Sudbury's Grotto: Lucio Fabris talks legacy and optimism

·4 min read

“For those who have come up here it is a place of peacefulness.” Lucio Fabris wants you to visit the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Fabris, co-ordinator of the Grotto Maintenance Fundraising Committee knows it is “easy to focus on the negative. We must remember that we actually have a great community.”

However, in May 2020, vandals used power saws and grinders to irreparably damage bronze religious statues. It likely happened in broad daylight.

The Way of the Cross, the Way of Sorrows or the Via Crucis, is a series of 14 devotional stops recounting successive incidents during Jesus' progress from his conviction by Pilate to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. In six of the scenes, someone decapitated or excised the Roman soldiers. This was no prank; it required planning and boldness.

“It’s rare, but odd acts of vandalism do happen. This was extreme. It is disturbing at another level.”

The criminal(s) did not touch the saints nor Jesus.

“Thankfully insurance covers, but there may be a deductible,” muses Fabris.

At the time when The Sudbury Star reported the crime Gerry Lougheed said this: “The desecration of these sacred statues in our community is very sad, troubling, and totally unacceptable.”

A reward was offered for information leading to arrest of suspects. To date, no apprehensions have taken place.

The sculptures cannot be just repaired. Renowned Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz working from photographs and exact measurements is recreating the depictions in clay first.

On approval, they have to be cast in bronze once again. Schmalz is targeting late fall to complete all the replicas. The installation of the new statues is slated for about one year from now.

“I am sure there will be some ceremony and dedication when everything is delivered and installed,” Fabris said in an indication of the extent of the damages.

The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes began in 1907. The diocese continues to oversee the property. The statues of walkable Stations of the Cross in Sudbury were installed in 1954, and the site is taken care of by the Friends of the Grotto volunteer group. Fabris reminds us those “Friends’ can be you or I.

This spurs Fabris on to the real reason for our meeting here just off Van Horne, shy of the crest. Above the busy Paris Street intersection, mere steps from downtown, Fabris desires that a new generation step up to be the caretakers of this in this oasis of peace.

“Volunteers, friends, that’s how it all got built and maintained,” said Sudbury icon Arnel Michel. “Yes, I would go up and clean the site. I got involved back in the 1950s with Ernie Savard. If the Grotto needed something – like a hose or a lawn mower I stepped up. Ten years ago we were pouring concrete for the colonade and we realized the youngest one of us was 74 years old,” Michel laughs.

The 2016 concert - when more than 1,400 people attended – was an early fundraising for maintenance effort. A planned dinner is rescheduled to April of 2022 due to COVID.

Fabris acknowledges that the torch will need to be passed, as "many of our greatest supporters now are in their 80s and 90s, and we need resources and younger volunteers.”

Fabris himself is in his early 60s.

“That older generation started something. What they did here we have to do what we can to maintain it.”

Fabris is speaking of the importance of legacy.

“I promised this to my godfather, my second father, and my best friend.” Fabris is speaking of the recently departed Giovanni (John) Vito Masotti.

Walk a little further and discover the fountain and colonnade.

“You don’t think this could possibly exist in this city. The theory and mathematics behind the structure … I wish he was here to explain it all. He calculated it all out manually. He was brilliant,” Fabris said of his godfather.

“Over the years John devoted thousands of hours of his retirement to building the structures. Every day he would be up here in his big straw hat. Weddings, graduations, many sent John pictures from the Fountain of Life. He loved seeing people being happy.

“This is not just a religious place, not just a Catholic place. It truly is for our whole community. I’m up here lots. I’ll walk here from the office at lunch on summer days,” Fabris sid.

“My godfather spoke of tranquility and peacefulness. He had this hope: ‘People can come up here and just have a few minutes of enjoyment, or get away from a tough day, or a troubled day.’ He spoke of hope and optimism.”

You can make donations to the Grotto Maintenance Fund.

c/o David Sirois

Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie

30 St. Anne Road

Sudbury Ontario

P3C 5E1

705-674-2727

Contact David Sirois via email d.sirois@ssmd.ca or by phone 705-923-4436

If you wish to provide other support email grotto@ssmd.ca

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @SudburyStar

Hugh Kruzel, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star