Our Lady of Hope Parish builds ‘glorious grotto’ and helps health clinic

By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

They wanted a grotto and they got it done fast.

One observer had noted a little barrenness behind Our Lady of Hope Church in the Valley of Syracuse — numerous trees and a parking lot. But now the spot is an elaborate marvel only about 100 yards from Seneca Turnpike.

The choir sings for the Ritual Mass for the Dedication of an Altar. The entrance hymn was “All People That on Earth Do Dwell.” Hundreds of people attended the Mass, which was followed by a reception.

And on Oct. 13, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia offered his blessings at the Ritual Mass for the Dedication of an Altar in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. As the bishop presided in the sunshine, the statue of Our Lady stood behind him on the sculpted little hill that blocked out the turnpike traffic but allowed a view of the birds and the fluttering leaves in the distance.

Less than three months ago, the Mary statue and the bell tower from the nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Church, which had closed in 2017 and merged with St. James Church to form Our Lady of Hope, were relocated to the site where the grotto would rise. It was a striking cross-Valley procession of giant icons in trucks escorted by police officers.

At that time, piles of dirt awaited grooming. Now, it takes quite a while to absorb all the facets of the grotto, which awaits only plaques for trees and benches that will be added.

A plaque at the entrance to the curving brick walkway honors those who contributed to the altar and also to the waterfall that flows under the white  Carrara Marble statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, the gathering space, the evergreens, the decorative fence, and the lighting and sound systems.

All that work required at least one artist, along with architects, structural engineers, a general contractor, and a landscaper.

‘Called to be a sign’

Bishop Douglas J. Lucia and Father Christopher Ballard light a candle during the ceremony. The bishop asked the Lord to “pour forth from heaven your sanctifying power upon this altar …, that it may be an altar dedicated for all time by the sacrifice of Christ and stand as the Lord’s table, where your people are refreshed by the divine banquet.”

“This altar is a sign to us,” Bishop Lucia said to the hundreds who gathered under and next to a big white tent for the Ritual Mass. He added: “We are called to be a sign to one another of God’s living presence in the world today.”

“I have great gratitude to everyone who made sacrifices to allow this to happen,” said the pastor of Our Lady of Hope, Father Christopher Ballard.  “This is your grotto, and it was built on the generosity of the people in our community. …

“If you look at the stones as you walk up the pathway, you see the names of many family members, many families from our parish who sacrificed to build this grotto, and really everything in this grotto is a sacrifice.

“I also thank all of the artisans and skilled workers who donated their time, their skills to make this happen; they donated all or portions of their work on this grotto over the last few months to make this a reality for us, and it’s so beautiful; it’s more beautiful than I could have imagined it would be, and I’m very grateful for that.”

Father Ballard, who notes in the Mass program that the grotto was “just a dream a couple of years ago,” also drew a murmur of joyous surprise:

“We decided from the outset as we were raising money for this grotto that we would donate a portion of the money … to an organization in our community. … I’m very pleased to give a check for ten thousand dollars to the Poverello Health Clinic.”

The clinic, a service of Franciscan Northside Ministries under the auspices of Franciscan Church of the Assumption in Syracuse, offers no-cost medical care for those in need.

“This check will be so welcome,” said Sister Maria Salerno, OSF, a volunteer nurse-practitioner at the clinic. “We really depend on donations in order to continue that ministry. We see people on several nights a week; we do bloodwork for them when they don’t have funds; and we see all nationalities, all races, all religions in the group. We have people from Burma, from Nepal, from Kenya, from the Sudan.

“So this will go a long way in meeting those needs. May God bless you, and every time that you’re in this grotto, think again of the healing of the Blessed Mother through her son, Jesus.”

Indefatigable prisoners

The congregation at the Ritual Mass heard Father Christopher Ballard, the pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church, say that the world is troubled, “and there’s a lot of darkness and there’s a lot of brokenness — even our lives, we know what our brokenness is.” He added that the new grotto is “meant to be a place of peace and a place where we find healing.”

The grotto setting reminded Bishop Lucia of a feat accomplished by Italian soldiers who were held in a prisoners-of-war camp on an island off northwest Scotland during World War II. The prisoners made a chapel by using every scrap of wood they could find and the cans that their rations came in.

“So why did they build a tiny church?” Bishop Lucia said. “And as they would say to those who asked, because the tiny church became a sign of God, and all that God in Christ means: hope, deliverance, a power above us, within us greater than all our troubles.”

The bishop also said that St. Bernadette was told by Our Lady to drink, so she dug into the ground and found a little trickle of water. “But that trickle of water,” he said, “became a flood of grace for her. And what is grace but God’s gift. And every time you and I come to the Lord’s altar, it is here that we encounter again a fountain of God’s grace, of God’s gift to you and me. Especially the gift of his very self in the holy Eucharist and his very body and blood.”

In an email anticipating “the big day,” Father Ballard had explained the Ritual Mass for the Dedication of an Altar. The ritual was followed by Bishop Lucia and his concelebrants, Father Ballard and Father Matthew E. Rawson, a native of the parish who is now the parochial vicar of Holy Cross Church in DeWitt.

The ritual included the Entrance Procession, during which the altar was undecorated; the Sprinkling Rite, in which the bishop used holy water from the Grotto at Lourdes, France; the Litany of the Saints, “used during very special moments in the Church’s life”; the Anointing of the Altar, as the bishop coated the entire surface of the altar with Sacred Chrism; the Incensation of the Altar (“This comes from the Old Testament where offerings were literally burned upon the altar”); and the Covering and Lighting of the Altar.

Bishop Douglas J. Lucia speaks Oct. 13 at the Ritual Mass for the Dedication of an Altar in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Syracuse. The grotto sits behind Our Lady of Hope Church. At left is Seminarian Dennis Walker. Right behind Bishop Lucia is Father Matthew Rawson; behind him is Father Christopher Ballard. Participants who are not pictured are Seminarian John Leo Oduor and Deacon Candidate John Trendowski. “We have a special privilege to dedicate this altar,” Bishop Lucia said. (Sun photos | Chuck Wainwright)

In that final ritual, the altar was wiped free of the oil and covered in a new altar cloth that Father Ballard had purchased overseas on his pilgrimage to Lourdes.

The final ritual continued with placement of candles and flowers around the altar. The gifts were brought forward, and the clergy reverenced the altar with a kiss, thus acknowledging that it had been prepared properly. From now on, at the beginning of every Mass, the altar will be reverenced with a kiss, Father Ballard said.

The hymn after Communion was “Immaculate Mary”; after dismissal, “Hail, Holy Queen.”

As the Mass ended, Bishop Lucia said: “Go in peace, glorifying God by your life.”

At Father Ballard’s invitation, people lingered after the Mass to explore the creative aspects of the grotto. One point of fascination was the grooved rock that sits on a pedestal in front of the altar; the rock, donated by Franciscan Church of the Assumption, is originally from Lourdes, France.

With no set hours, the grotto, at 4845 S. Salina St., is open for anyone to stop in and pray.

Martha Ryan, RN, a public health advocate, supplied the Sun with a list of some of the items on the grotto grounds:

Cleaned and polished

The statue of Our Lady is from Italy, and the altar, made of Botticino marble from Italy, came from the former Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Valley Drive.

“Vic Vallar, a true artist,” Ryan wrote, “cleaned and polished both the altar and the statue. He also covered the concrete pedestals that the altar sits on with marble to match. Vic also carved gold crosses on the four corners of the altar and on the front of the pedestals.”

The landscaping includes six blue spruce trees around the statue of Mary, with a Kousa Dogwood tree directly behind the statue; hydrangea bushes; juniper shrubs; Endless Summer Hydrangeas; Boxwood shrubs; redbud trees; Autumn Applause trees; another Kousa Dogwood tree; and blue fescue grass.

Included are 13 limestone boulders forming a border, and the waterfall that flows down the hill behind the altar.

“Throughout the grotto,” Ryan said, “there are five granite boulders that hold the acknowledgements of the donors and some of the details of the grotto. Around the entire grotto are approximately 70 Norway Spruce trees forming a natural fence of evergreens.”

The Our Lady of Hope men’s group helped clear the area and install the spruces.

“It took a lot of work,” said men’s group member George Robbins. “It’s a beautiful place now for all faiths to come, pray, reflect, and find peace.”

“It was such a beautiful Mass,” said Our Lady of Hope Usher Jim Murray, who loved how the weather cooperated.

He added: “I appreciated the fact that all the people were just so happy. You could tell on the folks’ face that they were all paying attention. … Something special happening.”

‘Peace to us all’

Visitors included Lebanese Maronite Catholic Julie Taboulie, who has a nationwide TV show on PBS, “Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen,” and a cookbook by the same name that she has authored; her mother, Hind Sageer VanDusen; and her sister, Selma Sageer. They hail from the Finger Lakes area south of Syracuse.

“Our Lady of Hope,” Taboulie said, “is a glorious grotto and gift to our community. Our beautiful Blessed Mother Mary shines her light so graciously to bring peace to us all.”

Shirley Verone has been with Our Lady of Hope parish since the early 1950s, when the parish was called St. James.

“I just want to say thank you for your service,” she told Sister Maria, the nurse-practitioner at Poverello Health Clinic.

Asked her impression of the Ritual Mass, Verone said:

“It was just beautiful. Magnificent. Magnificent. Beautiful day. God is so good to us in so many ways to bring everybody together here and to celebrate.”


A Thank-You to Grotto Helpers

Father Christopher Ballard writes in the program for the Ritual Mass for the Dedication of an Altar in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at Our Lady of Hope Parish:

“Thank you to everyone who made generous donations of time, talent, and treasure, sacrificing to make this project a reality. A special thank-you to all the committee members.”

He also offers special thanks to these professional businesses and organizations:

Keplinger Freeman Associates


Hueber Breuer

Iron Workers Local 60

Operating Engineers, Local 546

Vallar’s Tile and Marble

Watson Farms LLC

Electrical Union, IBEW Local 43

Clark Companies

Syracuse Police Department

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