Work on the grounds of Maternity BVM Parish continues as part of its capital campaign, called: Remember, Rebuild, Renew, launched during it 175th anniversary year. To date, more than $1.76 million has been pledged, with 434 families participating.

The campaign covers a wide variety of projects across the church campus, but a centerpiece has been restoring its historic grotto and returning its statues of Mary and St. Bernadette — whose feast day is April 16 — to their original beauty.

The historic grotto on the grounds of Maternity BVM Parish

Its hand-laid stones, drawn from a local quarry and shaped into the grotto, beginning in 1915, underwent thorough tuckpointing. Even Fr. Jason Nesbit, CSV, Pastor, pitched in. But included in its restoration was refinishing its two featured statues, of St. Bernadette and her apparition of Mary at Lourdes. Both images were refinished, reversing years of deterioration from weather, and returned to the grotto in the summer of 2022.

“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.”

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.

St. Bernadette after her refinishing

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

Back at the Viatorian Province Center, a relic of St. Bernadette was unearthed from the original altar and now is featured in its side reliquary chapel, adjacent to the main chapel.

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

Description of St. Bernadette and her relic in a book in the Reliquary Chapel

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 — and restoring the images of Mary when she appeared to young Bernadette — has been a labor of love, not only to the parishioners but to the Viatorians, who have served at Maternity since 1865.