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Historic Grotto Gets 100-Year-Old Makeover

“It’s a destination. Come and see the Saint Peter and Paul Lourdes Grotto and Bernadette will be the hostess when you come,” said Carolyn Lauing-Finzer.

100 Years Later

Just through the open gates of the Naperville Saints Peter and Paul’s Cemetery lies the historic Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto that is being renovated in honor of its 100th anniversary. A grotto in the Catholic Church is an outdoor shrine and sanctuary, and is usually a rock formation. One of the centerpieces of the grotto is a statue of a young Bernadette Soubirous who received a vision of Virgin Mary in a grotto near Lourdes France in the mid-19th century.

Longtime Naperville resident Carolyn Lauing-Finzer who is a 1961 graduate of Saints Peter and Paul School has family connections with the creation of the landmark.

“My grandpa Art Miller was one of the masons, the original masons that designed and constructed it,” said Lauing-Finzer. “In order to take small and large chunks of these fossilized pieces of rock, you’ve had to have an eye for alignment and where you would place them so they would all fit together into this beautiful structure,” said Lauing-Finzer.

Renovations on the grotto have been underway since March 22 of this year. The work includes cleaning and repairs of the grotto room on the east and west wings. An archway, stairs, alcove, and a storage room will also be included in the repairs.

“This project will allow the grotto to be safe for another hundred years. It will be in good condition and if we use proper materials there’s no reason why it shouldn’t” said Mario Machnicki, owner of Marion Restoration. “So, if something is hundred years old and you repair with the same materials, guess what: you have another hundred years.”

Who Is Working On It?

Mario Machnicki is one of the country’s foremost stonework specialists. He is using original and sourced limestone to help repair the grotto.

“This is a element that we see that needs a lot of respect. I mean you cannot just take a typical approach like you repair (a) building. This is a grotto that’s built a hundred years ago with materials that was used (a) hundred years ago and the stone that we see on the grotto is very unusual. You don’t see stone like that on buildings” said Machnicki.

Timeline

Repairs take place daily but are weather dependent. Machnicki and the rest of Marion Restoration is hoping to have this project completed by early May. As the date inches closer, Lauing-Finzer is excited for what’s to come after years of working to get the grotto restored.

”Of course it’s an exciting time because I’ve waited almost twelve years to see a restoration budget come into play here. We didn’t have money before this and Father Brad Baker, the new pastor at Saints Peter and Paul, found a way to make this happen. He looked at this structure and he decided definitely it was worthy of historic preservation,” said Lauing-Finzer. “So I am hopeful that in the future, we’ll be able to have Memorial Day masses and luminary mass again. During the pandemic we haven’t had it.”

Naperville News 17 Patrick Codo reports.

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