Grotto of the Redemption turns 100 years
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
The geologist who had mentioned that this was his first visit to the grotto said, “Even though I’ve been talking about it (the grotto) all day, I’m speechless. It’s very, very impressive.”
The geologist’s presentation was just one of the many offerings held June 22-24 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Grotto of the Redemption. The three-day celebration was dubbed Rockfest.
Darcie Kramer, executive director of the grotto, said about 2,500 people visited over the course of the weekend.
“We had so many different types of events that it drew a wide range of people,” she said. “We tried to offer events on all aspects – geological, spiritual and artistic – and for different ages. There were games for the kids, concerts for teens and young adults and offerings for adults.”
One of the most memorable moments came for her when she had the chance to meet Paul Dobberstein, the great nephew of Father Paul Dobberstein.
“It was really neat to be able to meet Father Dobberstein’s family,” she said.
He wasn’t the only Paul Dobberstein on hand however. A grotto volunteer, Dave Waldschmidt, dressed as the priest greeted those who were taking in a guided tour.
“Look at this grotto,” he said, impersonating Father Dobberstein. “Every stone was placed one at a time. I did not put every stone here by myself, I had lots of help. When I started putting this together, I knew what I wanted to do with the grotto but I had nothing written down, no blueprints. I was not an architect. I was not an engineer. I was not an artist. This grotto was God working through me.”
Numerous tours were given throughout the weekend and were used as a means to highlight the history of the men who built the “miracle in stone,” the uniqueness of the rocks that came from across the nation as were several other countries and the story that Father Dobberstein wished to tell.
During one of the tours, Jane Kirchner of Pocahontas told the story of Father Dobberstein who had nearly died of double pneumonia two weeks before he was to be ordained to the priesthood.
“Penicillin had not been invented at that time, so the only thing he could do to get better was pray,” she explained. “In his prayer he promised that if he got better and got to be a priest that one day he would build a shrine wherever he was sent to pastor a church.”
The tour guide informed the grotto visitors that Father Dobberstein was sent to West Bend in 1898 and he began the shrine in 1912. Two other men who contributed greatly to the building of the grotto were Father Louis Greving and Matt Szerensce.
Kramer pointed out that the grotto offered numerous activities throughout the weekend from a retreat by Father Merle Kollasch on Friday afternoon to a concert by Father David Hemann that evening.
The day kicked off early on Saturday morning with a pilgrimage walk led by Father Ed Girres at 7:30 a.m. There was a full schedule of activities throughout the day with children’s games in the afternoon and things for big people too such as a quilt show and wine tasting.
On Saturday night, a youth speaker Sean Dalton from Denver spoke about the importance of defining oneself as a child of God rather than what they can do or what they have. He told them that they can pursue holiness through their relationship with God.
He shared some simple ways they could strengthen that relationship – by building spiritual discipline or good HABITS: H – hang time with God, A – accountability, B – Bible, I – invest in your parish and church community, T – tell others about God’s hope and love and S – sacramental life.
A rock concert by the Christian band Remedy Drive closed out the day’s activities on June 23.
Mass with Bishop Nickless
The final day of activities began with Mass offered by Bishop Walker Nickless at 10 a.m. on June 24. The liturgy was concelebrated by Father Thomas Hart, pastor; Father Merle Kollasch, former pastor; Father Ed Tiedeman, former pastor; and Father Loyd Fiedler, a missionary priest from Remsen serving in the Philippines. Deacon Bill Black assisted at the altar and the Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard.
During his homily, Bishop Nickless called the grotto a prized possession of the Diocese of Sioux City put together of precious and semi-precious stones to tell the story of divine intervention. Despite the sins of Adam and Eve, the bishop said that in God’s loving plan he saved the people.
The bishop pointed out that they celebrated the grotto’s centennial on the Feast of St. John the Baptist who helped to bring Christ’s light to the world. Bishop Nickless said that everyone had the same task - to help bring others to Christ.
“Father Paul wanted the grotto to always be a reminder of the importance of Catholic truths,” said Bishop Nickless. “The grotto continues to this day to be a sign pointing to Christ.”
Visitors came from near and far.
Traci Yoch of West Bend attended the celebration with her family.
“This is obviously a major part of our community,” she said. “Even though we live here, we still learn new things about the grotto.”
Her son, Brandon, said he liked visiting the grotto “because the rocks look cool.”
Besides being a historical and geological treasure, Yoch noted that the grotto provides an economic benefit to the community as it draws visitors to town.
The Yoch family took up the gifts at the Mass celebrated by Bishop Nickless.
“I told the boys that was an honor of a lifetime,” she said. “We will probably never have that chance again. It’s been a very special day.”
Other visitors to the grotto were Don and Georgette Mareina of Newport Beach, Calif. This was the couple’s second visit to the Iowa shrine. Their first visit came last October.
“One of our nun friends told us about the grotto a few years back and we had the opportunity to visit last year. We were so impressed with the grotto that when they said they were missing a St. James, my wife and I looked at each other and we thought it was a good thing to do,” Don said.
Although the couple had visited the grotto just the one time, they opted to donate the statue of St. James. While the statue that was made in Italy had recently been completed, it wasn’t shipped in time to make the centennial celebration. Their son and daughter-in-law from Oregon drove them across the country to attend the festivities marking the 100th anniversary.
The three-day centennial celebration closed with the Gospel Songfest.
Addressing the crowd for that event, Kramer said, “We are here because of the grotto. It is definitely a miracle in stone. It’s an amazing promise and vision by one man who loved and believed in God so strongly that labored for 42 years to honor him and his mother Mary.”
Kramer extended gratitude to the grotto’s staff, volunteers, board members and sponsors for helping to make the weekend a successful, once in a lifetime event.
She pointed out that it was nice to be able to hear stories from visitors – “to get to experience memories of when you were here as a child in the past, as a tour guide or whatever it would have been.”
The grotto director called it a moving and unforgettable weekend for all.
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