The bells of the Basilica chime the alma mater as I light a candle, a prayer intention held close to my heart. Behind me, students rest on a kneeler, contemplating their desires, joys, and struggles. Aside from the soft notes from the bells, there is silence.
I first experienced the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes when I visited Notre Dame as a prospective student five years ago. It was Holy Thursday, and my dad and I attended a beautiful Mass at the Basilica. It was also sunny and warm, and the tulips on God Quad were in full bloom. In other words, it was perfect.
I knew immediately upon my initial trip to the Grotto that it was a special place. Since then, I have visited far more times than I can count, and it has not yet lost its allure. I have gone to the Grotto with friends, sharing stories on the walk there. I have gone to meet up with a group, standing in a circle and praying together. Mostly, I have gone by myself, talking with God at my own pace. Sometimes, I stop by the Grotto for only a minute on my way to my next activity of the day. Other times, I perch on a bench and allow myself to become lost in thought for half an hour.
Regardless of the context in which I visit, the Grotto is always a safe place for me. It calms me down, it helps me to focus, and it gives me a sense of perspective. No matter what is going on in my life, the Grotto is a space where I can become more peaceful. I have yet to face a problem that a visit to the Grotto at night cannot make at least a little bit easier to handle.
In the capacity of my job writing for one of our campus newspapers, The Observer, I recently had the opportunity to ask other students what the Grotto means to them. They told me that it is a place of refuge, that it facilitates wholehearted prayer, and that it helps them to step back from the pressures of daily life. As one student pointed out, the Grotto means different things to different people. I think that what is consistent, though, is that it confers God’s grace to all who visit.