September 6, 2013

Parishioner-built stone grotto is site of 90-year Feast of the Assumption tradition

Ann Decker, left, proclaims the first reading as Deacon Robert Decker and Franciscan Father Humbert Moster listen in the grotto of St. Mary-of-the-Rock Parish in Franklin County on Aug. 15. For 90 years, the parish has celebrated a Feast of the Assumption tradition of Mass in the grotto followed by a rosary procession with the Eucharist and a statue of Mary. The procession ends in the church for adoration, songs and Benediction. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Ann Decker, left, proclaims the first reading as Deacon Robert Decker and Franciscan Father Humbert Moster listen in the grotto of St. Mary-of-the-Rock Parish in Franklin County on Aug. 15. For 90 years, the parish has celebrated a Feast of the Assumption tradition of Mass in the grotto followed by a rosary procession with the Eucharist and a statue of Mary. The procession ends in the church for adoration, songs and Benediction. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

FRANKLIN COUNTY—Under a clear blue sky and slanting evening sunlight, people gathered around the grotto for Mass as they had on this day for the prior 89 years. Cicadas chattered, birds chirped and a cow lowed in a nearby pasture during the Feast of the Assumption Mass and the following rosary procession at St. Mary-of-the-Rock Parish.

The tradition started in 1923, two years after members of the country parish in Franklin County gathered stones from their fields to build a grotto in honor of the Blessed Mother behind the church.

Among those present for the 90th anniversary of the Assumption Mass in the grotto and rosary procession on Aug. 15 was Rob Harmeyer. At 52, he is a lifetime member of the parish and a descendent of generations of parish members, including those living when the grotto was built.

“I hope they keep the tradition going,” he said of the Assumption event.

This is also the hope of many other members, as the parish prepares to close in December.

Elaine Amberger, 66, is among those hopeful for the event’s continuation. She is also a lifetime member of the parish, with ancestors from both sides of her family filling the parish roster back to the parish’s founding in 1844.

“I remember in grade school when we had the [Franciscan] sisters here, they made us wear white [for the Assumption Mass and rosary procession]. They had white veils on every one of us girls. And the boys had to dress up like the olden times,” she said. “It was a big ritual since I was small.”

The evening event begins with Mass in the grotto, with the congregation seated in the dip of land extending from the grotto behind the 107-year-old brick church.

After Mass, the Eucharist and a statue of Mary were processed through the parish grounds as the congregation followed, reciting the rosary.

The procession ended with adoration, songs, the Divine Praises and Benediction in the church.

“Someone counted over 300 [people] here,” said Franciscan Father Humbert Moster, sacramental minister for the parish who celebrated the Mass. “Usually, there’s only about 150. The church was never so full for Benediction as it was tonight. I don’t know what made everyone come, if it was because it’s the 90th [anniversary] or if it was because they thought this would be the last one.”

Numbers were not the only difference between this event and those of years past.

“They did extra things with it being the 90th [anniversary],” said Theresa Boyce, 29, another lifelong member of the parish. “The Knights of Columbus and the Knights of St. John being here, the girl who sang the ‘Ave Maria’—it was absolutely beautiful.”

But then again, she said, “The Mass and procession have always been beautiful. I don’t think it’s ever rained for this in 90 years.”

Other attendees echoed the lore that, even if it rained before or after, the skies have always been dry for the outdoor event.

Just as parishioners say weather has never prevented the Assumption Mass and rosary procession in 90 years, there is great hope that the closing of the parish will not prevent the tradition from continuing either.

Franciscan Father David Kobak, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg, which will serve as the new home parish for St. Mary-of-the-Rock members, said he sees no reason why the tradition cannot continue.

“It’s a precious tradition,” he said. “It’s close to their hearts.” †

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