To My Readers: This week, my guest poster Lee, gives me a much needed respite from my blog writing, and presents a fascinating post I'm sure you will enjoy! Feel free to comment and/or ask questions of Lee. As usual, if you have any specific questions or comments for me, I will reply as always, but it will take me a bit longer to respond this week.
God bless you all, my dear readers---Introibo
Upon this Rock
Traveling across many parts of the country this summer, I have had the benefit to stay and stop at some of the most amazing sites. In the "fly over" state of Iowa there sits a small humble town off the beaten path (the roads literally need some work) named West Bend. What could possibly be worth stopping to see in a town with barely 800 residents in a state full of corn fields and bird-killing wind turbines, you might ask? There you will find the largest man made grotto in the world, dubbed as "the 8th wonder of the world" called, The Grotto of Redemption.
The first question that comes to mind is how did the biggest man-made grotto in the world end up in Iowa? It was all because of one man. Fr. Paul M. Dobberstein (September 21, 1872 – July 24, 1954). Fr. Dobberstein was a German born immigrant to the United States who was educated at the university of Deutsch-Krone in Germany where he showed great enthusiasm for the study of geology. He also had a calling to become a priest when he joined St. Francis seminary in Milwaukee WI. It was during his seminary years that he contracted pneumonia which seriously threatened his life. Praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary, he promised that if she would intercede for him and he lived, that he would build a shrine in her honor. His prayers were answered and as he fully recovered, finished his studies to the priesthood and was ordained on June 30,1897.
For one year he served as chaplain for the Sisters of Mount Camel hospital in Dubuque, IA. Then when the Archdiocese of Dubuque was divided, and the Sioux City jurisdiction was formed, he was appointed to be the pastor in West Bend of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church where he remained the rest of his life; a total of 56 years.
In his first 14 years, Fr. Dobberstein stockpiled massive amounts of field stone, rocks, and boulders given to him mainly by local farmers and parishioners. It wasn't until 1912 when Fr. Dobberstein started the actual construction of his promised shrine. He began laying the foundation on the bedrock, where he would dig many feet, in order to get started. Over the course of many years (1912-1954) when Fr. Dobberstein was able to be relieved of his priestly duties, he traveled hundreds of miles on trains or horse and buggy to gather precious stones. To collect materials, he would go from Hot Springs, Arkansas to obtain crystalline quartz, from the Black Hills of South Dakota for permission to receive silver, feldspar, or rose quartz, and to Lake Superior in Minnesota where could pick up agates found off the pristine beaches. Before becoming a National Park, he would receive permission to pay cave explorers to crawl in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico to break off a stalagmite formation. Tons of stone were hauled in railroad cars, year after year, for a project that had no blueprint.
Fr. Dobberstein used not only rocks but also petrified wood from North Dakota, coral from Hawaii, and even made his own creations called "Dobberstein petals" where he hardened concrete into a flower-like structure and added colored geodes to it. He also had a clever idea of melting crayons in with glass and sunk it in the concrete. Malachite, azurite, fluorite, agates, geodes, marble, jasper, topaz, and calcite are just a small list of many rocks making up his masterpiece. He literally used every type of rock not only found in each state of the United States but many fossils and shells from the the ocean to other rocks found in Europe and many different parts of the world. The idea was being universal; synonymous with Catholicism and spreading the Gospel.
After working on the grotto for 42 continuous years, Fr. Louis Greving was assigned to the same parish in 1946 to help complete the grotto. Fr. Dobberstein taught him his techniques and demonstrated the virtue of patience. He acted as his mentor as Fr. Dobberstein had aged by this point, and couldn't continue working on the grotto and taking care of the parish.
Realizing the rigors of the intense labors Fr. Dobberstein put himself through, Fr. Greving immediately envisioned the usefulness of an electric hoist and convinced his superior to introduce this device. Up until that time, all lifting was done by hand. From 1946-1954 Fr. Dobberstein worked with Fr. Greving and Matt Szerensce (nicknamed Fr. Dobberstein's right arm) for the next eight years.
80% of the grotto was completed by the time Fr. Dobberstein passed into eternity on July 24th 1954. Matt Szerensce continued working on the grotto with Fr. Greving until his retirement in 1959. Up until 1996 before Fr. Greving retired as a priest (from the Novus Ordo) he would continue completing the grotto that Fr. Dobberstein's envisioned. In his honor Fr. Greving got approval to erect a statue of him next to the grotto. He also had a gift shop/museum built next to the amazing work of art, big enough to take up a whole city block.
The Whole Purpose
Although there are many other grottoes worthy of mention, such as the Ave Maria grotto in Cullman, Alabama and put together by Benedictine monk Br. Joseph Zoettl, deserving of another article; the Grotto of Redemption can arguably be the "Mother of all Grottoes" (man-made) making up nine contiguous grottoes, together depicting man's redemption, starting from the fall of man to Christ's birth, death, and Resurrection. Fr. Dobberstein inspired other priests of his time such as Fr. Mathius Wernerus who constructed another grotto in Dickeyville, Wisconsin.
It is said to be the largest collection of semi-precious stones, minerals, and petrified materials compiled in one piece of art in the world estimated at a value of $4.3 million dollars.
The only question that remains is why build such a giant structure to fulfill a promise?
The mission of the Church is to let its light shine before men and not hide it under a bushel basket. There are a variety of ways to do this and art and architecture is certainly a most effective way. Fr. Dobberstein understood that the heart of man is usually more quickly reached through the eye than through the ear. In other words, the greater his project, the more it will draw people to the true faith. Also, the grotto serves as a teaching tool taken right out of The Catechism of the Council of Trent since it focused on Christ's Redemption where it states:
Christ’s Passion, -- A Satisfaction, A Sacrifice, A Redemption An Example
The pastor should teach that all these inestimable and divine blessings flow to us from the Passion of Christ. First, indeed, because the satisfaction which Jesus Christ has in an admirable manner made to God the Father for our sins is full and complete. The price which He paid for our ransom was not only adequate and equal to our debts, but far exceeded them.
Again, it (the Passion of Christ) was a sacrifice most acceptable to God, for when offered by His Son on the altar of the cross, it entirely appeased the wrath and indignation of the Father. This word (sacrifice) the Apostle uses when he says: Christ hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness.
Furthermore, it was a redemption, of which the Prince of the Apostles says: You were not redeemed with corruptible things as gold or silver, from your vain conversation of the tradition of your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled. While the Apostle teaches: Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.
Besides these incomparable blessings, we have also received another of the highest importance; namely, that in the Passion alone we have the most illustrious example of the exercise of every virtue. For He so displayed patience, humility, exalted charity, meekness, obedience and unshaken firmness of soul, not only in suffering for justice, sake, but also in meeting death, that we may truly say on the day of His Passion alone, our Savior offered, in His own Person, a living exemplification of all the moral precepts inculcated during the entire time of His public ministry.
Admonition:This exposition of the saving Passion and death of Christ the Lord we have given briefly. Would to God that these mysteries were always present to our minds, and that we learned to suffer, die, and be buried together with our Lord; so that from henceforth, having cast aside all stain of sin, and rising with Him to newness of life, we may at length, through His grace and mercy, be found worthy to be made partakers of the celestial kingdom and glory!
To this day the grotto attracts 100,000 visitors a year and is free of charge because Fr. Dobberstein wished that everybody, rich or poor, could meditate on the work of redemption. He wanted people to devote themselves more closely to Jesus through Mary. It is through his example that people should seriously keep their promises to God, something which due to his humility, he probably didn't think about.
Unfortunately, like the "new normal" of this day and age, the Vatican II religion is in possession of the church and grotto. Time and time again, since the 60's, the world has witnessed the abstract, devoid, and just plain hideous monstrosities of newly built churches and art work in every diocese. Truly the work of the devil. Thankfully, one does not have to experience or (in Novus Ordo terminology) "encounter" modifications when one visits the grotto, despite being in the hands of Modernists.
What to see
Other than the precious stones and a three story structure of rocks present, there are many statues and carvings on the walls telling the stories from the Old and New Testament depending on which part you enter. You can either take a self guided tour or wait during business hours to listen to a volunteer give a tour explaining the symbolism and history of the grotto.
Inside one of the main grottoes, Moses can be seen holding the Ten Commandments and standing across from one another is the rich man and Jesus. The rich man asks the question "Master what shall I do to enter into life" on the wall, with the response etched in gold mosaic like stones in the middle quoting Christ from the scriptures "If though shall enter life, keep the commandments"
If one enters through the grotto across from the museum, there are two statues of Adam and Eve being cast out of the garden by and angel of the Lord and a rock structure of the serpent can also be seen. What is really creative is how Fr. Dobberstein places a small but visible image of the Blessed Virgin behind the statue of Eve, indicating that in the future she will be the new Eve. Across from Adam, the outer image of a stain glass window of the Annunciation can be noticed from within another grotto on the other side signifying that in the future the New Eve will give birth to the New Adam. Walking inside the grotto of the stain glass window that Fr. Dobberstein obtained as a gift in Germany is a massive marble statue of the Blessed Virgin holding the Child Jesus pointing to the beginning of Redemption. Within the corner of the same grotto the keys of St. Peter and the chalice with Blood can be seen giving the viewer the message that redemption can only be obtained within Christ's Church through the sacraments. However, due to the ecumenical spirit of the age this is not said in the tour.
Through another entrance way on the first level is a grotto of the Nativity and another next to it is of the life of Jesus in Nazareth with His Holy Mother and St. Joseph. Above these levels are scenes of Our Lord's Passion, such as the agony and Judas' betrayal.
In the middle of the grotto are spectacular structures of the stations of the cross that have Brazilian cut agates with brown jasper rock indicating the sorrow of the way of the cross until last three stations. The twelfth station is in white rock symbolizing the victory over sin and standing at the highest top of the entire grotto is the thirteenth station except it's in life-size form as is last station which is in the form of a grotto nearby the line of stations.
Lastly, on the 2nd to 3rd levels are depictions of an open tomb and on the backside of this a statue of St. Mary Magdalen seeing Christ's Resurrected Body. My only criticism is that the statue has St. Mary Magdalen touching Jesus, when scripture was clear: "Do not TOUCH me: for I am not yet ascended to my Father. But go to my brethren and say to them: I ascend to my Father and your Father to my God and to your God." (St. John 20:17).
Photos can be taken from all four corners but the best side is on the side where a St. Michael statue is in the courtyard facing both the church and statue of the Sacred Heart standing towards the top where to the left of that stands a wall of the Beatitudes with all the words meticulously carved and shaped by Fr. Dobberstein.
Other than the work Fr. Dobberstein accomplished on the grotto, he nevertheless was able to take care of a small farm parish. In the 56 yrs of his life in West Bend, it is reported that he had more than a thousand signatures to baptismal certificates at his parish. Nothing short of miraculous considering how busy he constantly kept himself.
I highly recommend anybody who might be going through Iowa to plan on making a visit. It may be a grueling drive, full of monotony to get there but it is well worth the time. There is a nice comfy and affordable hotel (the only one) called ParkView Inn containing suites within walking distance from the shrine. If you happen to be driving in a camper or RV, a nice campground, also in walk-able distance, is available with electric hookups, firewood, showers, central water and a sewer dump for convenience.
The three major takeaways that we can learn from such a holy place and its history are:
- Dedicating our lives and surrendering our wills to God, no matter our state in life as Fr. Dobberstein did.
- Patiently perfecting ourselves by carving and chipping away the excess of sinful habits, that way we be as ready as possible for our death.
- Work hard in life and as St. Ignatius once wisely put it "To give and not count the cost."
"Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee, for Thou has formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." (St. Augustine, Confessions).
"Come to Me all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (St. Matthew11:28).