By Robin Fletcher
Special to The Witness
AMES — On Sept. 26 around 80 students from St. Cecilia School in Ames were honored with a trip to the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa. It is the largest man-made grotto in the world. It is continually being worked on!
The FSA (Family and School Association) sponsored the trip which occurs every three years for third, fourth and fifth grade students. They provided two charter buses for the two-hour ride, so students and chaperones were able to ride in comfort and watch a movie along the way. They also provided snacks and water for the trip to and from West Bend. They enjoyed a guided tour, learning in the museums, and of course, shopping in the grotto gift shop. The grotto is an incredible composite of nine separate grottos, each portraying a scene in the life of Christ. Father Paul Dobberstein started construction of the grotto in 1912.
He worked for 42 years, all year long, through all types of weather, setting rocks, gems, and shells by hand into concrete. He traveled the world finding specific types of rock, minerals, petrified wood, etc. to place in very specific locations within a certain grotto. There are also beautiful marble statues within the nine separate grottos depicting a particular part of Jesus’ life. When he passed away in 1954 his Grotto of the Redemption covered one city block. This awesome beauty combined with its message is beyond words. The children were awestruck! They took so many photos and some received pieces of polished rock that were being used to replace broken pieces along the walls.
At 2 p.m., all of the students and chaperones joined together in the chapel of SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church to pray a rosary. Father Dobberstein built The Christmas Chapel inside the church in 1927. It is considered to be his finest work containing many mineral specimens, too delicate to be used outdoors. Beautiful stained glass windows, an amazing hand carved maple altar, and the Ascension mural, painted by Father Dobberstein’s brother, were must see items. It was a beautiful day of travel, education, camaraderie and reverence for all participating.
PHOTO: The group of 80 students and chaperones from St. Cecilia School in Ames poses outside of a part of the grotto in West Bend, Iowa, which spans an entire city block. (Contributed photo)