The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes holds a special place in the Viatorian Community.

A replica of the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette in 1858 in Lourdes, France remains a sacred place on the grounds of Maternity BVM Parish in Bourbonnais, more than 100 years after it was built.

“What a gift it’s been to us,” says Fr. Jason Nesbit, CSV, Pastor, “to have such a holy place on the church grounds.”

On the feast day today, Fr. Dan Lydon, CSV, Associate Pastor, celebrated morning Mass. He reminded those in attendance of the story of Mary appearing to the young peasant girl, Bernadette, and of the Viatorian brother who painstakingly worked to create the place where the apparitions occurred.

Br. John Koelzer, CSV, left, poses beside the shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes, after it was completed in 1918

Br. John Koelzer, CSV, began building the grotto in 1915 on church grounds.

Stone by stone, he and men from the parish worked on the project. It took three years to complete and was dedicated — 60 years after Mary’s appearance in Lourdes — to soldiers fighting in World War I.

The grotto continues to draw parishioners of all ages who seek its peaceful presence.

On Thursday evenings in good weather, a group gathers to pray the rosary at the grotto, while couples often seek its holy setting as a backdrop for wedding photos. Fr. Jason occasionally meets with parishioners seeking confession or counseling in Mary’s comforting midst.

Just last year, the parish commissioned area craftsmen to repaint the statues. They began with Bernadette, stripping her of the many coats of paint that had been applied over the years before restoring her image, stroke by stroke. A similar process is planned for Mary later this year.

Over the years, the grotto has been enhanced with flowers, benches and paved bricks, but its image on the feast day typically features the grotto covered in snow and ice, with its barren tree branches giving way to Mary and young Bernadette, making them all the more visible.