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

Chapter 25

Corby's Favor Granted -- The Dedication of the Grotto

Following are little known facts associated with the actual planning and building of the 1896 Notre Dame Grotto. The Grotto expense ledgers in the University Archives supplied the name of the builder, John Gill. However, the most evidential information on the planning and building of the Grotto, appeared in a small publication no longer in print, the Annals Of Our Lady Of Lourdes.

Copies of this publication are in Rare Books and Special Collections at the Hesburgh Library. The Annals chronicled events associated with Lourdes, France. Volume 1 was published in 1885. In 1949, the last issue, Volume 72, was published. It featured letters regarding cures effected with the use of Lourdes water, here and abroad, as well as articles pertaining to 18th century piety and pilgrimages. It also included the announcement of the building of the Notre Dame Grotto in the spring of 1896

Grotto of Lourdes at the Home of The "Ave Maria,"

Notre Dame, Indiana

In June, the Annals, described in detail the progress of the Grotto. It verifies the origin and the originator of the 1896 Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was Father Wm. Corby -- not Father Sorin -- who was inspired to plan and build it:

Grotto of Lourdes at Notre Dame, Indiana

Father Maguire nears the end of his letter of correction concerning the 1896 Grotto with this brief description of a little known event that occurred as the Grotto was nearing its completion.

In August another entry appeared in the Annals on the progress of the Grotto which confirms the above excerpt from Father Maguire's letter:

Grotto of Lourdes at Notre Dame, Indiana

Very early pictures of the Grotto(300) show that an ordinary backyard pump for drinking water marks the spot where the natural spring occurred. It was later covered with the three-sided sculptured drinking fountain now in the same spot at the Grotto.

The Dedication of The Grotto

In September, 1896 the last entry in the Annals describes more fully the occasion of the Grotto's dedication:

Grotto of Lourdes at Notre Dame, Indiana

An earlier Annals describing the progress of the Grotto reported its planned completion date:

However, by coincidence or design, it was dedicated ten days earlier, on August 5, 1896, the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows:

Sorin related how he also found that intimation of her will in his description of the departure of the first colony bound for Indiana (Sorin and six Brothers) in 1841. He mentions that departure from France with wonderment:

The dedication of the 1896 Grotto on the Feast of Our Lady of Snows -- the same day Sorin left France for the New World -- became a second "happy coincidence" for the University. Perhaps, once again, she had chosen for Herself, that date for its dedication, as further reassurance of her offer of inspirational guidance to all those "who look up to her" on the Dome and at the Grotto "as their guiding Star."

These words from Sorin's Chronicles, aptly describe Sorin's venture in Indiana. A prospect that would have daunted any ordinary man. It is more evidence that Sorin based his whole life and that of the University on the power of persistence and prayer.

Surely the phenomenal growth of the Notre Dame of today is intimation in itself, of the power of the maternal protection of the Mother of Goodness over the past one hundred and fifty four years.

These same sentiments were beautifully expressed in a pamphlet written by Rev. Arthur J. Hope, C.S.C., to commemorate the departure of the Sisters of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame when the convent on the campus closed in 1958. He also wrote, Notre Dame, One Hundred Years, one of the most extensive histories of the University. Regrettably, one of the young students who drowned in St. Joseph Lake was his 22 year old brother. It happened in 1922 when Father Hope was in Rome studying for the priesthood.

Father Hope preached a beautiful sermon at the Farewell Ceremony of the closing of the convent in which he expressed the University's appreciation for their loyal and devoted motherly service to the campus. He recalls "when the Sisters first set foot on this land of the Blessed Lady, of their devotion to the priest who had begun all this . . . who had fashioned this University in the wilderness." He speaks of that same priest being lovingly attended by those same Sisters when he lay dying in the presbytery:

Mother Ascension, who was devoted heart and soul to the interests of Father Sorin and Notre Dame, was with him. So was Father John W. Cavanaugh, who describes his last moments:

How pleased Father Sorin would have been had he known that in three more years there would be another tribute to his golden lady -- just a stone's throw away from where he lay dying -- the present 1896 Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at Notre Dame.

Nor could Father Sorin, or Father Hope, have foreseen the plans Our Lady had for the future of the University they called their home. In 1958, coincidentally the 100th anniversary of the Lourdes Grotto in France, Father Hope concluded his farewell sermon to the departing Sisters with his own prophetic views about the future growth of the University:

How aptly his words apply to the University of today as it continues to blossom and grow beyond anything its founder would have ever been able to imagine. Were Sorin here to see it, I am sure, to him, it would merely show yet more clearly the hand of God in the direction of human events -- whether they be fortune or misfortune.

Timothy Howard speaks of the Sorin he knew in his later years:

On October 31, 1893, Allhallow eve, "eve of all the holy ones' day" in the wake of declining health; Very Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., founding father of the University of Notre Dame, took his last breath on earth. The University prepared for his funeral on All Saints' Day and he was buried on All Souls' Day. In his Chronicles, Sorin had noted with wonder the significance of his departure from France to "this new world" on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Snows in 1841. He would have been equally pleased that he departed from this life under similar significant circumstances.

In Notre Dame One Hundred Years, the author, Father Hope describes his funeral:

It would not be an exaggeration to conclude, that Notre Dame might not exist today without the distinctive personality and character of its founder and his unwavering faith in Mary. To the end, Father Sorin's whole being was focused on the Blessed Virgin. Notre Dame du Lac was everything to him because Our Lady -- the Mother of Goodness -- was everything to him. He was a man with a mission -- the keeper of the flame of her faith.

When Father Sorin died that flame was passed on to Rev. William Corby, former Chaplain of the Irish Brigade during the Civil War. A statue depicting him giving general absolution to soldiers going into battle at Gettysburg stands in front of Corby Hall on campus. A soldier after the war told his wife, "he felt as strong as a lion after that and felt no fear although his comrade was shot down beside him."(309)

The influence of Father Sorin's penchant for doing everything bigger and better has not been wasted on his successors. Each in his own way has carried on that tradition. Sorin was never one to do anything half way. He was always topping himself in honoring Our Lady. First the small bell was replaced with a huge one, the organ with a much finer one, the first church and main buildings with bigger and better ones; and the Dome and its statue of Our Lady, with even larger versions.

The first statue, representing the Blessed Virgin as she appeared to Bernadette at Lourdes, which was placed in the newly completed 1896 Grotto was the same statue that had adorned the octagonal glass enclosed tower-like niche of Father Sorin's earlier Grotto built in 1878 before it was removed. A halo with the wording, "I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION" was above it as they appear over the statue at Lourdes.

How pleased Father Sorin would have been had he known that Father William Corby was about to carry on that tradition in building a bigger and better Grotto at Notre Dame; one that has so surpassed Sorin's first Grotto that it has been literally forgotten. Although Father Corby accomplished what Father Sorin wasn't able to achieve, nonetheless, Sorin's silent influence was as responsible for the Grotto being there as if he had been on the scene, as he surely must have been, in spirit.

Father Sorin may be gone, but the light of faith Our Lady instilled in him is burning ever brightly in the candles at her Grotto. The spirit of her faith sustained him as it has the power to sustain all those at the University who wander, by accident or design, into her presence on the Dome and at the Grotto.

<< back | A Cave of Candles | next >>