Our Lady of Lourdes given home in Río Grande City
Grotto built in 1928 honors the Immaculate Conception of Mary
By Brenda Nettles Riojas
The Valley Catholic
RIO GRANDE CITY – Lourdes in southwestern France draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year as the site where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubiroux, in 1858.
The Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette 18 times. During the ninth apparition, Bernadette, as instructed by the Virgin Mary, dug a hole in the ground with her hands, and a gush of water was released from an unknown spring. She was instructed to drink the water and wash herself there. The site is known around the world for its healing waters. During another apparition, the Virgin Mary identified herself saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Closer to home, Our Blessed Mother draws people west to Starr County where pilgrims come, in smaller groups, to Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, a replica built in Rio Grande City 70 years after the apparition in France.
While there are no healing waters in a county where drought conditions persist, the man-made setting provides a quiet prayer space. One can choose to kneel in the grotto built on the north side of Immaculate Conception Church or sit on a stone bench shaded by the oak trees nearby.
Our Blessed Mother always in prayer, a rosary over her arm, the seven-foot statue brought from Paris, France stands in a hollow of the grotto. She stands above another statue of the child Bernadette who kneels before the Immaculate Conception. The agave cactus which grows on the concrete formed into the grotto reminds us we’re in south Texas, as does salmon-colored bougainvillea and the lavender periwinkles that surround the area.
A German priest, Father Gustave Gollbach, a missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate who moved to Rio Grande City in 1924 as pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, built the replica in 1927-28.
According to the historical marker, “Father Gustave had dreamed of building a grotto to resemble the shrine of Lourdes in southern France.”