2017-10-05 / News

Notre Dame grotto to be relocated

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


The grotto at Notre Dame de Lourdes Church was built in 1929 after George Precourt visited the original structure in Lourdes, France to pray for his ailing wife. Good Shepherd Parish will pay for the construction of a new grotto in the lower level of St. Joseph Church in Biddeford, next to the St. Anne Chapel. Hardypond Construction will renovate Notre Dame Church into market rate apartments for millennials and seniors, at which time the the remaining structure of the grotto will be removed. (Grant McPherson photo) The grotto at Notre Dame de Lourdes Church was built in 1929 after George Precourt visited the original structure in Lourdes, France to pray for his ailing wife. Good Shepherd Parish will pay for the construction of a new grotto in the lower level of St. Joseph Church in Biddeford, next to the St. Anne Chapel. Hardypond Construction will renovate Notre Dame Church into market rate apartments for millennials and seniors, at which time the the remaining structure of the grotto will be removed. (Grant McPherson photo) SACO – A historic grotto will soon be gone, though its remnants will live on.

The Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Notre Dame Church on Cutts Avenue in Saco will be dismantled as part of the building’s sale. The sale of the church closed Friday, Sept. 22. The new owner, Cutts Avenue, LLC , did not wish to disclose the sale price at time of deadline. The church and parking lot have an assessed total property value of $360,400.


According to the Catholic Church, Bernadette Soubirous was 14-years-old when an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared before her while Soubirous was gathering firewood near a cave in Lourdes, France in February 1858. Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France is visited by millions of pilgrims, many of whom arrive in search of relief from sickness or pain. While the Catholic Church was initially skeptical of Soubirous, she is now a venerated saint. (Grant McPherson photo) According to the Catholic Church, Bernadette Soubirous was 14-years-old when an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared before her while Soubirous was gathering firewood near a cave in Lourdes, France in February 1858. Our Lady of Lourdes grotto in France is visited by millions of pilgrims, many of whom arrive in search of relief from sickness or pain. While the Catholic Church was initially skeptical of Soubirous, she is now a venerated saint. (Grant McPherson photo) A new grotto will be built in St. Joseph Church in Biddeford, adjacent to St. Anne Chapel where the local Knights of Columbus chapter meets. David Gadbois, business coordinator for Good Shepherd Parish, doesn’t expect the new grotto to be completed for several months. A frame for the structure has to be built and new electrical systems have to be installed. Good Shepherd Parish will pay for construction of the new grotto.

“It won’t be exact of course but we’ll do our best to recreate what was there,” Gadbois said.

In the meantime, statues and candles from Notre Dame Grotto have been placed in St. Anne Chapel to serve as a temporary place of worship.

Wilfred Cassette, a volunteer for Good Shepherd Parish, has attended Notre Dame Church for more than 50 years. After the 150-year anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, Cassette has spent every night keeping vigil at the Notre Dame Grotto, even after the church closed. He and other volunteers repainted the grotto entrance and replaced the light bulbs within the past year. While the statues were able to be moved, the structure itself must stay behind.

“It would cost too much money and cause too much damage to the structure,” Cassette said. “It’s made with plaster and very brittle.”

The Notre Dame Grotto was originally finished June 30, 1929, according to its Facebook page. It was built after George Precourt visited the original grotto in France to seek help for his ill wife. He took measurements and photographs of the original and vowed to create a replica if his wife recovered. She eventually did and George Precourt began construction. He is the great-great-uncle of Saco Ward 1 Councilor David Precourt. David Precourt hopes to take possession of a plaque that hung next to the grotto that recognized his relative, but has been unable to locate it.

“It’s significant to the family,” Precourt said. “We’d like to get the brass plaques but we haven’t seen them yet.”

Cassette is sad the grotto is going to be destroyed. However, he understands the pastor’s decision to consolidate local churches.

“It’s hard to accept change but that’s what life is about. It takes a lot of time and prayers. But with patience, trust and belief our prayers are answered,” Cassette said.

Notre Dame Church will be converted into 80 apartment units by Hardypond Construction. The first two phases of the project will involve 47 units geared toward millennial aged renters, and the third stage will be 33 units for seniors who are 55 and older. The apartment complex is planned to be named Notre Dame on Cutts. Hardypond also converted a church on Pleasant Avenue, which business director for Hardypond Frank Carr said looks similar to what Notre Dame will look like.

“It was a big church with white vinyl siding,” Carr said. “We took the siding off and now it’s beautiful. The same preservation exists underneath Notre Dame Church so that’ll be pretty neat.”

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