Hidden Menlo

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, Vallombrosa Center in Menlo Park has embarked on a project to renovate its Lourdes grotto and build around it a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes.

A retreat center visitor in 2018 noticed the grotto, built in the 1950s after the Archdiocese acquired the property, was in urgent need of repair and offered to donate funds and assistance in building a new one. His advocacy spurred the center into starting the renovation of the grotto and then re-envisioning the area surrounding it.

Vallombrosa plans to add new lighting and landscaping to the grotto and build a fountain for St. Bernadette Soubirous, to whom Mary appeared at Lourdes. The area in front of the statue, on a corner of the property next to Church of the Nativity, will be paved and turned into a plaza for outdoor Mass.

“We’re trying to make a welcoming space,” said David Leech, Vallombrosa’s marketing director.

The center will also build a meditative spiritual works of mercy path leading to the shrine, which will complement the corporal works of mercy garden on the southern side of the property.

According to Vallombrosa’s website, the shrine complex will “create a quiet and sacred space for prayer, reflection and devotion.”

Dave Fencl, operations director for Vallombrosa, said the plaza would be named after late chaplain Father Kevin Gaffey. The priest had been “instrumental” in the vocation of a number of priests, he said, and “he was kind of considered the ultimate for a parish priest.”

To partially fund the project, the center is selling bricks that can be etched with personal messages, Fencl said.

“It’s a way to build brick-by-brick, but also to honor people, people you love or who are now with God,” he said.

Fencl said he looks forward to the addition of the meditative shrine to the Vallombrosa grounds.

“The concept is to be able to do the corporal works, do the Stations of the Cross, go to the spiritual works of mercy and then end up at the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Anything to slow people down and help them reflect and contemplate – that’s all part of what we’ve been trying to accomplish here,” he said.

The anonymous donor told Catholic San Francisco “My fondest and most cherished hope is that with the restoration of the grotto, the Blessed Mother will be honored as she should be and has been, and so increase her intercession for the retreat center and all who dwell in it.”

Donations can be made online.

Photo by Scott R. Kline (c) 2018

This originally appeared on Catholic San Francisco and is used with permission.

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