St. Bernadette Parish’s grotto was built in 1961 and last year a renovation project brought it back up to its former glory. (Submitted photo)

They began construction on the grotto at St. Bernadette in 1961, after a parish-wide effort helped raise the funds needed to get the project going. In 1963, parishioners gathered around for its dedication, and began its legacy of bringing comfort and peace. As the years passed by, mortar and rocks cracked away, and the grotto began to fall into disrepair. 


Diane Govern, the director of administrative services at St. Bernadette, said, “It was really in terrible condition and we knew we had to do something.”


Last year, the parish sent out an appeal to parishioners to raise the money needed for the grotto’s repair. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they weren’t sure how long it would take and wondered at the likelihood of anyone donating money during a global pandemic, but parishioners at St. Bernadette responded with overwhelming generosity, as they’d done once before in 1961.


“I think it was nice for people to have something to take their mind off the pandemic,” Govern said. “It took us all out of a place of waiting and refocused our attention on hope.”


Within months, all the money the church needed for the grotto’s repair was raised, and in September, by the time parishioners were able to return to St. Bernadette after being locked away from it due to the coronavirus, repairs had begun.


“I’d come into church and people would be standing in the doorway looking out, watching the men work,” Govern said. “It was an exciting thing, and we needed some excitement.” 


A crew from Masonry Restoration Incorporated came in every day and used chisels to carefully chip out the crumbling mortar, to protect the integrity of the grotto. They completed the work entirely by hand, mixing mortar with sand to make it look rustic.


“It looks perfect,” Govern said. “We couldn’t have hoped for anything more beautiful.” 


St. Bernadette hopes to rededicate the completed grotto in August when parishioners can come together and celebrate their accomplishment. The parish’s administrative assistant, Theresa Moniot Olivares, who has been with the parish for 18 years, said she was touched to discover how much the grotto meant to so many people.


“Since I started working here, I always thought the grotto was a special place, a unique part of the parish,” Olivares said. “Now, I know how much more it means to parishioners who were here for a long time. It’s really neat that we still have some parishioners who were here when it was built. I’m glad we were able to raise the needed funds, especially during a tough year, so that the grotto can once again be enjoyed, safely, by all who want some special time with Our Lady and St. Bernadette.”