the convent for the day, I went in search of Lourdes Hall and its Our Lady statue and was surprised to find it easily. She had told me it was at the head of the third floor landing, in a quiet convent area of the building. The graceful polished twin stairway was made of gleaming red mahogany wood, the stair steps marked by the many footsteps of students and nuns in days gone by. As I followed the curve in the staircase, one leading to the north hallway and one to the south, I found myself gazing into an 6' x 12' hallway alcove facing the head of the grand staircase. To my surprise, I found not only a life-sized statue of Our Lady of Lourdes but also one of Bernadette facing her. Behind the pedestal on which her statue was placed was a narrow stained glass window with bits of purple color in it. I could not hold back the feeling that the statues as they were hadn't been there originally, but might have come from somewhere else. Someone had said that they thought the building had been called the long building and that when the statues were put there it was named Lourdes Hall.

All of this seemed to make sense. If the Grotto had to be destroyed, it would seem natural to remove the statues and relocate them. And possibly to soften its loss the building in which they were placed was named for them. I decided to see what else I might find about the statues in Lourdes Hall in the Scholastics at the University Archives while I awaited my appointment with a Convent Archivist, after the Christmas Holidays.

I set aside Monday of the holiday week, Christmas being on Friday, to pour over as many of the Scholastics during the period of the aforementioned Grotto and the building of Lourdes Hall as I could before the University Archives closed during the Christmas break. I knew the building now known as Lourdes Hall had been built in 1871-72. Its design borrowed from a sketch of the hospital where Mother Augusta had tended the wounded during the Civil War. Impressed with the building she had asked a wounded soldier she was caring for to do a sketch of it for her. The St. Mary's Sisters were well represented during the thick of the war.

I began my search for more information about it with the 1870 Scholastic. Then following an instinct, I switched to 1880, the year of the Class Day Book and decided to work backward instead. Since all the known indexes to the Scholastic hadn't revealed any information, paging through them seemed the only alternative. It was made a bit simpler by the fact that any writings about St. Mary's were at the end of each issue. It was tedious work. My eyes were tired and I was becoming weary of the task. Near the end of the September 1879 issue, I found this puzzling entry about the Grotto:

And following it:

Obviously, Father Sorin had been involved with the Grotto of Lourdes at St. Mary's and knew it intimately in the years prior to the dedication of his own in August of 1878, the year before the St. Mary's Grotto was replaced. I had now found renewed evidence that there had been a Grotto and that it had been replaced -- and the statues moved to Lourdes Hall. But where it had been still remained a mystery I'd have to continue to pursue. I completed the 1879 and 1878 issues and decided to call it a day.

I found Peter pouring over an Atlas engraving of the St. Mary's campus as I was leaving. Not being familiar with the campus himself, he asked me to explain the layout. I joined him in his musings, both of us voicing the same wonderings. Could the Grotto have been inside? Possibly even in Lourdes Hall to begin with?

I remembered noticing a portion of the convent area being labeled classrooms on the Sanborn maps and Peter immediately went for them and we checked it out. All at once, it was evident that the 265 foot long building called Lourdes Hall was divided by the grand staircase with student classrooms on one side and the Sisters refectory, the chapel, and the convent area, on the other. We both recognized the significance of the wording in the Class Day Book at the same time: "Passing the Grotto of Lourdes which separates the academy from the convent." It all began to come together. I had been looking for an outside Grotto and it had been inside!

However, this still did not answer the question of how big it was and what it looked like originally that would warrant it being referred to as the "closest replica." Determined, for my own satisfaction, to pursue any leads I might find about it , I looked forward to my post holiday appointment with the Convent Archivist to share my findings with her and explore their records. I'd also pick up where I left off in the Scholastics on my next trip back to the University Archives, after the long holiday. Only this time, I'd be looking not only for Grotto references but also for information on the building of Lourdes Hall. To see if an indoor Grotto was mentioned and whether it was always called Lourdes Hall because of it.

Proof of the Original St. Mary's Grotto

I was enjoying my Tuesday morning at home preparing for and anticipating the rest of the week off before the holidays when I received an unexpected call from Peter Lysy at the Notre Dame University Archives. Something in our conversation, he told me, had prompted him to look up another source. He found a library index for the Scholastic, which was different then their own that indicated a full article on "Some of St. Mary's Shrines." He said the Grotto was mentioned in it and informed me: "I think it's what you may have been looking for and I have a copy of it waiting for you whenever you want to pick it up." Curious, I knew I couldn't wait almost two weeks to see it. When I picked it up and thanked him for it, he said he hadn't read it yet but felt it might be helpful.

When I arrived home and began reading it, I discovered it was a very complete detailed description of the Grotto itself. What a nice Christmas surprise. I rang the Archives and left a joyous message to pass on to Peter telling him it was just what I was hoping to find and that he had "made my day." As I hung up, I noticed the October 1877 date on the top of it, and smiled to myself, as I realized that had I stuck with the Scholastic through the next book I'd have happened upon it myself within 15 minutes of my leaving the archives.

While I was musing about the curious way this latest piece of information had come into my hands, I remembered a quote from one of the St. Mary's history books I had been reading. Sister Madeleva's, My First Seventy Years. Sister Madeleva's words fit like a glove the feeling I had when I received Peter's telephone message:

Following, in part, is that hoped for detailed description of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at St. Mary's. The Scholastic article begins with a note from the editor.

The letter tour continues to other shrines on campus describing how the beautiful St. Joseph River encircles St. Mary's giving it the appearance of an earthly paradise to strangers from the busy world. It ends with: "But before leaving, I asked and obtained permission of my kind hostess to visit them on my return from the West."(133)

The Chapel of Loretto

Among those shrines mentioned was the Chapel of Loretto, directly behind the present Church of Loretto at St. Mary's. It was completed in 1859. It has the distinction of being the first replica of a shrine built on either campus. It is a facsimile of the original "House of the Incarnation," (the room where, Gabriel, the angel of the Lord announced to Mary the birth of Jesus -- the Son of God), said to have been transported by angels to a shepherd's field in Italy. The model and plans were brought from Europe by Father Neal H. Gillespie, Mother Angela's brother.

The statue, which Mother Superior brought from Luxemburg, was placed in the Chapel of Loretto on September 28, 1878,(135) and is still there today. It honors Mary, the protectress of Luxemburg, the Mother who ever since the 16th century has given so many proofs of her watchful care over the city, guarding it from pestilence and the arms of enemies:

With appropriate ceremony, a statue of Our Lady of Consolation was born on a tastefully decorated stand. A candlelight procession wound round the avenues and parterres near the academy and along the bank of the St. Joseph River.

Another small item of special interest on the same subject turned up while browsing through an old Ave Maria:

The Blessed Virgin is called the 'Star of the Sea,' says St. Thomas, because sailors are guided to their port by the polar star as Christians are guided in the voyage to eternal glory by Mary.

Father Sorin was on this same ship. His miraculous rescue was depicted in a painting that was once in the Sacred Heart Church. A letter written by him aboard the steamer that rescued them, "Ville de Brest," was published in the Scholastic. The Ville de Brest was sent by the French Transatlantic Steamship Co. to cruise for the Amerique. They started looking for her on November 24, 1875 and sighted her on December 5th but because of rough seas were not able to get close enough to effect a rescue until a week later, on December 12. She was towed into Queenstown harbor and thence to Harve and arrived December 17, 1875. Sorin describes the rescue, in part:

Eliza Starr was closely connected with both Notre Dame and St. Mary's. When her artist's studio in Chicago was destroyed during the Chicago fire, in 1871, she was invited to reside at St. Mary's as the head of their art department. She returned to Chicago in 1878 but still commuted to St. Mary's to teach. I found many of her stories and poems in the early Scholastic and Ave Maria magazines in the stacks at the Hesburgh Library. In later years, she received the Laetare medal for her many artistic contributions.

A visit to the Chapel of Loretto revealed that the silver star was no longer there. However, several items of hers are displayed in the Heritage Room in the convent museum in Bertrand Hall. Among them, her rosary, and a beautiful egg-sized cameo of the Blessed Virgin given to her by the Pope. The Laetare Medal was conferred by the University of Notre Dame, Laetare Sunday 1885, upon Elizabeth Allen Starr, the first woman to receive it. Mother Cabrini presented Miss Starr's books to the pope and confided to her the presentation of the medallion of Mary Immaculate, a gift of Pope Leo XIII on January 31, 1900, in appreciation of her published work and studies in art.

In 1881, Eliza Starr wrote a lovely poem about the University entitled:

Notre Dame as Seen from the Saint Joseph River

The purple air, the misty hills;
The meadows, green with hidden rills;
The grove, that screens from curious gaze
Its silent, meditative ways;
The lake beyond, its placid eye
Blue as the arch of vernal sky;
The church, and chapel spires that claim
The Virgin's favor, with her name;
How, like a thought of peace, the whole
Takes calm possession of the soul.

By E.A.S.(139)

The letter tour concluded with the mention of the summerhouse, The Pavilion of Mt. Carmel, overlooking the river "mid most delightful surroundings." It was also called "The Chinese Umbrella." A memory of it still exists in the form of a Gazebo south of the church.

Once again I referred to Father Maguire's letter of correction:

In this case, Father Maguire's assumption was incorrect. However, his mention of it had prompted me to keep digging until I found the existence of three earlier Lourdes Grottoes hidden away in the past: St. Mary's 1874 Grotto, Sorin's 1878 Grotto and the Sisters' 1937 Grotto in the Glen. This additional long forgotten historical information about Notre Dame and St. Mary's might never have been rediscovered without Father Maguire's letter.

Notre Dame from St. Mary's Lake

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