Saint's statue to be
placed in grotto in
St. Joseph neighborhood

By Sheryl Edelen
The Courier-Journal


What: May Day ceremony and blessing of the statue of St. Bernadette.
When: noon, May 6.
Where: Grotto and Garden of Our Lady of Lourdes, off President's Boulevard (next to University Park Apartments)
Details: The event will include a procession from Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, 747 Harrison Ave., to the grotto.
Information: Gail Linville, 637-3159

A 5-foot-tall statue of the Virgin Mary was installed last year  in the Grotto and Garden of Our Lady of Lourdes, off President's Boulevard next to University Park Apartments, on the grounds of the former St. Joseph Infirmary. A statue of St. Bernadette will be added to the left side next month. (Photos by Pam Spaulding, The Courier-Journal)

Dwane Beckhart painted a statue of St. Bernadette as Gail Linville of the St. Joseph Neighborhood Association observed. (By Pam Spaulding, The Courier-Journal)

A St. Joseph neighborhood landmark soon will receive its last major improvement, a painted statue representing a Roman Catholic saint.

Next month, the Grotto and Garden of Our Lady of Lourdes, off President's Boulevard next to University Park Apartments, will receive a 3-foot-tall statue of Bernadette Soubirous. In 1858, the 14-year-old French girl claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary on 18 occasions in a cave-like grotto in Lourdes, France.

The site of the visions was the inspiration for building the Louisville grotto in 1927 on the grounds of St. Joseph Infirmary. (The Catholic hospital was razed in the 1980s and replaced by Audubon Hospital on Poplar Level Road.)

St. Joseph Neighborhood Association President Gail Linville is coordinating Bernadette's installation after months of searching online and across the eastern United States.

Linville said she ended up buying the figure for $75 from a Pleasure Ridge Park-area pet store that also sold stone statues.

"I've looked everywhere and ended up finding her 10 miles from my home," chuckled the lifelong St. Joseph resident.

A 5-foot-tall statue of Mary installed in the grotto last year was paid for with a $1,200 donation (plus $200 shipping).

The association asked artist Dwane Beckhart to paint the stone figure of Bernadette, who is portrayed kneeling with a candle.

The pose commemorates what Catholics call the Miracle of the Candle, which refers to the girl's 16th visit from Mary. During that visit, Bernadette was said to cover the flame of a candle with a hand for at least 15 minutes without injury.

As a grotto volunteer, Beckhart also painted the Virgin Mary statue and the 14 stations of the cross in 2003 and a fence mural at Attwood Street and Bradley Avenue.

Beckhart is a maintenance employee and longtime member of Southeast Christian Church, where he has painted murals in the children's library and activity center.

Beckhart said his reason for doing the work is simple: He loves the way it makes him feel. "I just really like doing things for church and the community," he said.

The grotto's architects were D.X. Murphy and Bros., Catholics who designed numerous Catholic schools, churches and rectories in the Louisville area.

The "Grotto Grannies," a group of elderly neighborhood volunteers, adopted the grotto about 20 years ago. They have planted garden plots and helped secure and oversee the installation of a historical marker, a floodlight, flagpole, sundial and memorial urn honoring former association President Ernie Blankenship, who died in 2002.

The Kentucky Historical Society received a complaint in 2005 about the historic marker. The grotto property belongs to the University of Louisville, and thus the marker's narrative of the religious event violated the principle of separation of church and state, the complaint said.

The state attorney general said the narrative could remain because it makes no attempt to advocate a particular religious perspective.

Linville said no other major improvements are planned. During the years-long restoration project, she added, vandalism has dropped while the number of visitors has risen.

"Because volunteers are over there at different hours, we notice people in there at different times when once there weren't any," she said. "At last year's installation, I think we had about 100 people."

Despite initial skepticism, Bernadette's claims eventually were accepted by the Roman Catholic Church and in 1933 she was canonized.

Reporter Sheryl Edelen can be reached at (502) 582-4621.