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 | By Jenny Cromie

Restored Peace

Holy Spirit parishioners breathed new life into the grotto destroyed last fall

Situated in a secluded wooded area behind the Holy Spirit Parish in Saginaw is a hidden gem. On an early evening in mid-September, a procession of 15 people made their way to the stone grotto housing a statue of the Blessed Mother, intoning “Sing of Mary” before stopping to pray Stations of the Cross.

Members of the prayer group joined many others who now are breathing new life into the grotto, situated on a swath of property behind the church. After Mass on Oct. 1, Father Pete Gaspeny blessed the grotto with Holy Water, while Knight of Columbus Jason Rasmussen prayed the Rosary with parishioners as part of a formal dedication ceremony.

“Thanks to the Knights of Columbus, they made it possible to go there and pray. The grotto is such a peaceful place … you are so close to the Blessed Mother,” said Marta Kolinko, a Holy Spirit parishioner who had the idea of holding monthly prayer group meetings at the grotto when weather permits. “It’s such a beautiful place where you can go. I thought it would be a good idea.”

No one knows exactly how old the grotto is or the story of how it came to be, but parishioners guess it is more than 100 years old. It sat neglected, forgotten and overgrown in the woods until about 15 years ago when Herb Sullivan, who now is deceased, and other members of the Father Robert W. Davey Council 8808 Knights of Columbus decided to bring the grotto back to life, said Grand Knight Mitch Lenczewski. They removed trees, cleared brush, built Stations of the Cross, made a pathway to the grotto and placed a large cross nearby.

For many years, the Knights of Columbus maintained the grotto, opening it in the spring and closing it in the fall. But vandals destroyed the original statue of Mary and Stations of the Cross in early summer last year.

“It was actually pretty heartbreaking,” Lenczewski said, adding the grotto has a lot of significance for the Knights and for parishioners. “We decided we were going to reconstruct it and make it better than it was.”

Before rebuilding the grotto, they wanted to honor and properly lay to rest the original statue and the stations. As the proper way to dispose of blessed religious items is to bury them or burn them then bury the ashes, Father Pete held a burial ceremony in mid-summer last year.

Then the Knights of Columbus and parishioners got to work.

Organizing the effort to bring the grotto back to life was Mike Metiva, a Holy Spirit parishioner for the past 43 years and member of the Father Robert W. Davey Council 8808 Knights of Columbus.

The Knights of Columbus sold cement pavers to help raise money for the project, Metiva said. They contacted a company to engrave the pavers, and parishioners bought them in memory of loved ones or for memorable occasions. Then the Knights installed the pavers on the ground in front of the grotto.

Metiva’s brother, James (Jay), managed to locate a statue of Mary that was not being used by the Diocese, Lenczewski said. After the Diocese of Saginaw donated the statue, Mike’s brother Stan painted it. The statue now stands in an alcove of carefully laid stone.

“Mike and his brothers are the backbone of the whole project right now,” Lenczewski said. “The Metivas don’t like to take any credit, but they deserve it.”

Parishioner Mike Marsden made all new Stations of the Cross. He ordered a set of prints from Italy, laminated them, placed them in solar-resistant Plexiglass, and installed them at an angle in front of the grotto so that they can be easily viewed by people who come to pray and meditate.

Private donors also made it possible for benches to be installed near the grotto, he said. Abele Greenhouse and Garden Center provided a designer and did the landscaping around the grotto. The Saginaw business also donated various plantings and mulch for a pathway.

Restoration of the grotto was truly a community effort, and it now is a source of pride for parishioners and the Knights of Columbus, Lenczewski said. There is a schedule of people who sweep in front of the grotto to keep it clean, and someone regularly brings flowers and places them in a vase near Mary’s feet.

The project will be an ongoing process of improvement.

Now that the grotto has been restored, more people are using it. There is the monthly prayer group, and there are others who now are making regular use of the grotto.

“I have noticed quite a few people going back there after Mass, and a few during the day,” said Metiva, who visits the grotto about once a week. Often, he will stop there in the middle of doing errands since he lives nearby.

“It is a nice place to go and contemplate and pray,” he said.

Mike Marsden, who lost his wife three years ago, finds great solace visiting the grotto. After his wife passed away, he began attending Mass every day and attending various prayer groups. Marsden finds the monthly prayer group that meets at the grotto especially healing. There, they pray Stations of the Cross, the Rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy together, as well as have a potluck dinner together.

“Praying with a group of people—it’s just so edifying that way. It’s a very close group,” Marsden said, adding that people show up from all over the Diocese and as far away as the Detroit area to pray with the group at the grotto.

The Knights have done a great job bringing the grotto back to life, said Father Pete, who also likes to visit the grotto behind the parish.

“They really did a lot to make it more conducive to prayer,” he said. “It’s just a very prayerful spot.”