Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto

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Institution Name: Mount Mercy College
Original/Historic Place Name: The Pool by the Glen; Shrine of Our Mother of Sorrows; Mother of Christ Grotto; The Grotto
Location on Campus: lower campus
Date(s) of Construction:
ca. 1925-1941original construction Lightner, William H.
Designer: William H. Lightner
Type of Place: Landscape site
Style: (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, landscape, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
ca. 1925theater (outdoor)
ca. 1925-present (2006)outdoor space (for reflection and socializing)

The Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto is intertwined with the period when the Sisters of Mercy were developing the infrastructure to support a high school (Mount Mercy Academy) that became a junior college (1928) and finally a four-year college. William H. Lightner, an architect, builder, and partner in Lightner Bros., lent money and constructed the new school in the 1920s. Mr. Lightner eagerly joined two Sisters of Mercy, Sr. Mary Ildephonse and Sr. Mary Cephas, in creating a small grotto (ca. 1927) and then developed it into an extensive set of structures over many years, known as the Shrine of Our Mother of Sorrows. Mr. Lightner worked on the structure through 1941. The area included arches, a bridge over a lagoon, a pillared structure symbolizing the Ten Commandments, and a long shrine wall with mosaics. He traveled widely and collected rocks and tiles from distant places to include in the shrine. Twelve hundred tons of stone comprised of 300 kinds of rocks, semi-precious stones, corals, and petrified woods were used. In 1949, the Sisters of Mercy purchased a marble statue in Italy, entitled Mother of Sorrows.

The Grotto was originally a quiet place for those who wanted to reflect and meditate. It was used for celebrations, graduations, and other public events. Students and their friends found it a good place to socialize. Over the years, the Grotto fell into disuse and disrepair. The structures were vandalized by small boys seeking beautiful stones for their collections, and in the 1970s it became necessary to take down great sections of the shrine. Those that remained became subject of a restoration project in the late 1990s. This is related to the art world's growing interest in finding and preserving "outsider art" and the perseverance of Prof. Jane Gilmor of the Mount Mercy College art department. Several local and national grants, including one from the Smithsonian Institution, enabled the College to contract the services of Tony Rajer, a fine arts conservator, who directed the final restoration of the remaining segments in the summer of 2002. Many generous donations in honor of former Mount Mercy College President Tom Feld's daughter provided the funds to add a reflecting pool under the original bridge. The Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto was rededicated on May 1, 2003 in honor of the many May Pageants held there in its early years.


"Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto Website." Online. Mount Mercy College, Cedar Rapids, IA.

Photographs. Archives, Busse Library, Mount Mercy College, Cedar Rapids, IA.

Rajer, Tony. The History and Conservation of Our Lady of Sorrows Grotto, Mount Mercy College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. College archives, Busse Library, Mount Mercy College, Cedar Rapids, IA.

Roth, Mary Augustine. Courage and Change: Mount Mercy College, the First Fifty Years. Cedar Rapids, IA: Stamats Communications, 1980.

Selected collections. Archives, Busse Library, Mount Mercy College, Cedar Rapids, IA.


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Last update: November 2006