Friday, February 25, 2011
St. Bernard students celebrate Mass at Ave Maria Grotto
Warm temperatures provided a delightful outing recently at Ave Maria Grotto as students at St. Bernard Preparatory School held their weekly Mass at the main grotto altar on Feb. 23, the feast of St. Polycarp. Students stood quietly before the altar in the courtyard as the crows circled the skies delivering their own cawing messages in the serene setting. Only the nearby stream of Eight Mile Creek could be heard making its way to the Warrior River.
One of Alabama’s most notable landmarks, Ave Maria Grotto was dedicated in May of 1934. An old stone quarry, it was landscaped to hold and display the work of Br. Joseph Zoetl, a monk of St. Bernard Abbey who arrived at the Cullman monastery from his native Bavaria in 1892 at the age of 13. Measuring twenty-seven feet high at the apex, the main grotto (cave) shrine is made of stone from the quarry where it stands, reinforced concrete, and marble-studded stalactites. Made of Carrara marble, statues of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica adorn the altar where Mass was celebrated. Some 40 feet away stands a bronze life-size statue of Br. Joseph facing the altar and helping all to be aware of that little monk who figures so large in St. Bernard history.
Father Bede Marcy, School Chaplain, said that to his knowledge this was the first time Mass had been held in the Grotto gardens since the Funeral Mass of Br. Joseph Zoetl was offered there in October of 1961, almost fifty years ago.
Fr. Bede delivered the homily reminding students that being outside on the grounds of Ave Maria Grotto was probably very similar to what happened in ancient times when Saint Polycarp gave his life for the privilege of “turning to God,” united in prayer and in freedom, safety and peace. Saint Polycarp would not deny who Christ was, and he lived to celebrate at the altar of that truth. “Truth is one. God is one, and all power and healing comes from God,” Fr. Bede said.
The occasion was a momentous one: St. Bernard students worshiping God in a place so dear to St. Bernard Abbey, remembering the humble Br. Joseph whose life and work has shaped the Abbey and affected the thousands who have visited Ave Maria Grotto.