Beat the Heat at Maryknoll’s Grotto

Staying cool during the summer is difficult at the best of times. Without fans or a/c, the heat and humidity can feel oppressive. There is one spot on the Sisters’ property that’s always cool and shady though. Tucked into the hillside next to the Motherhouse, the Lourdes Grotto serves all devotees of Mary.

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto shields its visitors from the harsh summer sun, and welcomes them to rest and rejuvenate their spirits. Her shrine smells of earth, salt, and vegetation; it appears as if it sprung fully-formed from the hillside. You can almost feel a cool breeze emanating from its center, like a cave entrance into the depths of the earth. This marvel of engineering and nature offers beauty and spiritual healing to its guests as part of a Walking Meditation around the Maryknoll Sisters property. While the grotto has been briefly mentioned in our blog before, its history has never been discussed here until now.

The Surprising Origins of Maryknoll’s Grotto

The Grotto was built to honor Our Lady of Lourdes, and as a memorial to Bp. James A. Walsh, the Spiritual Father of the Maryknoll Sisters. The site is believed to be located where Fr. Thomas Price would pray privately to Mary in the woods surrounding Maryknoll. While the grotto was dedicated as a memorial to Bp. James A. Walsh after his death (in 1936), this wasn’t part of the original plans!

Mother Mary Joseph first conceived the grotto project shortly after property was purchased from the Tompkins family in 1927. The Tompkins farm and lands became home to the Maryknoll Sisters, and Mother had great plans for the estate’s future. Understandably, her hopes and dreams for the grotto were placed on the back-burner. Establishing new Maryknoll Sisters in mission, building a Motherhouse for the Sisters, and serving the poor were higher priorities for her and the Congregation. The project was officially started in 1935, and took nine years to complete.

Mother Mary Joseph Rogers at her desk writing, ca. 1946


The Grotto of Lourdes at Maryknoll was designed and constructed by the celebrated Japanese-American stone mason, Ryozo Fuso Kado. He was well-known in American Catholic circles for his rock-gardens and Grotto of Lourdes replicas across the United States. As a fifth-generation stone mason with 34 years of experience, he was the ideal choice for the project. Maryknoll’s grotto was the 39th religious shrine he created.

The grotto at Maryknoll was intended to replicate the Grotto in Lourdes, France as closely as possible. As with his previous grottos, the structure at Maryknoll was designed to withstand natural disasters. The techniques used to implement his design allowed the individual stones to rest on and support one another by their own weight. No cement was used to support the structure. This allows his grottos to survive earthquakes without sustaining any damage.

“No man is an island”

Ryozo Kado was not alone in this undertaking. While he laid many of the stones himself, he had a dedicated team of individuals assisting him. Photos taken at different assembly phases show these men, though sadly do not identify them. Thanks to the Sisters’ excellent record keeping, however, we know the names of Kado’s construction team.

Martin Murphy

Alden L. Pierce

John G. Gilmartin

Charles Huegelmeyer

Joseph P. Trainor

James F. Hyatt

James Egan

Paschal B. Proctor

Donald W. Aubry

Edmund Shanbaris

Louis Kado (his son)

James “Jimmy” Tokuhisa

Br. Gerald “Jerry” Zigengiest

Br. Nicholas “Nick” Matarese

The generosity of the Cogan Family (A. Estelle Cogan, John F. Cogan, Patrick H. Cogan, & Philip J. Cogan) and Ms. Julia L. Ward deserves acknowledgement here as well. Their financial support of the project was critical to its ultimate success.

Completion of the Grotto

The grotto was blessed and dedicated on October 8, 1944. Bp. William F. O’Shea officiated the ceremony, which included a procession to Lourdes Grotto, a blessing, a talk given by Fr. Walter J. Coleman, and Solemn Benediction at the shrine.

Almost a year later, a public celebration was held on the Feast of the Assumption (August 15, 1945). This marked the official completion of the grotto and its opening for public devotion. The event included a procession, blessing, and an address given by Fr. John Comber on Our Lady of Lourdes and Bernadette Soubirous.

This prayer was used in the shrine’s original dedication ceremony in 1944. 

Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes

O HOLY VIRGIN, in the midst of your days of glory, do not forget the sorrows of this earth. Cast a merciful glance upon those who are suffering, struggling against difficulties, with their lips constantly pressed against life’s bitter cup.

Have pity on those who love each other and are separated.

Have pity on our rebellious hearts.

Have pity on our weak faith.

Have pity on those we love.

Have pity on those who weep, on those who pray, on those who fear.

Grant hope and peace to all.


Interested in learning more about Maryknoll?
You can contact the Archives at:

Maryknoll Mission Archives
PO Box 305, Maryknoll, New York 10545
Phone: 914-941-7636
Office hours: 8:30 am-4:00 pm Monday-Friday


Bishop James A. Walsh. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2019, July 25).

Bishop John W. Comber, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 17).

Bishop William F. O’Shea, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 23).

California Audiovisual Preservation Project (CAVPP). (2001). Louis Kado interview. Internet Archive.

Father Alden L. Pierce, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 22).

Father Charles T. Huegelmeyer, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2015, June).

Father Donald W. Aubry, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 24).

Father Gerald P. Ziegengeist, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2022, April 19).

Father J. Gregory Gilmartin, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 21).

Father James S. Tokuhisa, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 16).

Father Joseph P. Trainor, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 16).

Father Martin F. Murphy, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 23).

Father Thomas F. Price. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2019, July 25).

Father Walter J. Coleman, MM. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2014, April 23).

Lourdes and its message. Lourdes Sanctuaire. (2022).

Mother Mary Joseph Rogers. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2019, July 25).

Properties and grounds collection, 1912-2019. Maryknoll Mission Archives. (2019).

Sconning. (2018, April 12). Feast Day of St. Bernadette. Maryknoll Mission Archives.

Silvestro, J. D. (2016, June 14). The cave: The emergence of humanity. Maryknoll Mission Archives.

Silvestro, J. D. (2016, May 10). Walking meditations. Maryknoll Mission Archives.

Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, January 25). Bernadette Soubirous. Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, April 26). Lourdes Grotto. Wikipedia.

Wikimedia Foundation. (2023, June 2). Our lady of Lourdes. Wikipedia.