BY JOANNE FOX
As the newly-named marketing/tourism coordinator for the Grotto of Redemption in West Bend, Andy Milam has his work cut out for him.
“I would like to see the exposure of the Grotto grow,” he said. “Right now it is a pilgrimage site that gathers in roughly 15,000 to 17,000 pilgrims from a variety of faiths. I would like to see that number expand over the course of the next several years.”
That will be accomplished by aggressive marketing as well as a good advertising plan, Milam clarified.
“We have a spiritual gem in our own backyard,” he said. “I would like to see more retreats, more days of reflection and more use from the diocese than what currently is in place.”
As coordinator for marketing, tourism and fundraising, Milam will build on to the work of Father Paul Dobberstein, who began constructing the Grotto in 1912 in thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin Mary for the grace of health. The grotto was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
A native of Tennessee, Milam’s family moved to Humboldt when he was 8 years old. He attended St. Mary School, in Humboldt and graduated Humboldt High School in 1990. Milam was part of the first Catholic Studies program in the United States at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Once he finished studies at St. Thomas, he enrolled at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., to pursue a master’s in systematic theology. He spent the next 13 years in sales.
“The skills Andy brings are his retail sales experience and his degree in theology well equips him to help people with faith and questions of faith,” said Father Thomas Hart, recently-named rector of the Grotto and pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in West Bend. “Andy’s position is not just a job, but will also involve him in ministry to people from all over the United States and even from all parts of the world.”
Bishop Walker Nickless recently named the Grotto of the Redemption a diocesan shrine and both Milam and Father Hart have hopes to make it a national shrine. As with most institutions, fundraising is a challenge.
“Finding money to be able to do restoration on the Grotto itself and finding funding to complete Father Dobberstein’s vision for the grotto is not an easy task,” Father Hart said. “There are places where corners have fallen off of the Stations of the Cross. Also there are projects that need to be done, such as, dredging the pond and fixing the pilasters holding up the deck on the south end of the pond.”
“We rely on the goodness of people’s hearts and while that is noble and very well-meaning, it just isn’t enough in today’s world,” Milam added. “We must find new and exciting ways to raise the funds necessary to keep the Grotto viable in the 21st century.”
Father Hart pointed out keeping the Grotto viable is a testament to Catholics’ great faith and Jesus Christ.
“The greatest joy in promoting the Grotto is when people come and are uplifted spiritually by what is here,” he said. “I think the Grotto also makes some people cherish their faith more.”
Milam echoed those sentiments.
“I love the wonder in people’s eyes the first time they walk the grounds,” he said. “I’ve seen it before, not as the coordinator, but as a pilgrim. Now I’ll be able to see it with a new lens and I will be able to help people to find solace and love in the redemptive action of Christ Jesus.”