Last May, when Nicholas Marincic’s brother T.J. encouraged him to go to confession, he was nervous. He hadn’t been to reconciliation in eight years, but he drove to Holy Hill despite his apprehension, and said afterward it felt like the world had been lifted off his shoulders.

Throughout his confession, the priest encouraged him and assured him that not only was he forgiven, but that the Virgin Mother, Blessed Mary herself, was calling him. Afterward, he went to Mass, then put his phone away and spent two hours walking the trails around the basilica, enjoying the fresh air and thinking about what the priest told him. When he got back to his car and turned on his phone, the first text message to flash across the screen said, “Would you be interested in building a Grotto at Marquette?”

Later, Marincic, the lead masonry contractor on the Blessed Virgin Mary Grotto at Marquette University, would tell school President Dr. Michael Lovell, “When Mary calls, you answer.”

Dr. Lovell told Marincic’s story on May 1, when students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered to witness the dedication of the first statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Marquette’s campus.

After Dr. Lovell completed an 18-month Ignatian Colleagues Program based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which included a final project where he catalogued the religious spaces and artifacts on campus, it became his dream to set aside a space at Marquette dedicated to the Blessed Mother. In December 2017, he announced the school was going to take on the project and began reaching out to donors.

Geri Fotsch, who is affectionately known as ‘Nana’ to the faculty, staff and students at Marquette, was among the first to lend her support for the project that she said quickly became a labor of love for everyone involved. She walked around campus with Dr. Lovell to look for the perfect space and dreamed out loud about what it would look like when it was finished. Once the area behind the St. Joan of Arc chapel was chosen, Fotsch gave her opinion on the surrounding landscape and was persistent in her desire to create a space that feels sheltered and will inspire an intimate place of prayer to all who go to the Holy Mother seeking her guidance and love.

She also helped with the design of Mary, and wanted the statue’s hand to be carved reaching out, so that anyone kneeling before her would forever be reminded of how the Blessed Mother waits for us to come to her with her arm extended in love. Fotsch, who spoke at the dedication, said her family and she were tremendously proud to support the project. “It is indeed our privilege.”

The two other donors were Chemistry Professor Emeritus Norman Hoffman, who donated in honor of his late wife Margaret M. Hoffman and his mother Ruth K. Hoffman, and Marquette alumni Chris J. and Kathlyn (Katie) Callen, who got engaged in front of the St. Joan of Arc chapel in April 1967.

The donors were welcomed to stand before the finished shrine, and marveled together at the 1,200-pound figure of the Blessed Virgin, carved from Carrara marble in Italy, and the grotto, carefully constructed by Marincic and his team of masons who selected each stone individually. Votive candles filled the alcoves on both sides of the Virgin Mother, and pink roses of many shades sat in a wreath on her head.

Among the speakers was Amelle Aldurra, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences who spoke of her devotion to our Heavenly Mother and of the deep gratitude she has for the work Dr. Lovell and the generous benefactors put into creating a space where the campus community and visitors to Marquette can go to feel her presence.

Before blessing the statue, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki told the gathered crowd of worshipers, “This image will remind us of the close ties of Mary to Christ and His Church. First of all, she is Christ’s Mother, the Mother of the visible image of the invisible God. But she is also the image and model of the Church, she is its exemplar. In Mary, the Church joyously contemplates the image of all that the church itself desires and hopes wholly to be.”