The Saint Leo Abbey Grotto is a place for prayer, the expression of faith, and relaxation. Under nature’s comforting warmth, the Grotto’s intricate shrines, brilliant statues, calming trails, and overall atmosphere invite both members of the Saint Leo community and strangers alike to worship in a beautiful, outdoor environment. However, the Grotto, when left unchecked, just might find itself overwhelmed by the nature surrounding it. This has happened.
Imagine the Grotto now overtaken by nature – how does it look? Are statues covered in dirt, moss, and grime? Have streams stopped flowing? Are walkways completely concealed by dead leaves? Does an abundance of spiders and their massive webs make some, including yourself, afraid to visit the Grotto after sunset? Unfortunately, all of these aptly describe the Grotto in its current state; and each of them just might be a sign that the Grotto may not be as important to people as it used to be.
All of this, however, is currently being changed. Enter: the Saint Leo University Ministry. In a restoration effort headed by Ministry members and volunteers both on and off campus, a single goal has been made: to restore the Abbey Grotto back to its former glory, encouraging volunteers to work together and understand the value of community. This group of dedicated volunteers took the first step to reaching this goal on Sept. 19 – a step which resulted in a successful cleaning marathon that lasted from 1:00 PM – 7:00 PM.
“I have more reasons than one for why I wanted to help clean the Grotto. The most important reason is that I wanted to do something for Jesus…having a nice environment and setting can really help you hear what God is trying to say. I would definitely volunteer again,” said Ashley Brown, Senior, who volunteered.
The idea to clean up the Grotto had originally started as a simple observation made by a simply faithful individual. Jahiedy Vinas, Senior and recently-appointed Ministry Mentor, is currently in charge of community service performed by the Ministry. Realizing the importance of the Grotto in its history – as well as the potential importance of a restored Grotto – Vinas made it her priority to get permission to go through with the project.
“I saw it as an opportunity for the students to come together; I saw it as an opportunity for us to work with the monks and the nuns – to create that identity of community and responsible stewardship,” said Vinas. “The Grotto is our responsibility; it’s a place that we definitely have to take care of… I want to make sure it visually represents who we are. Saint Leo’s a beautiful University; the Grotto should be just as beautiful as well.”
The project, which in its first day was an immense success, has sparked inspiration among the volunteers who participated. It is expected to continue once every three to four Saturdays as a result. With each session, pathways are expected to be cleared out, statues are expected to be repainted, and spider webs are expected to be removed, among many other renovations.
“At first glance, it didn’t seem like a lot of work, but when we really started getting into it, we really started to care about that place. We realized there was so much we had to do,” said Vinas. “I think that having these students go out there and wash statues, care for the grounds, pull out weeds – get dirty – y’know, they were happy to get dirty. It’s not like you’re just cleaning someone’s house; you’re taking care of a place that’s meant for prayer.”
Regardless of the progress made so far, however, the project is not expected to be finished anytime soon; a lot of work still needs to be done. According to Br. Clement Rees, OSB, who also volunteered, the committed efforts of the volunteers made all the difference in the first day’s success. They proved to him without hesitation the dedication and leadership skills they possessed. Inspired by the hard work the volunteers demonstrated, Brother Clement is determined to continue to assist in the restoration project until its completion. “My experience working with the students was very enlivening. They came to the job on short notice but came with a willingness to do a good service…We are very short handed here at the Abbey and so it was wonderful to have the skills and energy the students brought to the task. The grotto is in much better condition now but still a long way from tip top,” said Brother Clement.
In addition to the Grotto restoration project, the University Ministry plans on hosting even more volunteer opportunities in the future, such as charities, clothing drives, and food drives. If you would like to participate in these projects, the Grotto’s restoration project, or have other volunteer work ideas, please contact Jahiedy Vinas at firstname.lastname@example.org.