Perspectives: Memories at the Grotto

Author: Alumni submissions

Perspectives: Memories at the Grotto

Frances Barrera, Notre Dame ‘23

 

I’m 16 years old and my aunt and grandma have just abandoned me in front of Bond Hall for the two-week Career Discovery architecture program held every June. My body is 10% exhaustion, 40% nerves and 100% excited to finally be at the school of my dreams (the math checks out, right?). Spoiler alert: I loved “archie camp,” but one of my favorite memories actually preceded the start of the program. While my aunt helped me move in, my grandma waited for us on a bench by the Grotto and simply observed passersby, feet swinging with the uncomplicated joy of being in a serene place with friendly people. Watching her, heartily entertained by a collection of rocks and a trickle of ambling college students, demonstrated how special Notre Dame is and reminded me to appreciate such a wonderful community. To have a set nook of campus in which to freely lay intentions, light a candle, pray for a relative — to reflect individually in a communal space while supporting the collective petitions of others; the Grotto’s bounty is a privilege to experience, one that my grandma’s humble delight helped me to realize. Five years later, I am now a senior awaiting the same aunt and grandma’s visit to ND in the coming days. Just a dip in the road north from where my Notre Dame journey started, we’ll be sure to make a stop at the most idyllic spot on campus.

 

Robert Crawford, Notre Dame ‘23

 

Maybe it’s because my mind was filled with the other, more pressing thoughts of a seven-year-old, but I never remembered the Grotto — not even after being on campus for my brother’s graduation back in ‘07. From the love with which my mother spoke of it in the following years, I imagined what any boy should — a great cavern, a magnitude of light and hushed voices echoing off rugged stones. I was content in thinking this way for many years. But in the summer of 2017, when my mother and father were forced to learn a permanent pain they never

deserved, I, too, was made to find ways of healing, ways of preserving memories forever left behind. In all of her stories of the grotto, my mother drew me to that place, and when we first arrived, it was exactly what it should have been — a place of calm, unspeaking strength for two to embrace and remember.

 

Juan Jose Rodriguez, Notre Dame ‘19, former editor-in-chief of Scholastic

 

During my time as a student, the Grotto was a place where I could step away from the noise of a given day. Whether calming my mind in anticipation of a test or an upcoming broadcast, recalling memories on the anniversary of a relative’s passing or simply taking a moment to settle down, the opportunity to spend some time in quiet thought and prayer with God and the Blessed Mother was truly a blessing. Be there just one lit candle or dozens, the light of the flame amid the darkness of night served as a subtle yet poignant reminder of God‘s presence within me each and every day.

 

Lynette Paczkowski Notre Dame ‘01

 

As a student, I spent a lot of time at the Grotto. My favorite time to visit was at night, when the glow of the flickering candles helped you feel a little less alone. And alone I sometimes felt. My parents divorced when I graduated high school. As I was preparing to graduate Notre Dame, my mom was planning her second wedding. The time in between was confusing and difficult to an only child away at college, trying to navigate a lot of new normals (before “new normal” was a thing). I would light a candle and sit down on a bench, breathing in the fresh air, the lakes, and the flames. I prayed. I reflected. I felt hugged by the gentle breeze that always seemed to wrap itself around me. Was it my imagination? The cool Indiana nights? Mary? God? My guardian angels sending me a hug? Does it matter?

 

Elizabeth Hughes, Notre Dame ‘22

 

I’ve only ever been to the Grotto sweaty. Most often, I stop by mid-run to people-watch and sit for a second. Over Welcome Weekend, I went with my dorm, and it was 102 degrees. And on a few occasions, I’ve run straight there because I knew it was what I needed right then. But I like that I can be sweaty there. Nobody cares, especially not God.

 

Kat Zdravkov Notre Dame ‘23

 

Every Friday in the fall of sophomore year, I would leave my Italian class with a smile on my face — the class was enjoyable, and my classmates were a pleasure to be around. However, on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, I left Italian in a much worse mood than usual. That morning marked one week since my grandfather had passed away over my fall break, and now I was 1,200 miles away from my greatest source of comfort: my family. I went to the Grotto in search of solace and sought to honor him. As I knelt and prayed for our family, mourning his loss, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of everything around me. It was a crisp, sun-kissed fall

morning, and the trees were rich in color. There was a simultaneous serenity and buzz of activity around campus. In that moment, I felt the peace I needed. The Grotto and the beauty of our campus reassured me that my grandfather and I were still connected as he smiled down on me.