Grotto Restoration a Labor of Love
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
July 13, 2023
GENEVA—There is a quiet and beautiful spot in the Gunnar Anderson Forest Preserve along the Fox River in Geneva that is being lovingly renewed by area Knights of Columbus and volunteers.
 
The Sacred Heart Grotto is a remnant from the Sacred Heart High School Seminary established and run by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart (MSC) for many years. 
 
“In the 1930s, MSC priests, brothers and students would walk down there and have Mass,” says Knight Bob McQuillan who has been involved in the restoration.
 
Buy a Brick and Help Restore the
Sacred Heart Grotto
 
The Geneva Grotto Organization has begun its first major fundraising effort to address some costly restoration work. Memorial bricks give everyone the chance to be part of the project.
 
The bricks will be placed in two areas: the front two sections next to the center walkway, on the first step and lining the center walkway from the creek to the cross walkway.

Bricks are $100 each and three lines of text are possible on each.
To place an order and view the clip art library, go to https://polarengraving.com/ggo 

All orders must be placed online and are payable by credit card or by check (payable to Geneva Grotto Organization and mailed to 1230 N. Washington Ave., Batavia, IL).
Built in 1929, the grotto fell into disrepair over the years after the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart closed the seminary in 1971 and sold the property to the county. The seminary building now houses most Kane County offices. McQuillan notes that Stations of the Cross at the seminary were removed when it became public land. But the grotto remained, minus a cross that topped it and a statue of Jesus that was brought to the MSC’s main seminary in Reading, Pennsylvania. 
 
In 2017, the son of a member of Knights of Columbus Council 2191 — which encompasses both St. Peter Parish, Geneva, and Holy Cross Parish, Batavia — was looking for an Eagle Scout project, McQuillan says. “One of the Knights brought a fellow member to the grotto, and they said we’ve got to do something here.” It became the Eagle project and with the Scouts help, he says, “We did a good job getting the graffiti off.” 
 
But the grotto was defaced again, and it became a hangout for teenagers. In 2019, the Knights first approached the forest preserve to propose an idea. In August 2021, a maintenance agreement was established, and the Knights began some initial clean-up work.
 
On Saturday mornings from six to 10 people came to work at the site and “by the end of the summer, it was 90% clean,” McQuillan says.
 
After finishing the clean-up in spring, Knights and even greater numbers of other volunteers began restoration efforts. Most of the work has been done by those men and women. However, water damage over the years required an initial weatherproofing of the structure that was done professionally and paid for with fundraisers.
 
The water had damaged much of the structure including several of the mosaics. McQuillan credits two women who have been instrumental in finding stones — “in gardens, at Menards, online” — and recreating those mosaics. 
 
The dome, some 20 feet above the altar, is in process. Originally a mosaic of a sun and rays and blue sky, the dome had been covered with concrete. The old concrete has been removed and “a bathroom tile guy is putting in a new surface so we can concrete it again,” McQuillan says, speculating that someone will probably paint a picture in the dome this time around.
 
Additionally, “a lot of water had gotten under the floor, and there are lots of big, open gaps,” McQuillan says. The cost of replacing the entire floor is estimated to be around $20,000. The Knights came up with the idea of selling memorial bricks (see sidebar) to raise money for that.
 
Since the Knights of Columbus are not recognized as a 501(c) (3) organization, the group created a non-profit tax-exempt entity named the Geneva Grotto Organization, so all donations are tax deductible. The organization has applied with the State of Illinois to be named a National Historic Place.
 
McQuillan and other volunteers have met people who come by the grotto and share their stories. “We’ve met men who were students there in the 1960s and 1970s,” he says, including one who was in the last graduating class at the seminary. Two cameras monitored by the Knights show an average of 40-50 people a day visit the grotto or happen to walk by. On Mother’s Day this year, at least 250 people paid a visit, he says.
 
“A neat thing — about a year ago, memorial cards started showing up,” he says. “So somewhere, one of the women found rocks with slits so the cards can stand up.” He adds that about 50 cards and photos have been placed on two shelves under the dome, including photos of dogs that loved those woods and pictures of small children and older adults.
 
“We carved out trees that had been cut down and put them in sections to make a seating area,” McQuillan says. Recently someone donated two cement benches, and the Knights put plaques on them in memory of the donor’s mother and mother-in-law. One gentleman, he says, brings his own chair when he comes to pray a rosary.
 
Although the grotto can’t be seen from the parking lot, a forest preserve sign near the circle drive behind the building identifies the short, clear path that leads to the back of the grotto.
 
The grotto, McQuillan says, “has become a passion for five or six of us.” And all are welcome to come and enjoy the peaceful space.

 

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