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Finding the SMC Grotto

Liz Harter | Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fifteen mosquito bites, a lightly twisted ankle, hundreds of nettles on my clothes and in my hair and a sense of accomplishment – these are the things I gained when news writer Jenny Hoffman and I went hiking through Pearley’s Glen behind the Saint Mary’s Convent to find the Saint Mary’s Grotto last Wednesday.

The Saint Mary’s Grotto has risen to an almost urban legend type status in the past few years. Students inevitably tell tales of the mysterious Grotto every year and more than a few go on expeditions to find it.

I have to believe that any student looking for the Grotto would have an easier time doing so during the late fall. As it is, Jenny and I climbed through dense weeds that had grown above our heads and trekked through piles of leaves and mud that were slippery from the torrential rains over the weekend.

This was not the first time I had found the Grotto, but it was the first time I was leading the expedition. I had only a hazy memory of where it was – meaning I knew you had to pass the sign that said “Authorized Personnel Only” behind the Convent and that it was built into the side of a hill and a tree had fallen over it sometime this summer.

We wandered through weeds as I tried to look for any landmark that might potentially jog my memory. I think I took us right past the Grotto and then continued fighting my way through trees and cobwebs for about 30 feet before I realized we were nowhere near where we needed to be. Pearley’s Glen is just off St. Joseph River so we thought the Grotto might be underwater since the river had risen because of the rain as well.

Forty minutes later we were getting ready to give up. That was when we stumbled through a group of trees and onto what looks like an old compost pile. Things clicked into place when we found that pile of leaves and I looked up to find the fallen tree that I remembered. After a couple more swipes with the stick I was using to knock spider webs down we stumbled onto the old stone framework of what once held a statue of the Virgin Mary.

The space is absolutely beautiful, even without the venerated statue in place.

As I was taking pictures to accompany the story I had to climb over one of the fallen trees and into the area directly in front of the Grotto. Surrounded by the foliage I felt as though I had found my way into a piece of history. I had become one of the countless number of students and Sisters of the Holy Cross who had found this holy place.

There is a real sense of peace surrounding the area. I can see why the Sisters wanted to build the holy place and I can see why students like Sarah King have continued to seek the tranquil harmony that our very own Saint Mary’s Grotto provides.