Tag Archives: Friends

Secret Grotto, Secret Shrine

Years ago, on what I recalled as a long walk with my friend Candy, we happened upon an amazing discovery. Actually, Candy knew about it and wanted to show me, but it was a discovery for me. Candy called it a “grotto”. I didn’t really know what a grotto was and as the years went by the image of this grotto, in my mind’s eye, became a pagan temple where modern day witches might worship. I imagined that it was built by Pantheists in the early- to mid-1900s and was secretly kept up by followers of non-traditional faiths. I’d been thinking about it recently because I thought it was something that my daughter would like to see.

Candy and I visited the grotto again this past Wednesday and although I was wrong about the religion, I was right about the purpose — it was a place for worship. It was obviously built by Christians, however, not Pantheists. Symbols of Christianity are all over the structure, so much that it might be better called a shrine. I was also wrong about the location. I thought it was in Elgin and far away from civilization. (or as far away as possible in an urban area) In fact it is a few minutes walk from the Kane County Government center in Geneva, Illinois.

Grotto Shrine in Geneva, Illinois

Candy knew little about its history, so we stopped by the nearby government center to ask about it and the history of the government center buildings. The first person we asked didn’t even know the grotto/shrine existed. The second person we asked looked at us strangely and told us to ask down the hall. The third person we asked told us that the buildings had once been a seminary for monks and they used to worship at the shrine/grotto. She said that occasionally people from “out East” who have some connection with the monks stop by to visit the former seminary.

Candy and I then tried asking about the buildings and grotto at the Geneva History Center and neither of the volunteers on duty knew about the history of the buildings at the government center. One volunteer said that if we wanted someone to research it for us we could request it, but it would cost us money. I politely declined and said I would try to find information online.

I did find a few references to the shrine/grotto in Geneva, Illinois — most were pretty much the same text, however one was much more detailed [PDF, 226KB).

Apparently the Grotto Shrine (which is what the Neighbors of Geneva article* calls it) was designed and built by a Jesuit priest from Germany who came to the Sacred Heart Seminary to study to be a missionary. According to the article, “on special feast days the missionaries and seminarians would walk in candlelight procession to the outdoor chapel.”

While the grotto shrine was not what I remembered it to be, it still fascinates me and I look forward to showing it to my daughter someday. I’m also a little fascinated that no one we talked to knew much, if anything, about the grotto shrine. If I worked at the government center, I know I would want to know as much as possible about the history of the buildings I worked in. I guess everyone is not that way.

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*coincidentally written by the Geneva History Center

Best. Neighbors. Ever.

Skippy John Jones G.
Skippy John Jones G.

I look across the street tonight and see the blue Volvo and silver minivan parked where they’ve been for the past couple of years. I see Chris mowing his lawn. The other day I talked to Madeline, Anna, Molly and Carter about vacation Bible camp, Subway meals and trips to the Bay.

Nothing really, except the sad knowledge and “Under Contract” sign, indicates that tomorrow a moving truck will collect their furniture and move everything to Richmond. In two days a new family will move into the house across the street.

The current family couldn’t be any better. They are some of the sweetest people I have ever known. Chris took care of Andrew when he had his skin infection (knowing a dermatologist is handy). Madeline actively  participated in our neighborhood book group. Anna once stage whispered to a friend that Dean was really nice. Molly and Carter entertained us with their 3/4-year old antics.

And then there is Skippy John Jones G. who, although may have pooed on our lawn a few times, was the friendliest cat in the ‘hood. At least to neighbors and the mailman, who on more than one occasion sat on the stoop and gave Skippy a cuddle.

The new family has an incredible act to follow.

The G. family will be missed. Very much.

Pastor Keith

Most of you know by now that my father died in October. I’m not ready to talk about that here, if ever. What I want to talk about, instead, is an incredible man I met in September, but got to know much better in October.

Pastor Keith Fry
Pastor Keith Fry of Christ the Lord Lutheran Church, Elgin, IL

Pastor Keith Fry is the pastor of my mom’s church, Christ the Lord Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois. Mom only recently started going to this church, finally giving into her friends’ invitations to attend. I think she’s gone to this church just over a year.

I liked Pastor Keith as soon as I met him in September at my mom’s book group where they discussed Take this Bread by Sara Miles. I met him again the following Sunday when I attended church with my mom. His sermon mentioned someone he’d discussed at the book group — a friend he’d made in Washington DC who had nothing, yet gave him a gift. That tipped me off that this man was a man to whom connections were important.

When, three weeks ago, my mom’s church friends alerted Pastor Keith that my dad was on life support and in critical condition at St. Joesph hospital, he made a trip to the hospital that night. By then my mom and brother had left — knowing that there was little they could do for Dad and they both needed a good night’s sleep in order to have a clear mind to make whatever decisions needed to be made in the coming days. I’m sure Pastor Keith prayed over/for/about my father and for my mom for strength. He probably also got information from the nursing staff on Dad’s condition.

He showed up on Tuesday morning as well, this time offering support by way of prayer and information. He asked a few questions about our family — he really didn’t know Mom that well — so wanted to know if we had other siblings, what we did for a living, how many kids we had, where we lived, etc. None of what we told him was of any use, really, but, as I mentioned earlier, Pastor Keith is a man to whom connections are important. He wanted to know us in order to connect. At least, that’s what I think he was doing.

On Wednesday and Thursday he was always a phone call away and on Thursday evening my brother called him to tell him that we’d need his support on Friday morning.

I’m not sure what we would have done without Pastor Keith’s support on Friday morning. He was a calm presence the room. He was knowledgeable about the process. He was there when we needed him, but it was not as if there was a stranger in the room with us — more like a dear friend. Most of all, he assured us we were doing the right thing.

All the while we were together, Pastor Keith must have been taking mental notes. He was storing our words, actions, and stories in a file in his head. I know this because he gave the most touching funeral sermon I’ve ever heard — taking what he’d observed the past week, what he’d heard from us the past week, and what he’d seen in a slideshow I posted on Facebook (yes, Pastor Keith is on Facebook). If there is a prize for funeral sermons, this one is a sure winner. It is posted after the break if you want to read it.

One of the memories I shared with Pastor Keith that morning was my vision of Heaven: When my Uncle Don died when I was 6 years old I couldn’t really process it until President Kennedy was assassinated. Then I wondered if they’d meet in Heaven. I pictured Uncle Don and President Kennedy sitting at a table drinking beer. As more and more people that I knew or admired died, they joined the table. If you read the sermon, you’ll see that Pastor Keith really listened.

Unfortunately I don’t have the gift of listening that Pastor Keith possesses. I’d like to tell you more about him, but all I know for sure is that he grew up in Texas, the son of a Baptist minister. He has siblings — maybe 3 or 4? He used to be in publishing, but about 5 years ago decided to go to Seminary. My mom’s church is his first congregation. They love him (I know, I read it on Facebook). I think I love him too.

Continue reading Pastor Keith