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Grotto began 70 years ago as a tribute to those serving during World War II

Published November 05. 2011 09:01AM

The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at the former Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church on Garibaldi Avenue in New Columbus was begun 70 years ago as a tribute to those who were serving the country during World War II.

The project evoking the Grotto at Lourdes, France was built over four years, from 1941 to 1945, by local coal miner Placidio Guido LaRizzio.

Built of stone from nearby quarries, with concrete and stone walls and studded with shells and coral, the arched grotto is home to a marble statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Two angel statues watch over the faithful as they pray on the "kneeling steps." A statue of St. Bernadette kneels in reverence at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes and a small angel overlooks the shrine. A statue of St. Theresa of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus, is at the east edge of the shrine.

Two rock protrusions on either side of Our Lady of Lourdes once held World War II helmets.

A small stream of water flows through the Grotto, which is embedded with decorative rocks, sea shells and coral, some brought home by Italian-Americans who served in World War II, others brought back by travelers to far-away lands.

In the 1970s, under the direction of Monsignor Agnello J. Angelini, known as "The Hitchhiking Priest," and members of the parish, a water trough was built to avoid erosion damage to the shrine. The kneeling steps were added after that, and the honeysuckle vines removed and landscaping were added.

The statue of St. Theresa was moved in 1987, the year of Angelini's death, to his memorial monument, which stands to the east of the shrine. Angelini began the annual Shower of Roses festival a few weeks after arriving in New Columbus in fall 1932. The event, which was held in October and drew thousands, honored St. Theresa with roses dropped on the crowds from a helicopter.

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