A place where children and adults can express their faith

Bishop James Johnston, Jr., incenses the statue of Our Lady of Grace, during the dedication of the Shrine at St. Patrick’s Parish, May 11. (Megan Marley/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — On a warm May 11 morning at St. Patrick’s Parish, a large crowd of parishioners, students from St. Patrick’s School and St. Pius X High School, deacons and diocesan priests, including former St. Patrick’s pastor Father Gerald Waris, gathered in the parking lot. They had come to witness Bishop James Johnston, Jr. bless and dedicate the new marble and stainless-steel Shrine of Our Lady of Grace located between the school and the church.

Bishop Johnston opened the service saying, “My dear brothers and sisters, we have gathered here in joy to bless this statue and shrine to Mary, under the title of Our Lady of Grace. Mary is Christ’s mother, the image and model of the Church. She is exemplary. As the spouse of Christ, the Church raises its eyes to Mary.”

The bishop had just returned from Lourdes, France, where he had traveled with the Knights and Dames of Malta and many “malades” — sick people — to the grotto where, in 1858, Mary appeared 18 times to 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous. The bishop described the grotto as “the centerpiece of Lourdes.”

During one of the Blessed Mother’s appearances, she instructed Bernadette to drink the grotto’s muddy water, wash in it and eat the herb that grew there as a penitential act. The girl did, and the following day the water was completely clear and flowing. It was during the 16th appearance that Bernadette asked the vision four times what her name was, and was finally answered, “I am the Immaculate Conception”—the title given to the Blessed Mother just two years earlier.

Bernadette, who died in 1879, was canonized a saint in 1933. Today more than 5 million pilgrims visit Lourdes annually to pray to Mary and to bathe in the water in hopes of being healed in body and spirit.

The grotto-like setting of the Our Lady of Grace shrine at St. Patrick’s brought the grotto in Lourdes to Bishop Johnston’s mind.

“We dedicate this grotto to the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Grace,” he said. “It will be a place where parishioners and children can pray and reflect on their faith. A beautiful place to pray the rosary.”

He gestured toward the large steel rosary on the brick church wall and the photograph of the late Fr. Stewart, who was serving as St. Patrick’s pastor when he died suddenly last December.

Aloud, the bishop recalled April 26, the diocesan day of prayer for victims of sexual abuse, when he had joined the students of St. Patrick’s for the rosary. A group of kindergartners presented Bishop Johnston with a rosary that had belonged to Fr. Stewart, and he assured the children and adults in the church that he would take it with him to Lourdes. During the dedication of the grotto, he said that the rosary had indeed accompanied him to Lourdes, and there he had prayed the Rosary with it.

Likening the grotto of the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace to the one in Lourdes, Bishop Johnston said, “This grotto is very like an encounter with the spring. Here is the statue, and the spring is the Living Water in the Church; it is Christ in the Sacraments. We Catholics are privileged to encounter the Risen Lord every day in the Sacraments. And now, we encounter the love of Christ and his Mother here at St. Patrick’s. Let us entrust our hopes, dreams and interests in the Blessed Mother. We are gathered here together like the Apostles with the Mother of God and receive the love of the Mother, the spirit of the disciple, and the humility of a servant.”

The title Our Lady of Grace was given to the Virgin Mary during the Middle Ages. The shrine at St. Patrick’s was a four-year labor of faith and love by parishioners and others.

Back in June 2014, Deacon Mike Lewis approved a proposal and design to resurface the area between the church and the school for grade and drainage improvements. Jimmy Moloney, now a student at North Kansas City High School, cleaned the area as part of Phase One of the project as his Eagle Scout project.

In January 2017, then-pastor Father Robert Stewart approved the project as a Marian Grotto and in May, ground was broken.

John Svetlecic, owner/CEO of Wil-Clair Sheetmetal Shop and a St. Patrick’s parishioner, drew up the design for the shrine. He believes his inspiration for the design came from “the man upstairs”.

Working with his staff and members of Sheetmetal Workers Local #2, the metalwork of the shrine was formed, cut and assembled out of stainless steel. The front of the arch is decorated with five cut out stars and a rope of blue lights was strung behind the cutouts, with perforated and then solid metal forming the back of the arch. The lights are on a timer —turned on at dusk. Svetlecic said that at night, the lights create shadows around the statue, making it appear that she has bowed her head and is praying.

The white Italian marble statue of the Blessed Virgin weighs 1,500 pounds, Svetlecic said, and he didn’t want her set on the ground. So she is set on a stainless steel pedestal matching the steel arch. The statue is bolted to the underneath side of the base with studs and the base is held to the concrete ground by 12 1-inch studs. Two journeymen metalworkers on his staff, Jeff Marquis and Bryan Hausman, were in charge of bolting the statue to the base and lifting it upright.

“There are unseen miracles happening here,” Svetlecic said. “The man upstairs wanted Mary here and he made it happen.” He added that the shrine will be there for a long, long time.

The rosary on the wall near the photograph of Fr. Stewart is cut from one piece of stainless steel. Svetlecic said it took about 8 hours to program and 8 hours to cut it out. The priest’s photograph was lasered onto a piece of aluminum and covered with a UVF coating which should last 25 years. The project was begun last November and completed this past March.
As the Bishop concluded the blessing and dedication, members of the parish Altar and Rose Society waved white handkerchiefs in a gesture of farewell and respect for Our Lady, a tradition associated with Our Lady of Fatima brought to Our Lady of Grace shrine.


  1. June 5, 2018 at 1:53 pm #

    Jimmy Moloney is actually a student at North Kansas City High School.

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October 30, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph