ENDICOTT — Joseph and Theresa Kolone remember when the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto was built at St. Joseph’s Church.
“It was so many years ago,” Theresa said. “This place to me is very important, very holy. Our parents were among the first people that made the shrine. My husband’s father went to cut the stone in Pennsylvania.”
Both second-generation parishioners, the Kolones were married 65 years ago, just eight years after the shrine was put in at the church.
Joseph remembers his father taking a car to get loads of stone for the project. “It was a big Buick. Those cars were made like tanks. They’re heavy metal. And they cut the thing right in half and hauled stones with it.”
Paul Topencik is also a second-generation parishioner. Born after the shrine was built, he still remembers hearing stories of how it was put together. Now, as a member of the renovation committee, he takes visitors around the site.
Topencik starts at the farthest point from the re-creation of the Blessed Mother’s appearance to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, France in 1858. At the proper angle it looks like Mary is atop the moon and stars. Up the hill to the side is a World War II memorial altar with a large stone crucifix.
“Off to the side are two plaques. One identifies all the ladies who collected money, Victory Circle members. The other side identifies all those who served. On the bottom is a short list of those who died,” said Topencik.
The Stations of the Cross ring the entire grassy hillside. The grotto, with all those stones from Pennsylvania is restored now, and there’s flowing water, just like at Lourdes, France.
“The original dedication was October 6, 1940 and we’re very proud to say that we’ve brought the grounds back to original condition,” Topencik said. “It gives us an opportunity to remember our ancestors.”
Behind the grotto a few feet back is a heart fashioned from stones, which Topencik says symbolizes faith, hope and charity. “Our ancestors came here on the boat and brought their faith with them and their hearts were always very warm. So that’s why you see the faith, hope and charity,” he said.
Bishop Robert J. Cunningham was at St. Joseph’s for Confirmation on Sunday, Oct. 13. After Mass, he followed a procession of the Knights of Columbus, altar servers and the newly confirmed from the church to the shrine. After blessing the grotto, he reflected on what it means for parishioners.
“First built by the parish in the 1940s, it withstood the weather for 73 years. Now they’ve rebuilt it and fixed it up so I hope it will be here for another 70-plus years,” he said.
“The whole community was involved in this,” said Father Charles Opondo-Owora, pastor of St. Joseph’s. “It’s a place of prayer for everybody the community. They come here, take their time to pray the rosary, take their time to remember their people who devoted their lives during the war.”
“It gives them time to bring that connection back, first and foremost with our God, second with the community here. For those who are still alive it bonds us together,” Father Charles added.
Eighty-five-year-old Theresa Kolone couldn’t agree more. “Every Sunday for years and years people came from all over,” she said. “It just brings back so many memories. I’m just proud and happy that we all put this together again. Because people need a place like this…it means so much.”