by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Even 5-year-old Liam Schmitz is delighted by the new Marian grotto at Holy Spirit Parish here.
“Liam said his next birthday party will be at Mary’s grotto,” said his father Jake, “so that’s a good indicator of how excited we are for the amazing things happening here at the parish and school.”
The Schmitz family was among nearly 600 parishioners who gathered at Holy Spirit on Oct. 11 for a candlelight dedication of the parish’s new grotto.
“The candlelight dedication was a way for us to both bless the Marian grotto and consecrate the parish to Our Lady,” said pastor Father Andrew Strobl, “which just meant to entrust the parish in a special way to the Blessed Mother.”
The entire evening was a celebration of the Parish Year of Eucharistic Revival.
It began with a free dinner followed by a talk on the Eucharist by Joe Heschmeyer from Catholic Answers for adults, and breakout sessions and activities for children.
Families then came back together for a guided meditation and discussion about sacred art with Sebastian D’Amico before spending time in eucharistic adoration.
The evening culminated with the grotto dedication led by Father Strobl — a moment two years in the making.
According to parish manager Shaw Leach, Holy Spirit has had a large statue of the Blessed Mother that sat in a small flower garden outside the church since at least the mid-’90s.
“A couple of years ago,” said Leach, “our youth minister Doug Leikam mentioned that having a grotto to elevate Mary would be incredible.
“So, we took the idea and ran with it.”
The parish held a Fund-A-Need at its annual gala two years ago for various projects around the grounds, including a new preschool playground, a shelter for its sports field and the grotto.
“Getting the right design and crew to build it took a while,” said Leach. “But we ended up with a new elevated home for our beloved Marian statue.”
The grotto project began at the beginning of summer.
Leach and Fernando Vazquez, the parish’s head of maintenance and an architect, worked together with its construction crew on the grotto’s design.
Parishioner Matt Logan restored the statue of Mary, Enriquez Construction did the construction work and Speed Fabrication made custom miraculous metal pieces for the grotto’s entrance.
Rosehill Gardens and the McLenon family added the finishing touches to the landscaping around the grotto.
When Father Strobl first saw the finished product, he was thrilled.
“I thought, ‘This is going to be a terrific space that is very clearly for prayer,’” he said.
And he was right.
“I’ve already seen parishioners out there praying,” said Father Strobl, “and it’s been beautiful.
“It’s a great space because it’s right at the front of the church, so after Mass on Sundays, people are out there. For pickup for school, kids are out there with their families.”
Schmitz and his family are thankful for spaces like the grotto that enhance their prayer experience.
“The grotto is a great addition to our parish,” he said. “There is an elegance in its simplicity, which helps you focus on what is important.”
For Father Strobl, seeing how eager his parishioners are to get involved in the life of the parish is gratifying.
“As a pastor, it just warms your heart to know that the parish is alive,” he said, “and there’s so much vitality.
“[Parishioners] want to do something beautiful for God. It’s just awesome.”