The work at Maternity BVM Parish this summer has been painstaking. What began with tuckpointing the historic church has spread out to include making significant repairs across the property, from its front doors, to the steeple, to lighting and restoring brickwork. A centerpiece of this preservation project has been restoring its historic grotto and returning its statues to their original beauty.

Workers teach Fr. Nesbit how to tuckpoint.

But work on the grotto appears to be wrapping up, thanks to a dedicated work force — and even Fr. Jason Nesbit, CSV, Pastor, stepping up to help tuckpoint. Fr. Nesbit reported this week that the refinishing work on the statue of Bernadette has been completed — reversing years of deterioration from weather — and she is expected to make her return soon.

“We have to make sure that these two treasures are taken care of,” Fr. Nesbit said, “to serve the faithful of Bourbonnais for many years to come.”

A deadline looms overhead. Parish members will joyfully celebrate the parish’s 175th anniversary with a pair of festive events on Aug. 20 and a special Mass on Aug. 21 — celebrated outdoors at the grotto.

St. Bernadette

This historic grotto dates back more than 100 years, and stands as a lasting memorial to Mary, when she appeared to young Bernadette in 1858 in Lourdes, France.

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

It was Br. John Koelzer, CSV, who 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.

Generations of families have found peace and comfort at the grotto ever since. Consequently, the entire preservation project has been a labor of love, not only to the parishioners but to the Viatorians, who have served at Maternity since 1865.

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

“Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a special place,” Fr. Nesbit added. “In this 175th anniversary, we not only remember the memories of the past, but we renew our commitment of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the community.

“We invite all to encounter Christ in a very real way,” he added, “through the celebration of the Sacrament and living out our mission of being Misisonary Disciples who radiate the light of love of Christ to all.”