AGASSIZ—A beloved grotto that had fallen into disrepair is bringing a parish community together again.

The outdoor shrine to Our Lady of the Mountain was built at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Agassiz in 1996. But 20 years after the Catholic Women’s League and Knights of Columbus erected the grotto, no one was stopping to pray there anymore.

“The roof was made out of wood and it was about to fall down,” said Father Steny Mascarenhas, OCD, the pastor of the tight-knit community.

Last year, Father Mascarenhas decided to give the grotto back its dignity. He found a willing sponsor in parishioner Frank Feeney and gave the go-ahead for renovations. Bad weather during the winter caused some delays and it took until this July for the work to be complete.

“The building of the grotto was a dream of the people,” said Father Mascarenhas. The sacred space, renamed to Our Lady of Grace, was blessed by Carmelite superior Father Alex Braganza, OCD, July 16. “(The dream) came true and now we have something for Mary.”

The church community gathers to celebrate the opening of the newly renovated grotto. (Photo submitted)

The grotto was completely rebuilt with stone and mortar by Catholic landscaper Paul Stilwell.

“Every day I drove out there, I put everything in the care of St. Joseph the Worker,” said Stilwell, who lives about 100 kilometers away from the small Agassiz parish. “I’m absolutely sure that helped get everything done.”

Stilwell handpicked stones from property belonging to the Carmelite monastery in Deroche, near Mission. He relied on the help of some parishioners from St. Anthony’s to help truck stones and gravel back to Agassiz and pour concrete for the foundation.

He also collaborated with a local carpenter on the design of the cross that is now perched on top of the stone grotto.

“Everyone being involved in this work and putting it all together is really a reflection of the body of Christ, all these different members working together,” said Stilwell.

He also repainted the statue of Mary, then called on some help to carefully shift the heavy, concrete likeness into the grotto. “Throughout the process there’s this nagging worry in the back of your mind: how is it going to look all together?”

Stilwell is happy with the result. “It looks like a bastion of a place of prayer. It works together and the presence of Our Lady is there. I can step back and be happy.”

Father Mascarenhas said the grotto is bringing the people together like it did 21 years ago.

“Whenever they come by, they sit down,” he said. Even people who are not members of the parish are seen sitting the grotto's concrete benches. “In a way, they were praying. They were sitting there admiring the way it is built.”