The upcoming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception has special meaning for our St. Joseph Middle School. It will mark the official installation of the Blessed Mother grotto.

The grotto, located outside the middle school’s main entrance, is the Eagle Scout project of St. Philip freshman Jacob Thome. It is the second sacred space installed at the middle school, as St. Philip junior Adam Sprague’s Eagle Scout project, the St. José Sanchez del Rio chapel, was dedicated inside the school on August 30th.

Jacob credits his middle school experience as inspiration, for often theology teacher Don Shafer’s classroom was the only available place of prayer.

The hillside in front of St. Joseph Middle School before the grotto project started.

“Before the new chapel, I didn’t know of a place for the students to go and pray,” Jacob said. “Now there are two places. The grotto is a good place to ask for the intercession of Mary and the chapel would be a good place to incorporate Jesus because the sacrament is there.”

Jacob started his project in May, designing the grotto, raising the money, installing the statue, landscaping the grounds, and arranging for the benches. He received help from fellow scouts, parishioners, family, and teachers. Every detail had our Blessed Mother in mind, especially when it came to the flowers.

Jacob overlooks the progress on the retaining wall of the grotto.

“I tried to go for purples and blues for Mary,” Jacob said. “There are a lot of knockout roses in the back.”

On December 6th, after the school Mass, Fr. Christopher Ankley and will lead the congregation to the grotto to bless the site.

“We chose that day because it is the closest to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception which is on the 8th,” Fr. Chris said.

Concrete workers set the base for the pedestal.

Every elementary and middle school student will receive a gift that day.

“I have an Our Lady of Grace medal that will be handed out after the blessing,” Jacob said.

The St. Joseph staff is excited about incorporating the grotto in sacrament preparation, class prayer, school rosaries, and potential May Crownings. It will also be a nearby place for teachers and students to reflect and pray, as our Lady perpetually overlooks the school grounds with motherly eyes.

Scouts, family, parishioners, and friends helped Jacob landscape the grotto.

“It gives us teachers a space where we can have a moment to catch our breath and not be too far away,” Mr. Shafer said.

This opportunity for personal prayer is a big part of Jacob’s vision.

“I hope it’s used often,” Jacob said. “I hope the prayer sessions take place there. It’s outside, which means anyone can use it.”

The pedestal awaits the arrival of the Blessed Mother statue.

Fr. Chris is already doing so, recalling the roadside shrines in Europe where travelers could stop and pray.

“I’ve been going there at night because I like to walk the dog,” Fr. Chris said. “I will go there and stand and pray a decade of the rosary before coming back.”

Jacob helps install the Blessed Mother statue at the grotto.

“I like that you don’t have to have the building unlock if you want to go and pray,” said Colleen Thome, Jacob’s mother, BCACS alumni, and St. Joseph parishioner. “I’m excited that it’s going to last and hope people realize what Boy Scouts can do for their church.”

Mr. Shafer is proud of his former students’ choice to serve their school community.

“That Catholic identity piece with Adam and now with Jacob is part of our legacy as a school,” Mr. Shafer said. “It gives me goosebumps thinking about it.”

Jacob Thome explains the grotto project to his St. Joseph Church family during Mass.

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Questions? Call Cathy Erskine at 269.963.1131