The story behind the grotto at the Catholic Pastoral Center

Originally Appeared in : 9817-8/16/18

The grotto located behind the Catholic Pastoral Center in Savannah is paved with as many memories as it is with stones. Possibly unfamiliar now to those who work at the Center, it may still be recalled by some “children,” older adults, who resided at the Victory Drive facility when the Center was St. Mary’s Home, a residential home for girls of the Savannah-Atlanta Diocese, operated by the Sisters of Mercy.


Built in 1937 when Bishop Gerald P. O’Hara decided, despite the Great Depression, that the times mandated a roomier and more substantial residence than the one previously occupied by orphans of the diocese, the new facility, designed by Savannah architect Cletus W. Bergen, was dedicated in 1938. The grotto constructed behind it, was the gift of Anna McCrohan and was dedicated to the memory of McCrohan’s sister, Sister Mary Loyola Golden, RSM, who had devoted more than 60 years of her life to instruction of children and to caring for the sick in Atlanta and Savannah.


Sister Loyola was a member of the Golden family who were well known in Savannah and Augusta and throughout Georgia; Sister Loyola’s career resume included teaching at Savannah’s St. Vincent’s Academy as well as at St. Mary’s Academy in Augusta. Earlier, Mother Loyola had also served for 13 years as Superintendent of Sisters at St. Joseph’s Infirmary in Atlanta.

The rock used for the memorial grotto in Savannah was donated by two other prominent Savannahians, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Remler. An article by columnist Jan Skutch that appeared in Savannah Now on March 28, 2015 described this grotto as “a rock garden in the rear of the lot (on Victory Drive) featuring a statue of the Virgin Mary and a gazebo that would remain, as well as the pet cemetery nearby.” A contemporary reference to the grotto in the Bulletin of the Catholic Laymen’s Association described it in more detail, noting that it was “an exact counterpart of the grotto in France with statues of the Immaculate Conception and Saint Bernadette and that it was set “in the midst of a grove of trees in the northern part of the spacious grounds of the home.” Milton Little of Savannah was in charge of its construction. 


On December 8, 1941, Gerald P. O’Hara, Bishop of the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta, dedicated the grotto and its white marble altar. Bishop O’Hara was assisted by Father Daniel J. Bourke and other local priests after a procession to the grotto by residents of the home.  Fittingly, the “Lourdes Grotto,” which Savannah’s grotto was modeled after, was destined to reflect the times. World War II, already underway in Europe, would soon threaten to spread to the United States. Author Franz Werfel, who was Jewish and was in France when war began there, would several years later write the book, “The Song of Bernadette,” as a tribute to the Virgin Mary and Saint Bernadette whose intercession, he felt, had enabled him to get safely out of Europe. (Werfel’s book was destined to become a best seller and, afterwards, a movie by the same title starring actress Jennifer Jones.)


Soon, there would be other “Lourdes Grottos” throughout the U.S. as people turned to the Virgin Mary for help during desperate times. Many of these grottos still remain. Possibly, so do the sweet voices of girls who often processed to them as did the girls at St. Mary’s Home in Savannah. Significant and still an inspiration to those who happen to glimpse it today behind the Catholic Pastoral Center on Victory Drive, this stone grotto is a solid reminder of the devotion of those who constructed it years ago in memory of Sister Mary Loyola Golden, RSM, who had served the diocese for 60 years.


Columnist Rita H. Delorme is a volunteer in the Diocesan Archives.

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