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Grotto Centenary at St. Vincent’s Orphanage
26/09/2011 Colombo

A hundred years ago, a virulent epidemic spread throughout St. Vincent’s Orphanage. Many orphans, members of the Community and staff were affected by this dreaded epidemic. Fr. Charles CONRAD, Superior of the Institute, realising the seriousness of the situation, was considering the many remedies that should be taken. Being an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, he, with the children, knelt before the statue of Our Blessed Mother and prayed to Her, requesting Her motherly protection and intercession before God to eradicate this disease. He promised the he would build a Grotto on the premises. Our Blessed Mother responded to the pleading of the Superior and children; the epidemic was eradicated.

In the meantime, Fr. Conrad was transferred and a saintly Oblate, Fr. Charles CROCTAINE, was appointed as Superior. He had a strong devotion to Our Blessed Mother and it fell upon him to fulfil the promise made by Fr. Conrad. Fr. Croctaine was new to the environs of the Institute and lacked finances to start this project. Placing his confidence in God and Our Blessed Mother, Fr. Croctaine started to build the Grotto. The brother of a Franciscan, Bro. Joseph Gonsal, offered financial assistance to build the Grotto. Fr. Croctaine was grateful to God and Our Blessed Mother for answering his prayers and chose the most beautiful place on the property to build the Grotto. He requested that it be similar to the Grotto at Lourdes, France.

He ordered a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes from France and this statue arrived in August 1911. It was blessed and kept at St Vincent’s Chapel until the Grotto was completed.

On November 3, 1911, the solemn blessing of the Grotto and installation of the statue took place. The Oblate community, staff and children of St Vincent’s Home, the Franciscan Brothers and the children from their Institute were involved in the preparations to celebrate this event with much grandeur. The processional route from the Chapel to the Grotto, which was approximately three kilometres, was decorated and the parish priests and parishioners of the neighbouring parishes and many others from the surrounding villages participated in the celebrations.

Richly decorated, the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was taken in procession from the chapel to the Grotto and along the route the faithful were praying and singing hymns to Our Lady unceasingly.

Fr. Jules COLLIN, Vicar of Missions, solemnly blessed the Grotto and installed the statue amidst resounding acclamations from the crowd and singing ‘Ave Maria’ as sung in Lourdes. On November 4, 1911, the first Mass was celebrated at the grotto by Fr. Croctaine; it was then decided to celebrate Mass every First Saturday at the Grotto.

The 75th Anniversary of the Grotto commenced with a three day Novena (Triduum) to Our Blessed Mother and celebrations were held on December 7-8, 1986. On December 7, the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was taken in procession and the Vespers was sung by the then Superior of the Institute, Fr. John CAMILLUS.

On December 8, 2011, we will be celebrating the centenary of the Grotto and we are grateful to Our Blessed Mother for keeping us in her maternal care. (Bro. John GILBERT; Sources: Diary of Bro. Leo RENAUD and the Codex Historicus of St. Vincent’s Home)