More than 90 years after its initial construction, the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at St. Bonaventure University has been restored and rededicated as a place for campus gatherings, education, reflection, and prayer.
Known affectionately as the Grotto, it was hand built during the 1924-25 academic year with cobblestones gathered from across campus by students and workers.
It features a statue of the Virgin Mary and was named for the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes, which occurred in Lourdes, France, in 1858, the year of St. Bonaventure’s founding. The Grotto has been utilized throughout the decades for Masses, ceremonies and as a place of reflection.
“I remember many times stopping by here as a student, needing inspiration,” said Bill Giniecki, Class of 1959. “The workmanship and the quality of what’s been done here today has exceeded all expectations. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
The renovations include restoration of the stonework, a new stepped walkway on the north side and ramped entrance for wheel-chair accessibility on the south side near parking on Bonaventure Road, a statue of St. Francis, birdhouses, built-in seating, night illumination and connections for sound systems. The results allow for more frequent use for religious gatherings, personal reflection, and small class or club gatherings appropriate to the setting.
“A shrine like this is important because it is an overt statement of the institution’s continued deepening commitment to its values and beliefs,” said Andrew Roth, Ph.D., president of the university.
In his welcoming message, Roth noted that five stones, which form a flower in the arch above the statue of the Virgin Mary, were brought from Lourdes in France to St. Bonaventure by Fr. Thomas Plassmann, O.F.M., during his presidency (1920 to 1949).
Phil Winger, associate vice president for facilities, said that strong emphasis was given to historic preservation during the renovation work. The stone terrace seating is crafted from the old steps of Butler Memorial Hall and the stepped walkway is made of stone that once served as part of the front steps of the University Chapel in Doyle Hall.
Landscape architects and engineers from Derck & Edson Architects, LLP of Litiz, Pa., designed the project, Winger said, with work performed by Duggan and Duggan General Contractors, Peterson Landscaping and Greg Stayer Electric, Inc.
There are three distinct class recognition pieces within the renovated area; one each to honor the classes of 1964, 1965 and 2015, which gave Reunion and Commencement gifts, respectively, to create a more accessible and attractive space.
“In my student days, we used to rake leaves here when it was a very swampy area,” said Dr. Joseph Zampogna, Class of 1959 and a former language arts professor at Bona’s. “Even back then we had dreams that this would one day be a place for students to enjoy. Now it’s come to fruition.”
Located adjacent to the Swan Business Center in the southwest corner of campus, the Grotto is the university’s largest outdoor shrine.