HENDERSON, Ky. (WEHT) – Years of labor resulted in a garden of shrines made out of geodes.
According to the Dubois County Visitors Center and Tourism Commission, one priest took 12 years to create a garden of shrines now known as the Mother of God Grotto. Officials say these shrines are constructed completely of geodes, a type of rock found in parts of Indiana and Kentucky, and have been used as a decorative element in the construction of landscaping and homes since the 19th century.
According to Tim Bell of St. Joseph Catholic Church, Father Phillip Ottavi built the grotto. Father Ottavi also was the director of the Sons of Divine Providence Home for mentally disabled men from the 1950s to his passing in the early 1970s.
According to Bell, Father Ottavi was involved in a major earthquake in Italy when he was four years old. His entire family perished in the quake. Luigi Giovanni Orione, now a Saint in the Catholic Church, was a Priest in Italy who brought Ottavi into his orphanage and raised Ottavi who eventually became a Priest himself. Father Orione also started the Sons of Divine Providence religious congregation in 1903 in Italy. Father Orione sent Father Ottavi to Jasper to direct these religious orders in the Jasper location starting in the 1950s. Father Ottavi built these grottos to help himself heal from the effects of the earthquake that trapped him in rubble for many days until he was rescued. He disliked rocks his entire life but used the geodes as a way of healing.
Bell says the geodes came from Heltonville, Indiana. Father Phillip sent Father Thaddeus Sztuczko to Heltonville to bring all of the geodes back to Jasper. They had located a farmer that allowed them to remove as many as they wanted, and tens of thousands were brought back. Bell says there are also some small statues in the grotto facing Bartley Street, and those were put in “maybe” 15 years ago and “may” represent the Saints dear to the person who put those there. The Friends of the Grotto just maintain those each year. Bell says there are picture records that the grotto was started around 1956 or so and completed around 1970.
Bell explains, “The Friends of the Grotto is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to preserving this Catholic shrine. We have over forty volunteers who donate their time by adopting a flower pot, mowing grass and maintaining the general upkeep of the grotto.”
According to Bell, there is a group that leads the rosary on the 13th of every month at 7 p.m. and on winter months starting at 4 p.m.. There was also a Saint Joseph Grotto that was demolished in 2017 after the land it sat on was sold to Memorial Hospital. Bell says the Friends of the Grotto spent many months trying to save what it could before demolition.
The Mother of God Grotto is located at 928 Bartley Street in Jasper.
This is the fifth of a weekly twenty-one-part series that will help educate about some roadside attractions in the Eyewitness News viewing area. Check in every Sunday at 8 a.m. for the next one! Last week’s installment can be found here.