Devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes
In 1858 Bernadette Soubirous, a peasant girl of fourteen, reported to have witnessed apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a grotto at Lourdes, France. The figure led Bernadette to a source of a spring, instructed her to drink its water, tell the priests to have a chapel built at the site, and to have the people come there in procession. Thousands of miraculous healings have since been attributed to the spring's waters. The grotto at Lourdes has become a pilgrimage site of world-wide renown and Roman Catholics have developed a widespread devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes.
A Grotto for St. Nicholas
Fr. Dobroslav Soric, the parish priest in the 1940s, had a deep personal devotion to Our Lady of Lourdes and promoted devotion to the Blessed Mother in his sermons to the congregation. Fr. Soric decided that a grotto would be erected to commemorate the centennial of St. Bernadette's birth and the golden anniversary of St. Nicholas Parish in 1944. At that time, the building of grottoes in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes was also promoted throughout the Pittsburgh region by Fr. James Cox, a friend of Fr. Soric and Pastor of St. Patrick Church in Pittsburgh's Strip District, who credited the miraculous restoration of his vision to water from Lourdes. Fr. Cox was an accredited chaplain of Lourdes and was asked to provide spiritual guidance on the grotto construction. Fr. Cox held a novena to St. Bernadette on October 24, 1943, at which he blessed the grotto cornerstone.
In order to save on the cost of the excavation, men of the parish excavated 660 tons of dirt with picks and shovels, often in evenings after long days at their jobs had ended. Women supported the effort by cooking meals at the church, and children offered assistance because many of the young men were away at war. Parishioners toiled throughout the summer of 1944 in a remarkable display of faith and devotion. Fr. Cox later delivered the address at the grotto dedication on October 15, 1944, which was the centennial of St. Bernadette's birth.
Five-Story Grotto a Landmark to Travelers
St. Nicholas Parishioners built the most elaborate shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes in the Pittsburgh area. At the apex of the grotto was a niche holding a statue of the Blessed Mother gazing to heaven. On the next level down was an underground chapel and altar made of white marble. Stone steps with wrought iron railing led down four stories and over bridges to the church balcony, the front doors, and a courtyard gathering space. Flowers were placed throughout the shrine, and luminaria and evergreen trees lined the steps at Christmas. During warm weather, Mass was held at the grotto every Saturday at noon, and a rosary was said before each Mass. The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes graced the hillside behind St. Nicholas Church for nearly 70 years. It was razed by the Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2013.