It was on this day in 1982 that the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes was blest and dedicated. The 16th July (Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) was in fact the date of the last apparition of Our Lady to St Bernadette.
Jacob Conroy now tells the story of the origins of the statue and grotto:
” A number of parishioners in the early 1980′s desired to have a grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes in the church grounds. Various parishioners donated, especially Barbara Jackson, former teacher at St Robert’s and a member of the ‘Hospitality’ of Our Lady of Lourdes. Various fundraising activities took place to raise the total needed – £500. It was ordered one year during the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes and collected the following year. At the end of the pilgrimage the manufacturer delivered it to Lourdes railway station to be transported home on the diocesan pilgrimage train. The statue was solid concrete and very heavy, encased in a timber box, 7ft long by 3ft square. The travel agent, and myself could not lift it onto the train. As there were some Italian brancardiers working on the station, the dioescan travel agent asked them in Italian to give assistance in lifting it on to the train. Six strong men, three on each side, reverently and in unison, lifted the box into the goods carriage. Asking the travel agent why these men were so reverent he said that he told them that it was a dead body that he had asked them to assist with. When we got back home, anticipating the likelihood that we would have to pay tax we put the statue amongst the tea urns on a railway baggage trolley and no questions were asked by customs. The statue was picked up from Newcastle Central Station and Fr Tom Cunningham allowed it to stand on the altar until a grotto was built. Several men from the parish got to work to build the grotto and the dedication service took place on 16th July 1982. The picture above was taken on that occasion. In the meantime Barbara Jackson, who had brought home a conker from the grotto in Lourdes, nurtured it at home until it was big enough to be planted next to our grotto. She did not want a plaque to recognise all her hard work but she desired that parishioners would remember her in prayer at the grotto. The grotto is still very much a focus of prayer today for parishioners and school children”
Now that the flood defenses are completed the statue of Our Lady in the grotto has been repainted. The original plaque commemorating the dedication in 1982 has deteriorate to the extent that the words are illegible. A new plaque was been made and actually arrived today. It will soon be put in place and the grotto will be rededicated when the landscaping work is complete.