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

Chapter 25a

Ongoing News of Newly Erected Grotto

There are a few other entries in the 1896 Annals, near the time of the dedication, describing subsequent pilgrimages made to the newly erected Grotto of Lourdes at Notre Dame.

The South Bend Tribune capsuled one of those visits:

The Kalamazoo Augustinian also details this 1896 trip and mentions:

A year later, in August of 1897, further work on the Grotto is described in the Scholastic:

Again, the ending of Father Maguire's letter touches on this subject. He ends his letter with this last sentence:

Another added touch is noted in the Scholastic eight years later in 1940:

In the early 1940s the university inaugurated a beautification project to fill the many empty niches in many buildings on campus with sculptures. Seventeen sculptures were completed by Rev. John Bednar, head of the art department and Eugene Kormendi, artist in residence and teacher of sculpture, among them the World War 1 portico in the east entrance of the Sacred Heart Church which was completed in May of 1944 and an addition to the Grotto:

The three-sided sculptured drinking fountain, pictured at the end of this chapter, replaced the earlier ones, the first backyard handpump pictured in the chapter photograph, and a pedestal drinking fountain, all on the same spot at the Grotto where the natural spring appeared.

About 1910, Sorin's grotto statue, which was by then 32 years old, was replaced with a new one, using the same halo. For reasons unknown, the halo was missing from above the statue from 1931 until 1940. It may have deteriorated and was not replaced.

In 1940 the statue appears to have been renovated, perhaps also part of the beautification project, and the halo is back. From all outward appearances it is the same statue which replaced Sorin's around 1910. The face has been repainted with natural features, a rosary of simulated crystal beads with a five inch black cross has been added and the sash painted sky blue. The new halo made of sheet metal by the tin shop behind the Main Building is much larger. It is also painted sky blue with the words "I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION" printed on it in gold letters. A former sacristan who was there at the time said the halo was hung from hooks inside the niche, adjusted to size with bailing wire. This statue, was repainted through the years and remained in the niche for over 60 years, until 1971, when it was replaced with the present one. An embossed rosary is molded into the statue which is monotone except for the sky blue sash. Once again the halo has not been replaced. The statue has been without a halo since 1971.

There were many changes made to simplify the church and chapels on campus after Vatican II. This may have been the reason for replacing the statue with a simpler one and removing the halo. Brothers who were there in 1970 recalled the statue was deteriorating. By then the tin shop was no longer in existence and there might not have been an easy way to replace the halo.

Several people on campus thought it looked better without it. Some thought it was outmoded and no longer needed, and one Brother offered his own theory. He said that actually the halo was not realistic -- aside from the fact that it has always been above the statue at Lourdes -- because Bernadette did not see the words over the Blessed Virgin's head. The words were spoken to her by the beautiful lady when she asked her who she was. Since the sacristan who removed the statue is no longer in the order and his whereabouts are unknown it is one question that will have to go unanswered.

As mentioned earlier, in 1958 a special year long celebration of the Centennial of the Lourdes Grotto in France was held on campus. It was celebrated from Lourdes Day, February 11,1958 through February 11,1959. An estimated 4000 students attended the celebration. Many ceremonies were held at the Grotto and improvements were made there during that year. In a 1958 Notre Dame Alumnus, it was announced that Robert L. Hamilton '34 undertook the paving of the grounds (formerly crushed stone) leading to this favorite shrine of Notre Dame Men.(316)

Still another announcement about the Grotto appears in a 1961 Notre Dame Alumnus:

It is believed that the current "Senior's Last Visit to Sacred Heart and the Grotto" stems from a tradition that evolved during that year long celebration. Father Mike Heppen remembers the Seniors Last Visit to the Grotto during the month of May when he graduated in 1959. The observance appears to have declined in the 1970's. In early 1981, Father John Fitzgerald, C.S.C. and Steven Warner of Campus Ministry, revived the tradition. It has now become "A celebration of four years of friendship in song, readings, and poetry," with sacred music of the Notre Dame Glee Club and Folk Choir, starting at Sacred Heart and ending at the Grotto.

Each year the bulletin announcing the Seniors Last Visit has been illustrated with a sketch of a campus religious landmark drawn by a graduating senior. The attractive '95 sketch of the Grotto that follows was done by Kathryn Mapes Turner '95.

Another heartwarming improvement to the Grotto occurred the year following the 1958-59 Lourdes celebration. No story about the Grotto would be complete without the personal expression of this former student whose memory will always be associated with the Notre Dame Grotto. It became the most celebrated Grotto experience in Notre Dame history.

It arrived on campus in the form of a letter of fond remembrance written by Dr. Tom Dooley and sent to Father Theodore Hesburgh on December 2, 1960 shortly before his death. In his letter Dooley spoke of "that something else that is there" that can "make us sing inside." He died of cancer on January 18, 1961 a month after he wrote to Fr. Hesburgh.

More than one visitor to the Grotto has discerned his religious vocation there. And at least one student, after reading Tom Dooley's letter, decided to become a third world doctor. Over the years, it has been a loving inspiration to many who pause to read it. These two paragraphs of explanation accompanied the distribution of his original letter:

Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, '48 died on the evening of January 18 in a New York hospital. Five days before his death he was visited by Father Hesburgh, who relayed his request for prayers back to the Notre Dame campus. "The Splendid American" died just as the Notre Dame student body had completed three days of prayer in his behalf. A Solemn Mass of Requiem was celebrated for him January 20 in Sacred Heart Church.

In December Father Hesburgh had received a letter from Hong Kong, where Tom Dooley had been hospitalized for a recurrence of cancer that had attacked his spine. An eloquent expression of the faith that had overcome his terrible suffering and prompted his labors in Southeast Asia, a moving tribute to his beloved Notre Dame, the letter was distributed by Associated Press and printed throughout the world after Dooley's death.

Later, a duplicate of the letter, engraved on stainless steel and enclosed in a box with a Plexiglas top, was attached, by Fr. Hesburgh, to the kneeling rail of the Grotto to inspire future generations.

In January of 1986 and April 19, 1993, the campus newspaper the Observer , listed the honors he had received:

Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, III, '48, won world-wide recognition when he brought medical relief to Southeast Asians during the 1950s. He was presented with numerous humanitarian awards, including the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Legion of Merit Award and the National Award of Vietnam, the country's highest honor bestowed upon a foreigner. He was revered for decades by hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese. He also received commendations from Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, the United States Congress and Pope Pius XII, and was the recipient of the first World Humanitarian Award. Dooley inspired President Kennedy to establish the Peace Corps.

In 1960 the Gallup Poll found him to be among the top ten most admired Americans. That year when his alma mater presented him with an honorary degree, President Eisenhower, the commencement speaker, left his seat to congratulate Dr. Dooley. He said, "Few if any men that I know have equaled his example of complete self-sacrifice, faith in his God, and readiness to serve his fellowmen."

Tom Dooley was born on January 17, 1927 and died the day after his 34th birthday, on January 18, 1961, just six weeks after his December 2, 1960 letter was written from Hong Kong. In it, he speaks of the comfort of prayer. In part:

. . . Because I can pray, I can communicate. How do people endure anything on earth if they cannot have God?

I realize the external symbols that surround one when he prays are not important. . . . It is the Something else there that counts.

But just now . . . and just so many times, how I long for the Grotto. Away from the Grotto Dooley just prays. But at the Grotto, especially now when there must be snow everywhere and the lake is ice glass and that triangular fountain on the left is frozen solid and all the priests are bundled in their too-large too-long old black coats and the students wear snow boots. . . . if I could go to the Grotto now then I think I could sing inside. I could be full of faith and poetry and loveliness and know more beauty, tenderness and compassion . . . .

An exact copy of Dooley's letter is quoted at the end of this story. It was placed at the Grotto four months after his death. Father Hesburgh assigned the project to Rev. Robert Lochner, C.S.C., who engineered the actual placement of the letter. A close examination of Dooley's letter, and the box it is contained in, shows the care taken in planning it. The container is not only durable, it has weathered the many years it had been there with no sign of leakage.

Dooley's family donated many of his souvenirs from his service in Asia to the University of Notre Dame. They are on display in a special Tom Dooley Room in the LaFortune Student Center.

In 1959, a year and six months before his letter to was sent to Fr. Hesburgh, Tom Dooley wrote another poignant letter in which he mentioned the Grotto. It is in the Tom Dooley collection in the University of Notre Dame Archives. He wrote it in reply to a letter sent to him by a man in Elkhart who had gone to premed school with him. Tom apologized for his delay in replying and mentioned that he answered 600-2000 letters a month. He concluded the letter, from the Village of Muong Sing, with this reference to the Notre Dame Grotto:

Oh, to be able to get on my knees in the Grotto of Our Lady just now! I know that God is everywhere. He's everywhere here. We see him daily in 100 wretched who come to the clinic. We see him in the mountains. We see him in the monsoon rainfall on the thatched roof. We know Him when he outstretches His arm in the thunder. But to be in the grotto at Notre Dame; there I find propinquity. There I have nearness that no rationalization can replace.

Village of Muong Sing Kingdom of Laos May 25, 1959

It is said that getting close to nature is getting close to the beautiful, and getting close to the beautiful is getting close to God. Throughout the years since its dedication in 1896 many lovely descriptions of the newly erected Grotto appeared in the Scholastic:

Father Boehm, a seminarian at Holy Cross Hall during the 1920s remembers serving tables in the South Dining Hall at layman retreats during the last weekend in August. On the last day of retreat a conference was conducted at Sacred Heart Church and ended after dark. It was concluded with a huge candlelight procession, which would wind its way from the front door of the church past Corby Hall and along the lake road to the Grotto for benediction. He said it was a very impressive sight with as many as a thousand participants and people watching. I found this many people hard to envision until I learned that the Sacred Heart Church itself has a capacity of 1,235 people and early annual May celebrations at the Grotto often included most of the student body.

Father Hope in his book, Notre Dame -- One Hundred Years, describes Father John F. O'Hara, later Cardinal Archbishop O'Hara, as a superb Prefect of Religion, an office he exercised without interruption from 1918 until he was made president in 1934. He explained his duties as Prefect.

    The Prefect of Religion is without any disciplinary authority. He cannot suspend or expel students, he cannot punish them. He has no authority in strictly scholastic problems. His work lies in the hearts and minds of the students. He acts as the guide and counselor of their conscience. And the students know this. There is, about his office, all the secrecy and sanctity of the confessional. So the students are more ready to listen to his advice and his encouragement.(319)

According to his wife, Teresa, another admirer of Father John O'Hara, during his years as Prefect of Religion, was Frederick Snite. She said her husband also spoke of him as a spiritual presence on the campus and a great inspiration to the students.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s under the direction of Rev. John F. O'Hara the Grotto became a spiritual rendezvous for the student body. He had notes, which later evolved into daily religious bulletins, put under the doors of students to remind them to go to the Grotto to pray. Students called them letters from God. In one of those bulletins dated, June 1, 1925, Father John O'Hara leaves one of his reminders.

Rev. Eugene P. Burke, C.S.C. describes the Grotto during those times:

A later, 1939 Scholastic, under the heading, "White December Finds Grotto In Usual Mood" describes a wintertime scene at the Grotto:

The Dome underscores the above description with this lovely wintertime perception:

In 1981, Father Joseph Champlin, speaks of returning to his alma mater and the two days he spent at a conference on "that magnificently beautiful campus." He tells of the morning he walked over to the Grotto:

He also mentions "the handsome marble lectern and altar at one side of the cave and the sign reminding visitors that rosary devotions are conducted every night at 6:45."(324)

It was Father McDonagh who started the rosary at the Grotto, nobody remembers when. He conducted the rosary there twice a year in May and October for a number of years. Nor does anyone remember when Brother John Lavelle started the 6:45 nightly rosary. However, Father Champlin's article indicates that it was a practice in 1981 and probably even before that time.

Father Edward O'Connor conducts the nightly 6:45 rosary, currently, and has for a number of years.

There is no denying that for everyone who views it, there is a mystifying aura of rest and peace associated with this picturesque shrine tucked into the ever changing pastoral scene surrounding it. As someone has said, it is a "favorite walking, resting and meeting place" for countless students, religious and visitors coming and going on the campus. Many non-Catholics visit it regularly and find it a favorite place to meditate, among them a Jewish businessman and a Buddhist student. Truly, it is a place of charm and enchantment for all seasons, a pleasing and artistic adaptation to its surroundings.

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