By JOANNE FOX
WEST BEND – Since the Grotto of the Redemption was named a diocesan shrine in 2014, attendance has escalated beyond expectations.
According to Andy Milam, marketing and public relations coordinator, yearly numbers have nearly doubled in just under three years.
Bishop Walker Nickless signed the decree that made the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend a diocesan shrine on Oct. 10, 2014. It was designated for the purpose of perpetuating its function as “a sacred place to which numerous members of the faithful make pilgrimages for a special reason of piety.”
Along with the uptick in pilgrims, Milam has seen a much more prayerful attitude among visitors.
“People are coming to pray at the shrine, as opposed to it being more of a tourist attraction,” he said. “Sure, there are attraction aspects to it – specifically the geological and architectural aspects – but it is a much more religious place now.”
Milam reported more requests for Masses, for confessions and blessing of items from shrine visitors.
“This is due to the fact that by being a shrine and through the diocesan Office of Worship, Bishop Nickless has afforded us a partial indulgence if the pilgrim fulfills the usual requirements, namely within nine days of the visit, receiving holy Communion, making a good confession and praying an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be for the betterment of the shrine and the Diocese of Sioux City,” he added.
With the recent influx of tourists on July 24, associated with the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), Milam reported a “huge boost” in exposure to the shrine.
“We were able to catechize and evangelize in a way that is unique with 15,000 visitors,” he said. “We can project a number near 60,000 who will visit the shrine this year, if the trend in visitors just remains what it was last year. That affords us the chance to really push Father (Paul) Dobberstein’s mission.”
As a young seminarian, Paul Matthias Dobberstein became critically ill with pneumonia. As he fought for his life, he prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede for him for the grace of health. He promised to build a shrine in her honor if he lived.
The illness passed, the student completed his studies and after his ordination, Father Dobberstein was assigned to West Bend Sts. Peter and Paul Church as pastor in 1898. For more than a decade he was stockpiling rocks and precious stones.
The actual work of giving permanence to his promise began to take shape in 1912. Father Dobberstein was 74 years old when Father Louis Greving was sent to West Bend to assume Father Dobberstein’s clerical duties, as well as to assist with the building of the grotto. Father Dobberstein died in 1954 and Father Greving continued to oversee the grotto until his retirement in 1996. The grotto was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.