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National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes celebrates its 200th anniversary

Pamela Rigaux
Frederick News Post

Touched by a saint; National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes
celebrates its 200th anniversary

(1/23) During the French revolution, priests and nuns fled to the United States. Many, including the founder of the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, settled in the area.

Two hundred years ago, in 1805, the Rev. John DuBois climbed Mary's Mountain and planted a wooden cross.

Three years later, he founded Mount St. Mary's University. The following year, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton moved to Emmitsburg and began her famous Sunday walks up the mountain to pray,

Not every university can claim a saint walked its pathways.

Mother Seton's "rosary walks" will be re-enacted as one of numerous events planned this year to celebrate the grotto's 200th anniversary, said the Rev. John Lombardi, the grotto's chaplain.

"It was after Mother Seton came that the word 'grotto' was written, literally, for the first time," he said. But the university considers the planting of the cross to be the grotto's founding.

"When we say 'the grotto' we mean the whole grounds," the Rev. Lombardi said. The grounds includes 60 acres of lush foliage, a chapel, a pond and pathways wide enough for two or three people to walk abreast comfortably.

Religious statues stand along a rosary path and throughout the grounds.

According to the Rev. Lombardi, the late Monsignor Hugh J. Phillips developed the grounds in the 1960s. Monsignor Phillips was the university's 19th president and shrine chaplain for many years, the Rev. Lombardi said.

A sign tells visitors they are entering the grotto's sanctuary.

The grotto

The grotto cave is made of native limestone. It was built in 1875. A seminarian at the Mount, Patrick L. Duffy, suggested conditions at Mary's Mountain were similar to the Lourdes shrine in France, the Rev. Lombardi said.

"This is the oldest grotto that replicates the French grotto," he said.

According to the Catholic faith, the Virgin Mary appears to people from time to time, but she doesn't always look the same.

Church history has it that St. Bernadette saw Our Lady of Lourdes, the image of Mary, 18 times, but didn't recognize her until the 15th time, the Rev. Lombardi said.

At the Mount's grotto, a statue of St. Bernadette kneels in front of bleacher seats capable of holding at least 1,000 people.

"St. Bernadette is praying," the Rev. Lombardi said. "She saw the Virgin Mary in the cave stone from across the River Gave in Lourdes, France."

A statue of the Virgin Mary stands on a ledge above the cave's entrance.

A natural mountain spring flows in front of the kneeling statue.

"Lots of people come up and drink at the water and say they don't have sicknesses anymore," the Rev. Lombardi said.

The future

The Rev. Lombardi, a priest of the Baltimore archdiocese, became the shrine's chaplain three years ago. He doesn't take himself too seriously, and said he starting thinking about the priesthood as a vocation after seminarians at the college he attended gave him "the best" and "most valuable" thing at the college: a parking space.

One aspect he most enjoys about the shrine is the view. Near a 1964 bell tower topped by a statue of Mary, he can see St. Joseph's Valley, he said. "I just stop every day and to marvel at its beauty."

The faith of the grotto's visitors inspires him, he said. People come from around the world.

"People from Ethiopia take off their shoes," he said. "They bow" to the statue of Mary.

As far as the grotto's future goes, the Rev. Lombardi said he intends to keep it a place of "prayer, refuge, peace and inspiration."

Within the next three years, he said he wants to build five new markers representing the mysteries of the rosary and a small visitor's center.

The anniversary

In addition to rosary walks, events being planned to commemorate the anniversary include:

  • A wagon re-enactment of Mother Seton coming to Emmitsburg.
  • A lecture about the musical history of the Catholic Church.
  • A series of special Masses with guest lecturers, including one at 2 p.m. today at the church on the grounds. The Rev. Frances Kelly, "a good dynamic speaker," will talk about the grotto's history," the Rev. Lombardi said. The Rev. Kelly will repeat his homily at Monday and Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. Masses.
  •  Visitors from Peru, the Philippines and Vietnam will attend a Mass on April 2. The Archbishop of Baltimore, William Cardinal Keeler, will be present, along with local dignitaries. The Mass will not be open to the public.
  • Special anniversary Masses open to the public include one on Feb. 15. "We have a sister coming," to the noon Mass, the Rev. Lombardi said. The Rev. Peter Giroux will lead a "mini-mission" on Mar. 6, 7 and 8. On May 7, a choir will sing at the noon Mass.