Cave of Candles
Notre Dame Legends and Lore / by Dorothy V. Corson

The Story Behind the Oldest Photograph of the Notre Dame Grotto

In February of 1995, Clara Clements died and a wake service booklet with the Notre Dame Grotto as its theme was prepared by her family for her funeral. It was especially appropriate because for 33 years Clara had worked with Brother James Lakofka, C.S.C. -- custodian of the Confraternity of Lourdes Office -- fulfilling requests for Lourdes water and lighting candles at the Grotto for people who were not able to go there in person. The photograph on the cover of the booklet was a most unusual reproduction of what appeared to be a very old picture of the Grotto.

It prompted a visit to Brother James to inquire about it. He explained how the picture happened to be used for her wake service booklet. Since he did not drive, he said Clara drove them to the campus regularly to light the candles requested in their mail. Clara had a special pair of leather gloves peppered with candle wax that she used solely for that purpose. Between the two of them they lit thousands of candles over the years. Clara had a son who was a priest, and two daughters, one a nun. She had a special love for the Grotto and was fond of a large framed picture of it hanging in the Lourdes office; a lovely springtime scene with pink magnolias blooming in profusion along the walkways. This picture was placed in her coffin during the wake service. On one page of the booklet a rosary was drawn draped in a square, with a bottle marked Lourdes Water in the center of it.

Brother James explained that he had passed on the old photograph used for her booklet to Father John Wilson who reproduced the photograph in the July 1995 issue of the Indiana Province Review. It was then placed in the Indiana Province Archives Center. At the time no one seemed to be aware of how very old the picture was. A study of the photograph reproduced in the magazine revealed that several trees in the picture had been expertly airbrushed out of the photograph on the wake service booklet. Under the picture Father Wilson had placed the words:

A Jeopardy Question, The Grotto at Notre Dame: What year? What occasion?

A trip to the Archives to see the original was definitely in order for anyone who loves solving a mystery. It produced an unexpected surprise. The photograph was reproduced on what was known in its day as a curio cabinet card, a memento slightly larger than a modern day postcard, to be displayed in curio cabinets. On the reverse side was a 19th century sketch of McDonald's Studio, a photography studio founded in 1861 and still well known in South Bend. Under the sketch were the words, "Duplicates of this Picture can be had at any time." Expense records at the University of Notre Dame Archives show the first photographs of the Grotto were taken by McDonald's Studio. Unfortunately, the McDonald Studio photographic archives were consumed in a fire in the 1950s and all their records of early pictures were destroyed.

The original photograph showed the statue of Bernadette outside the kneelers rather than inside as though the Grotto was still being worked on. The most evident sign of its age, overlooked entirely by many who had seen it was pointed out by a very observant priest -- my friend Father George Schidel, C.S.C. -- there was no donor plaque on the Grotto. This could only mean it had to have been taken either before its completion or near the end of it. Solid evidence turned up in a picture of the Grotto in the Notre Dame Scholastic dated October 17, 1896. The donor plaque was lying on the ground and the Bernadette statue was inside the fence. The donor plaque was not affixed to the rocky Grotto wall until more than two months after its dedication. The photograph had definitely been taken at an earlier time, probably on or near its August 5, 1896 dedication.

Letters to Father William Corby from Father Thomas Carroll in Oil City, PA, who supplied the funds for the Grotto, confirmed that he was ill at the time and was not able to attend the dedication. In a letter dated August 19th, he writes: "Your letter and Photo of the Grotto at hand. I am very much pleased with picture. It looks well and I am delighted."

The approximate date and occasion were now firmly established. The absence of shadows in the photograph indicate it was probably taken at noontime, probably shortly before the day of its dedication. The figures in the photograph are all religious which would also suggest that it was being taken for Father Carroll. The last figure at the right side of the kneeling rail has been identified as Father Corby who was the provincial at the time. Later letters indicate that Father Carroll was sent more photographs in November, which were probably taken to show the donor plaque affixed to the Grotto.

Now that it had been determined that the photograph was the oldest known photograph of the Grotto the next question was: Where it had come from and how it had survived -- preserved intact for one hundred years? And how had it come full circle -- reappearing in the 20th century just in time to be a part of the Grotto's centennial? Clara Clement's wake service booklet had brought it to light from the dark repository of an old file cabinet, but who had lovingly cared for it for almost a century and how had it found its way back to the campus via the Confraternity of Lourdes Office in the mid 1980's?

A faded address label placed carefully in the design of the photography studio sketch and almost hidden on the back side of the curio card provided a clue. It read, Mr. & Mrs. C. M. Jones, 601 L Way West, Mishawaka, Indiana. An address immediately recognizable. The historic Kamm Brewery 100 Center area on Lincoln Way East, once called old Vistula, the old Mishawaka Road. A trip to that address revealed the home still existed but was in the process of being refurbished. Aluminum siding had been added and the remains of a huge old tree littered the front yard.

Mishawaka historical records showed the house was built in 1862 in Vernacular style and there had once been a red barn on the property. More research revealed that the Mrs. C. M. Jones on the address label was Genevieve Schmitt Jones, the granddaughter of the Mayhanks the original builders of the home. She was born in the house in 1902. The house remained in her family until her death in 1987. It changed hands twice and is now being remodeled for offices by its third owner, the Burke Law Firm, who own the adjacent Niles Spencer house, another historic house built 1882. Josephine Niles, 93 years old, was also born the same year in the Niles Spencer home next door. They were childhood playmates and neighbors until Genevieve's death. It was Josephine who relayed the history of the house at 601. She also supplied the name of Genevieve's daughter, Rosemary Sterzik.

Rosemary was most interested in the one hundred year old picture of the Grotto with her mother's address label on it. However, she said, it was a mystery to her how it got to Notre Dame. She didn't recall ever seeing it however she did remember that her mother and father made regular monthly trips to the Grotto to light candles.

Another trip to see Brother James supplied confirmation. The new facts obtained refreshed his memory. He said he had not noticed the address label on the curio card but he did remember the name C. M. Jones. He said sometime in the middle 1980's the photograph arrived in the mail with a request to light a candle at the Grotto. It was one of many such requests he had received regularly from C. M. Jones over a long period of time.

It is believed that the photograph may have belonged to Genevieve's mother who died as a young woman when her daughter was a still a child. One can only surmise that at some point very near the end of her life, she died in 1987 at age 85, Genevieve must have decided to send her family's treasured memento back to Notre Dame where it had originated -- via the Confraternity of Lourdes office. It stayed there, filed away for another nine years, until Clara Clements death on January 30, 1995 when her daughters found it and decided to use it as the theme of their mother's wake service booklet.

And so, the oldest known photograph of the Grotto once again arrived on the scene one hundred years after it was taken. A treasured keepsake of the dedication of the 1896 Lourdes Grotto at Notre Dame had come full circle -- passed on -- just in time to be a part of the Grotto's 1996 Centenary Celebration.

19th Century Sketch of the McDonald's Studio

A reproduction of the 19th Century sketch of the McDonald's Studio on the reverse side of the curio card was passed on to the present owners of the McDonald's Studio. They were most grateful to have a piece of the Studio's history since all of their archives were burned in the 1950s fire.

Shortly afterward it appeared on the scene once again. The sketch was featured in a very interesting article about the McDonald's Studio in the June 1996 Executive Journal.

Dorothy V. Corson
February 11, 1996

The Notre Dame Grotto Centenary Booklet

This photograph -- the oldest known picture of the Grotto -- was taken one hundred years ago for the Grotto's dedication on August 5, 1896, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Snows. It was a treasured family keepsake for ninety-one years. Shortly before her death, the owner placed it in an envelope with a request to light a candle at the Grotto and sent it to the Notre Dame campus. There it remained hidden away in an old file cabinet for another nine years, until providentially, it reappeared, just in time to be a part of the Grotto's 1996 Centenary Celebration.

-- D.V.C.

Note: The above text was prepared for the back cover of the 1996 Lourdes Day Booklet commemorating the Grotto's centennial. The booklet contained an essay by James Murphy which was based on my 3rd person manuscript "A Cave of Candles: The Story Behind the Notre Dame Grotto." It was passed out to those who attended the Lourdes Day Celebration at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and extra copies were kept at Sacred Heart until the supply ran out. It is now out-of-print, but copies have been preserved at the University of Notre Dame Archives for anyone who would like to see it. The photograph on the curio card -- the oldest picture of the Notre Dame Grotto -- sent by Mrs. C. M. Jones to the Confraternity of Lourdes office was used on the cover of the booklet. The original curio card may be viewed at the Indiana Province Archives Center on the University of Notre Dame campus.

August 5, 1996

The Story Behind the Oldest Photograph of the Notre Dame Grotto: With Minims

The second oldest photograph of the Notre Dame Grotto made its appearance in a February 9, 1996 South Bend Tribune article announcing the beginning of the observance of the Grotto's centennial on February 11, 1996, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

At first glance it appeared to be the same "Oldest Photograph" discovered earlier. However, closer inspection revealed that although it appeared to be the same there was something added to this photograph that was not in the first one -- the minims -- the young children who once attended the college.

This prompted a visit to the South Bend Tribune photo library to see this second oldest photograph of the Grotto. The original was in very good shape and of particular interest because it indicated there was yet another story behind this interesting photograph. The South Bend Tribune very kindly allowed me to borrow the photograph so the University Archives could make a negative of it to preserve along with its companion photograph.

An 18" X 24" print of this second earliest Grotto photograph (with the minims) was featured in the 1996 "A Cave of Candles" Window Display in the concourse of the Hesburgh Memorial Library. When the exhibit was taken down, I was given permission to preserve the complete display in the University Archives. It is compiled in four large binders in the order in which the material was displayed in the two windows (one window featured its history and the other Grotto stories written to commemorate its centenary.)

Color photocopies were made of the two over-large photographs featured in the two windows and they were passed on to me. The oldest photograph of the Grotto, especially the one with the minims, I felt, belonged somewhere on university grounds for others to enjoy. During the next two years, I searched for and found, the perfect place to put it.

Because I felt it would be of particular interest to alumni and friends of the university to see the young children who were once a very important part of the college, I wanted it displayed in a prominent place where visitors coming from and going to the Grotto would be sure to see it. One day that perfect spot magically appeared -- the only empty space left -- in a corridor of pictures displayed near the rear entrance of the Basilica leading to the Grotto. Never underestimate the power of the Lady in Blue. I'm sure she had it earmarked for that very special Grotto photograph..

Recently, a Notre Dame alumnus requested and received a duplicate copy of the print the same size as the one at the church which he purchased from the University Archives. The church secretary has told me that she is amazed at how many people have stopped to view the photograph and comment on it since it was placed there. That it is truly appreciated by alumni and friends of Notre Dame.

After being hidden away for 100 years in a drop folder in the South Bend Tribune library files, it has finally come home to the campus. Another mini-miracle associated with the Notre Dame Grotto.

Dorothy Corson
August, 1997

Analysis of the First Two Photographs of the Notre Dame Grotto

by Rev. George Schidel, C.S.C.

Just in time for the celebration of the Grotto's centennial two early photos of the Grotto have come to light. The first one was on the cover of the leaflet prepared for the funeral liturgy of Mrs. Clara Clements by her daughter, Sister Clare Alfred Bill, C.S.C. Clara died January 30, 1995. For years she assisted Brother James Lakofka, C.S.C. in the office of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Lourdes at Notre Dame. Dorothy Corson has traced this photo to Mrs. C. M. Jones (Genevieve Schmitt Jones) of Mishawaka. Mrs. Jones died in 1987 at 85. Shortly before her death she gave the photo to the Confraternity. Father John Wilson, C.S.C. reproduced this picture in the July 1995 issue of the Province Review. The second photograph made its appearance in the February 9, 1996 South Bend Tribune. It accompanied an article announcing the beginning of the observance of the Grotto's centennial on February 11, 1996, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

I have become convinced that these two photographs are the earliest photographs ever taken of the Grotto and that they were taken within minutes of one another by a photographer from the McDonald Studio of South Bend at the request of Father William Corby, C.S.C., Provincial Superior and builder of the Grotto. The photos were undoubtedly taken within a few days of the dedication of the Grotto on August 5, 1896. As soon as the workmen completed their task Father Corby assembled some members of the Holy Cross community for the picture taking.

Father Corby had a special reason for doing this. His friend, Father Thomas Carroll, Pastor of St. Joseph's Church, Oil City, Pennsylvania, had given the funds needed to build the Grotto. Father Corby invited him to the dedication but Father Carroll wrote in early July that he was ill and would not be able to attend. So as soon as the Grotto was finished, and before its dedication, Father Corby had the Grotto photographed in order to let Father Carroll see what it looked like. On August 19, 1896 Father Carroll acknowledged receipt of the photograph: "Your letter and photo at hand. I am very much pleased with the picture. It looks well and I am delighted that I had the means to use for that purpose in honor of Our Blessed Lady and to enable you to keep your promise to her." At the close of the letter Father Carroll included the words he wished to have inscribed on the donor plaque - the words actually used. This proves the plaque did not exist on August 19, 1896.

The presence of the statue of Bernadette outside the railing in both photos is a strong argument in favor of a pre-dedication date for them. The position of the statue suggests that things were still somewhat unsettled when the photos were taken. The statue's permanent position had not yet been determined. In the Confraternity photo (C) the statue is outside the railing and is not facing the statue of Our Lady. In the South Bend Tribune photo (T) Bernadette's statue is again outside the railing and not facing Our Lady's statue but now there is a heavy board underneath the base of the statue and the statue has been moved about eight feet to the left. This move along with the fact that in T two stones, present in C, have been rolled away from the base of the Grotto on the left could well be an indication that C was taken before T.

In C the donor plaque is clearly missing. T was taken at an angle that makes it hard to see the part of the Grotto wall on which the plaque was subsequently placed. As late as October 17, 1896 the plaque had not yet been put up. Dorothy Corson found a photograph of the Grotto in the October 17, 1896 Notre Dame Scholastic which shows the plaque resting on the ground, ready to be attached to the wall. This photo also shows the statue of Bernadette inside the railing where it has remained to this day. The only account I know of the dedication ceremony, August 5, 1896 is in the September 1896 Annals of Our Lady of Lourdes. It does not mention the statue of Bernadette or where it stood. Presumably it was then in place inside the railing where the October 17 photo shows it. Unfortunately the Annals' article carries no photos.

T has a caption: "This is a photo of the site in 1903." But that can't be right. On its reverse side C is identified as the product of the McDonald Studio of South Bend. There is no indication of the source on T. All the internal evidence of the two photos points to the same day and hour, and the same photographer for both:

These then are two precious photographs of the Grotto. They were obviously not taken on a ceremonial occasion but they were planned. Surely we have Father William Corby to thank for making the arrangements in order to carry out as quickly as possible his plan to send Father Carroll a photograph of the newly built Grotto. It was indeed fortunate and appropriate that these two photographs showed up in time to be an intriguing part of the celebration of the centennial.

Rev. George Schidel, C.S.C.
March 12, 1996