Undeterred by damaging storms, Maryland Knights build a Marian grotto for their parish
By Cecilia Engbert
A strong snowstorm hit Holy Family Church in Mitchellville, Maryland, in January 2022, toppling trees and covering its outdoor statue of Mary with debris and snow. When Holy Family’s pastor, Father Joe Jenkins, jokingly suggested it might be the perfect time to put a roof over Mary’s head, he wasn’t expecting members of the parish’s Knights of Columbus council to take him seriously.
A year and a half later, Father Jenkins is amazed by the Marian grotto that now graces the parish property: a beautiful arched stone niche to protect Our Lady, built by members of Father Michael C. Kidd Council 14455.
“These guys are just incredible,” said Father Jenkins, who is Council 14455’s chaplain. “The grotto is the latest project of a whole string of things the Knights do here. It’s like pearls in a crown; they keep adding another pearl.”
Since it was established in 2008, the council has been life-giving to Holy Family, a small historic church built in 1890. The Knights recently transformed an old tractor shed into a prayer room where eucharistic adoration is now held weekly. Another shed was renovated into a parish meeting room.
Past Grand Knight Roy Cobo and Bobby Ramiro were the driving forces behind their latest project, the Marian grotto.
“This project is an effort to bring the community back together and to renew joy and hope after so many bad experiences, including the COVID pandemic,” Cobo said. “We wanted to make something beautiful.”
The construction wasn’t without difficulties. To begin with, the Knights had to learn how to make a grotto. Once they had a plan and had selected their materials, the space around the statue had to be cleared and leveled before the foundation and framework could be constructed and the concrete poured.
Then, midway through the project, the parish was ravaged by a second storm. A microburst in July 2022 felled more than 50 trees on church property. The front of the church was damaged, the renovated meeting room was destroyed, and once again, Mary’s statue was covered, this time by fallen trees.
Ramiro drove to the church immediately after the storm, expecting the worst.
“And I was right,” he said. “Debris was everywhere. The whole compound was devastated.”
The storm caused thousands of dollars in damage. At the same time, Father Jenkins was in the hospital from a heart attack. While some parishioners started to feel disheartened amid the chaos, the Knights were more determined than discouraged.
“I resolved once again that we would complete this grotto project,” Ramiro said.
He and Cobo and their team of Knights — including Grand Knight Larnell Johnson, Nino Foronda, Kevin Renze and Mike Brilliantes — cleared debris from the statue and got back to work.
“One thing that kept hope alive in the parish during that difficult time were the men working on that little grotto,” Father Jenkins said.
The Knights completed the grotto Jan. 7 and added a retaining wall and benches this spring. On May 7, nearly 200 parishioners gathered to dedicate the grotto with a May crowning. One by one, the children of the parish presented flowers to Our Lady, before Father Jenkins blessed the structure and led the congregation in praying the fifth glorious mystery of the rosary.
It was the best Mass turnout the church has seen since before the COVID-19 pandemic, Father Jenkins said.
“[The grotto] is not just a pretty decoration. It is quickly becoming a true place of pilgrimage and prayer,” he added.
Cobo is gratified by the parish response to the Knights’ project.
“It is rewarding to hear the appreciation of our pastor and the people who worship at Holy Family,” Cobo said. “They come out to see the grotto, offer flowers and pray there. Increasingly, people are taking pictures before the grotto after Masses. We are so glad to honor Mother Mary. We love her.”
CECILIA ENGBERT, a staff writer for the Catholic University of America Division of Communications, writes from Alexandria, Virginia.