Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto


Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto

At the heart of campus is the Our Mother of Sorrows Grotto—a rarely found feature in today’s landscape. Over the span of 12 years, contractor William Lightner designed and built the grotto. To create the structure, he traveled more than 40,000 miles throughout the United States and Mexico, used roughly 12 tons of stone, and worked with about 300 varieties of Italian mosaic glass. It was much larger than it is today, and students often used the lagoon to travel back and forth across campus in small canoes.

Lightner put forth so much time and effort into the grotto that Mount Mercy officials eventually had to ask him to stop expanding to ensure that land would be available for future building. Considering it his artistic masterpiece, Lightner spent much of his own money—and found it difficult to stop building.  

A much-needed restoration project in 2002 provided structural and cosmetic restoration, making it a place for students, faculty, staff, and the community to enjoy once again. In 2015, the grotto was named to the National Register of Historic Places. 

Mount Mercy Professor Emerita Jane Gilmor has been instrumental in restoring the grotto and sharing stories about its importance. By applying for grants to help fund its restoration, she helps ensure that the grotto is preserved and protected. Gilmor has also led lectures and community events to introduce the grotto to those who may not know about it.

Today, when you visit, you’ll find two archways, a pond and bridge, a structure representing the Ten Commandments, and an enclosed Virgin Mary statue made of Italian marble. A dedicated group of faculty and staff regularly review ways to care for and protect the grotto.