ATCHISON, Kan. — Benedictine College has always felt a special connection to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The college thanked her this year by building Mary’s Grotto near the heart of the campus.

With hundreds gathered on Sept. 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., celebrated Mass on the Atchison, Kan., campus, then blessed and dedicated this new Marian grotto.

“The Virgin Mother has protected us and loved this college and campus so much,” says Stephen Minnis, president of Benedictine.

That care, protection and intercession even precede the college’s founding in 1858. Two years earlier, Benedictine Father Henry Lemke, the founder, credited the Blessed Mother’s intervention with saving his life on the prairie.

And it’s no surprise Mary’s Grotto strongly suggests the Grotto of Lourdes, where also in 1858 Our Lady appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous. In fact, holy water from Lourdes was mixed into the concrete being poured for Mary’s Grotto, and then used to bless the entire foundation. 

Into the center of the grotto’s foundation Minnis placed a “Raven rosary” (with red-and-black beads, the college’s colors) with a St. Benedict cross and medal. Pope Benedict XVI blessed the rosary in 2008. 

Prayer played a strong role in building the grotto. Minnis enlisted a “Memorare Army” to do as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta did when she needed $85,000 for an orphanage. She had her sisters pray 85,000 Memorares. On completion, a donor gave her the exact amount. The college completed nearly 100,000 Memorares.


Engagement Central?

No students will miss Mary’s presence. The new grotto is on a hillside overlooking the heart of the campus and next to the main walkway connecting buildings.

“We put it there purposely,” says Minnis, “so even though our students can’t go there to spend time with Mary, she can watch over them as they go to class, and their parents can know Our Lady is looking over their kids each day.”

He also believes the grotto will be the key place for engagements on campus like it became for the first couple to get engaged there, Juan Rosete and Megan Klump, both 21. Even before they dated, the Blessed Mother always played a very important role in their lives.

“We have always had a devotion to the Blessed Mother together,” Klump said. Together they made their consecrations to Mary, and on Friday night after classes, they regularly prayed and lit a candle at the local parish’s Blessed Mother statue. Rosete was planning to ask Klump to marry him in front of that statue, but that day people were cleaning the church. He immediately thought, “Why not get engaged in the grotto?”

Klump’s reaction? “It was the perfect place,” she said. “It was awesome to get engaged with Mother Mary looking on. All through our relationship, she has been so important to us.

“We intend to visit the grotto a lot this year,” Rosete added.

Apparently, so do many other Benedictine students. As Minnis notices, “It’s like Grand Central Station there. This grotto has already impacted our kids.”

Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is

based in Trumbull, Connecticut.