Mary and Benedictine College: The Story of Our Grotto

Abbot James leads procession to Mary's grotto

Benedictine College built Mary’s Grotto in 2008 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of two 1858 events: the appearance of Our Lady in Lourdes, France, and the  founding of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

The grotto is in the heart of campus. The figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary can be seen from residence halls, playing fields, major campus buildings and our main walkway.   The grotto has become the center of several Benedictine traditions: Incoming Freshmen begin their convocation there, and graduating seniors end their time on campus there. Each year on the first Sunday in May, women students who plan to enter religious life crown the statue of Mary. Students who have decided to become seminarians serve at Mass before the crowning.

Atchison and Lourdes

There are several unique connections between the “Lady Dressed in White” who appeared to a little girl in a grotto near the small town of Lourdes, France, and the new Catholic college that was being founded on the bluffs of the Missouri.

In 1856, Benedictine Fr. Henry Lemke, who founded our St. Benedict’s Abbey, found himself in a life-threatening situation. He had traveled a distance to visit the sick. Without food or adequate fluids, he began the walk home. That night he lost his bearings in a frightening thunderstorm. Lemke found himself disoriented, weak, surrounded by darkness, in fast rising waters, with no idea which direction to go.

He directed his prayer for protection through Mary — something the Lutheran convert had rarely done before. As soon as he said the prayer, a light appeared on the horizon. He stumbled toward it and found that it was a lantern hanging in the window of a cottage.

A mother and daughter lived there, and they sheltered him from the storm. He asked why the lantern was hanging in the window at all. The daughter said, “A lady dressed in white appeared to me in a dream and told me to put it there.” Two years later, in 1858, Benedictine College was founded nearby the place where Fr. Lemke was rescued — the same year St. Bernadette saw Our Lady of Lourdes.

Lou Holtz and Friends

The grotto was completed in 2008 thanks to the generosity of Notre Dame’s own legendary football coach Lou Holtz, who gave the first donation to the grotto project in 2006, and people like Bill and Jean Dunn and Jane Westerman.

The college mixed Lourdes water into the concrete foundation of the grotto, and placed a rosary blessed by Pope Benedict XVI and a St. Benedict's medal into the foundation as well. Two stones from the original Lourdes grotto have been incorporated into Benedictine's grotto.

“This is a visible symbol of the importance of our faith in a central location on our campus,” said Fr. Brendan Rolling, Director for Mission and Ministry at Benedictine College.  “God has taken this college into His hands to shape its future and guide it in the service of the Church, and this Grotto will be a daily reminder that we need to be open to his Word just like the Blessed Virgin was.”

National Coverage

Click for stories about the grotto by the National Catholic Register chronicling: How prayers from the Memorare Army built the grotto; and how it has become a favorite student spot.

Or click for a story by Archbishop Joseph Naumann in the Leaven chronicling how, according to an airport weather watcher, Grotto prayers stalled a storm from entering Atchison for hours during its dedication.