The initial plans for a small grotto were expanded to include a 25-foot circular garden with the 16-foot-high grotto and 50 inch statue.
The initial plans for a small grotto were expanded to include a 25-foot circular garden with the 16-foot-high grotto and 50 inch statue.

EUGENE — She stands amid a 16-foot-tall basalt wall, surrounded by flowers and solar powered lanterns. She is a statue of Our Lady of Grace who came from South America by way of Idaho and now represents the dedication of St. Mark Parish here to the Mother of God.

“It’s kind of a solemn feeling when you go there, particularly at night,” said Donald Schroeder, a member of the parish. “Even in the daytime, there’s kind of a peaceful feeling when you’re there.

“There’s something very holy about it.”

Schroeder, president of the administrative council, and his wife, Carol, have strong devotions to Mary. They’ve traveled to many of the European Marian sites including Fatima and Lourdes. They were eager to see something for Mary at the parish.

For more than a year, the parish community talked about creating a grotto — the idea born out of Archbishop Alexander Sample’s dedicating the Archdiocese of Portland to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as well as a desire to do something to honor her.

“A grotto for the parish is my way of dedicating the parish to Mary, Our Mother, said Father Michael Antony, pastor at St. Mark. “We need a heavenly intercessor to work for our parish.” 

The initial vision did not include the 25-foot circle area and the 16-by-16-foot grotto that now stands just outside the church vestibule. In fact, the planners for the grotto first planned on squeezing in a small grotto in what is now a landscaped area right next to the church, confined on two sides by the church driveway.

“None of us were visionaries,” said Schroeder.

But then the parish’s administrative council hired a landscape architect to help with the project. And the architect had different ideas. Instead, the grotto was planned for a larger area on the parish lawn, visible from the vestibule.

“From a smaller backyard grotto sort of thing, it became a magnificent one for the whole vicariate,” said Father Antony. The priest credits the effort to God’s grace and the support of a few families who wanted to be involved in the project.

Complete with the landscape architect, the mason, the statue, the plants and the rest of the project expenses, the grotto cost around $100,000. All of that money was from private donors who wanted to create the Marian site.

The planning team wanted to have the grotto dedicated during one of the months of Mary — May or October. They’re goal was achieved. The garden was dedicated May 31 by Archbishop John Vlazny, former leader of the Archdiocese of Portland.

A tall wrought-iron fence surrounds the garden for fear of vandalism. For now, the grotto gates are opened only during Mass, though Schroeder hopes someday to see special Masses celebrated there.

Spiritual fruits have already come out of the dedication to Mary, said Father Antony. The parish prays for vocations after every daily and weekend Mass, and now one young man from the parish is entering the seminary.

“It’s been sort of a dream come true,” concluded Schroeder.

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org