Campus History: The Lourdes Grotto

Built into the side of a hill on the central campus, the Lourdes Grotto is an outdoor shrine that depicts St. Bernadette’s visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes. While it serves as a site for outdoor mass and quiet reflection, it is not the first grotto on the Loras campus.

Nor is it the second.

The Sisters of the Good Shepherd built the original grotto on what is now Loras College while they occupied Hennessy Hall. Named the Immaculate Conception grotto, little information is available, but we know it was constructed in 1896 as a response to a granted request. It was erected under the sponsorship of the Rev. Thomas Carroll of Oil City, Penn. Additional information, including its location, is not recorded.

The first grotto constructed by the College was the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto. It was built at the head of the ravine in the oaks, north of Hennessey and west of North Hall (Rohlman) in the summer of 1954,. President Bishop Loras Lane was a graduate of Notre Dame and modeled the new grotto after the University of Notre Dame Grotto.

A gift of Lillian and Rosalyn Schrup, the grotto was blessed by Archbishop Rohlman before a crowd of 250 on October 26, 1954. It was dedicated during the year of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the French Shrine. The grotto was the location for outdoor Marian ceremonies and a place where students could spend time in quiet meditation.

Both statues in the grotto were ordered from the Studios of Daprato Statuary Company with offices in Chicago and New York around September 28, 1954. Made of white Biancoduro marble, the Our Lady of Lourdes statue stands 6’6” in height while St. Bernadette is 3’6.”

The statues were moved to a new location northeast of Wahlert Hall with the construction of the current grotto in 2011. Composed of rough face limestone block and limestone boulders formed into an arched cave with a limestone block altar underneath, the new Lourdes Grotto was situated to be more centrally located on campus. A wrought iron fence delineates the front boundary of the grotto. The costs for the moving to the present day location was donated by Jim Davis (’67) in honor of his wife, Jane, who passed in 2009.

Content for this article was pulled from extensive research conducted by Hannah Bernhard (’18).

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2020, Loras was ranked the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the fourth consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 12th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).