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BY Joseph Pronechen
Euclid, Ohio, is home to the National Shrine and Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes
Close to 40,000 people visited the National Shrine and Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Euclid, Ohio, last year.
Those who signed the guestbook came from 34 countries and 41 states.
Devotion to our Blessed Mother drew them; peace, grace and healing greeted them — just as those spiritual gifts flowed to a young girl named Bernadette in 1858 in Lourdes, France, when the Virgin Mary appeared before her.
By the time I parked my car in the serene, wooded oasis, I had already forgotten that bustling downtown Cleveland was only 10 miles away.
“Peace” is a very popular word here, say the Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity who administer the shrine. Visitors can’t help telling the sisters how much of it they find at the grotto, in the church and along the outdoor devotional ways.
It rained the day I visited, but that didn’t stop people from praying even in the outdoor areas. I understood why when one nun took the time to explain to me that many pilgrims return or write to tell about healings they've received during or just after visiting this holy site. One sister called such testimonies “ceaseless,” noting that no small number come from non-Catholics.
“One lady with a group from Canada showed me her leg,” explained Sister Anastasia, the shrine's pilgrimage director. The leg was marred by an external cancer, which Sister described as “a hideous sore.”
Sister took the woman to the grotto and encouraged her to stand on a stone that had been brought here from the Lourdes site of Mary's appearance.
“Ask the Blessed Mother for a cure,” Sister Anastasia told the Canadian pilgrim. “I'll pray for you, and you pray too.”
The woman drank the water flowing at the grotto and applied some to her leg.
A year later she returned, sought out Sister Anastasia and cried out, “Look what the Blessed Mother has done for me!” Sister looked to see that the once-diseased flesh was now unblemished.
Sister Anastasia, who has lived here since 1986, also recounted the story of a wheelchair-bound man who said he'd been told by his doctor that he would never walk again. Shortly after drinking the water at the grotto, he got up and walked away, pushing his own wheelchair as he went.
Healthy adults regularly come through, added Sister Anastasia, telling of sick childhoods and total recoveries after being brought here by their parents.
The sisters don’t use the word “miracle” much. Instead, they prefer to talk about the “many testimonies of healing.” As one of the nuns said, “We'd need a full-time person to document them” if that's what the site were all about.
“Many graces take place here,” said Sister Anastasia. Pilgrims who do not receive physical healings, she added, receive other kinds of blessings. “Many people are moved.”
The shrine dates to 1922, when Mother Mary of St. John Berchmans McGarvey, the U.S. mother superior of the Good Shepherd Sisters, went on pilgrimage to Lourdes. While there, she was inspired to build a replica of the grotto on the order's land in Euclid, near Lake Erie. The property had been a vineyard that produced award-winning wines before the owners donated it to the nuns.
In Lourdes, the mother superior was handed a major donation; this she and those with her attributed to Divine Providence. A local Dominican priest gave her a precise drawing of the Lourdes grotto, then added a priceless treasure the local bishop had given him — a piece of the actual rock the Blessed Mother stood upon when she appeared to Bernadette.
On May 30, Trinity Sunday, the nuns promised God they'd build the shrine. Four Trinity Sundays later, Archbishop Joseph Schrembs of Cleveland dedicated the shrine. In 1928, it was officially named a national shrine.
In 1952, the local ordinary invited the Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity (the Trinitarians) to administer the shrine. The order quickly began expanding the shrine, building everything from a large chapel to a rosary walk.
That little piece of stone was destined by God to travel from Lourdes to America, say the sisters. “The stone is unique,” one of the nuns told me, adding that the shrine is the only one in America to have a piece of the very spot on which Mary stood during her appearances to Bernadette.
The small rock has been divided into three — a “trinity.” One piece appears with a first-class relic of St. Bernadette in a reliquary displayed in the gift shop.
The second is attached to a white marble prayer book near the statue of Mary at the grotto for people to touch.
The third piece is embedded in marble at the feet of our Lady where a steady stream of water flows over it.
Because of the famous healing properties of the water in Lourdes, it's no surprise to the Trinitarians when people attribute their healings and graces to the use of this shrine's blessed water.
The nuns constantly honor requests to send it all over the country, even Hawaii.
One sister reminded me how the Blessed Mother said the water at Lourdes would be “for the healing of the people.”
The white Carrara marble statue of the Blessed Mother at the grotto is the original placed in 1926. Sister Anastasia told how six men tried to bring the statue to the founding nuns when they moved. But the team could not budge it. The Blessed Mother wanted to stay here, she said.
The statue of a kneeling Bernadette gazing toward our Lady makes visitors feel part of the apparition scene.
The beautiful carved stone is placed where the congregation gathers for outdoor Masses, a constant reminder of Mary's proclamation to Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Several other Carrara marble statues also grace the grounds, beginning with the Sacred Heart, St. Joseph and St. Ann. Beyond the grotto, a paved path follows the shrine's original Stations of the Cross around the tree-covered hillside to the Shrine of our Resurrected Savior.
This hillside also has the newest addition — a rosary walk following the full 15 decades. Participants in Sunday processions pray the 169 granite beads that wind along the King's Highway and end at the grotto for Benediction.
Near the grotto are a small rose garden and two “houses,” one for votive lights in honor of St. Joseph and Our Lady of Fatima, the other containing crutches and other items from thankful pilgrims.
The story of Bernadette, from the apparitions to her reception into heaven, appears in a unique series of stained-glass windows lining the chapel built in the centenary year of the Lourdes apparitions.
The Trinitarian Sisters believe that God destined this shrine to be right in the middle of the people and easily accessible to them. The prayer, healing and peace they find here keep them coming back for more.
Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.