French Connection in Texas
San Antonio boasts a nearly exact replica of France’s Lourdes Grotto. A shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe is also present on the grounds of the Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate.
Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in San Antonio honors the Blessed Mother under not one but two apparitions.
Not only is it one of the most precise copies of the original Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, it also represents Mary’s apparition to St. Juan Diego in neighboring Mexico with a scene very familiar to anyone who has visited Tepeyac Hill.
There is only one slight difference between this Lourdes grotto and the one at the foot of the Pyrenees. The fountain in France is on the ground level whereas the one here is on a pedestal.
But the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have blessed the fountain through which water flows, and visitors come constantly to obtain the blessed water.
The grotto was the idea of Oblate Father Cullen Deckert, who served as the first director of the Mary Immaculate League, now known as Oblate Missions. The grotto is viewed as the spiritual arm of the Oblate Missions. Besides an outside plaza seating up to 900, there is also an inside chapel used for daily Mass.
Having been constructed in the early 1940s, the grotto — which is about 25 feet high, 25 feet deep, and 40 feet wide — was blessed and consecrated on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. A joyous celebration soon was overshadowed by news that afternoon that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.
The Oblates are a missionary congregation founded in France in 1816 by St. Eugene de Mazenod. The young priest founded the congregation in order to preach to the poor of Aix-en-Provence, France. The poor spoke a different dialect than the high-class French.
As other diocesan priests joined the group, it was decided that a rule and sense of discipline was needed, and that eventually became the Constitutions and Rules of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, officially approved by Pope Leo XII in 1826.
In 1849, a bishop came to the Oblates in France from the Northwest Territory of Canada in search of missionary priests for the Arctic. A meeting of about 50 Oblates with their founder led to a decision to respond positively.
Thus, the Oblates became a missionary order. The Oblates, called the “Specialists in the Most Difficult Missions” by Pope Pius XI, now serve in 70 countries, with about 4,500 priests and brothers worldwide and 350 serving in the United States.
The area of the grotto is called Oblate Hill because it is also home to a seminary, retreat house, a retirement-nursing home and a cemetery. Across the street from Oblate Hill is the office of the Oblate Missions.
The Oblates came to Texas in 1849. From that time until the present, the predominant Oblate ministry in the Southwest has been to the Hispanic population. Consequently, beginning in the 1950s, a mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe was placed on the top side of the Lourdes grotto.
Called Tepeyac de San Antonio, it is reached by a set of winding stairs. Tepeyac is the name of the hill in Mexico where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego in 1531. Several years ago, full-size colored bronze statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Juan Diego were put in place to replace the mosaic.
Also on the grotto grounds is the Hope Monument, a life-size bronze statue by sculptor Beverly Paddleford, as a symbol of the sanctity of human life. Jesus is sitting with a young woman and holding her hand and has her baby in his lap. Many visitors come to the Hope Monument, and some spiritual healings have taken place there. Not infrequently, a visiting fallen-away Catholic will return to the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist after an absence of 20, 30 or 40 years.
Though the Oblates don’t advertise the fact, other real grace-filled physical healings have periodically taken place at the grotto itself, according to the Oblate fathers. Someone will come and say, “Father, I had cancer. I prayed for a cure. So-and-so prayed over me, and the cancer is gone.”
There are two Convocations of the Sick at the grotto yearly. The first is on Feb. 11, the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick, when five healing Masses are offered. The sacrament of anointing of the sick is also available.
The second takes place on the third Sunday of October. An extra Mass is offered that afternoon, and the anointing of the sick is available at all the Masses.
A novena to Our Lady of Lourdes is held here in February, and there are others throughout the year: St. Joseph in March; Mother’s Day in May; the Sacred Heart in June; St. Eugene de Mazenod in July; the Assumption in August; Our Lady of Sorrows in September; Our Lady of the Rosary in October; the poor souls in purgatory in November; and the Immaculate Conception in December.
In addition to celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Easter, during each of the four quarters of the year on a Sunday afternoon, a Divine Mercy Holy Hour with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is held, followed by Mass. Visitors are encouraged to foster the Divine Mercy devotion in their home parishes.
The Oblate grotto celebrates its 68th anniversary this coming December. It is without a doubt one of the most significant Marian shrines in the Southwest, with well over 100,000 visitors a year, and has become appropriately known as a Marian shrine of hope, healing and reconciliation.
Joseph Albino is based
in Syracuse, New York.
Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto of the Southwest
5712 Blanco Rd.
San Antonio, Texas 78216
Planning Your Visit:
On Sundays, there is a 9 a.m. Mass in English and an 11:30 a.m. Mass in Spanish. Monday through Saturday there is a Mass in English at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday, there is a Mass in Spanish at noon. After each daily morning Mass, Eucharistic adoration takes place until 6 p.m.
A Mass of healing is offered at 7 p.m. on Thursdays, and there is a healing service at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Charismatics and Divine Mercy groups participate in these services.
The grotto is very close to the San Antonio International Airport. Leave the airport on Airport Boulevard, come to Loop 410, and turn west. Get off the loop at Blanco Rd., and take a left. The grotto is about a mile up the road on the left-hand side.
- February 8-14, 2009