How The Grotto Began

Servite Fr. Ambrose Mayer  

The story of The Grotto begins at the end of the 19th century, with a young boy who learned that his mother lay near death after giving birth to a daughter. In tears, the boy ran to the little parish church in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. He prayed to the Virgin Mary for his mother’s life, promising that if she were spared he would one day undertake a great work for the church.   Both his mother and baby sister survived, and the future Fr. Ambrose Mayer never forgot his promise.

The Story of the Shrine

As a young man he joined the Servite Order and in 1918 Fr. Ambrose Mayer was sent to minister as the first Servite pastor in Oregon. He carried with him the desire to fulfill his childhood promise, often disclosing to his associates his dream of finding a site on which to build a suitable tribute to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

The Letter from Pope Pius XI

Crowning the initiation of the project was a letter from Pope Pius XI, written in his own hand, imparting a Special Apostolic Blessing to all those who “in any way or measure, show their good will and assist in the erecting of the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother in Portland.”
Union Pacific Railroad Land

Fr. Mayer came across some acreage in 1923 which was owned by the Union Pacific Railroad Company. It was rugged, untamed wilderness that was once a quarry used to obtain rock for rail beds, and was currently scheduled for sale as residential property. He saw this as a natural cathedral which, once cleaned up, was perfect for the realization of his dream.Although the asking price was $48,000, Fr. Mayer was not deterred. With the enthusiastic encouragement and approval of Archbishop Alexander Christie, Fr. Mayer bid all that he had – $3,000 – which was accepted as an initial down payment. A national campaign provided the balance of the funds.
Work Began in 1923

In September of 1923, the work began. A cave was carved out of the 110-foot basalt cliffside, and a stone altar built, above which was placed a depiction of Mary holding the body of her Son after his crucifixion. A replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta was added several years later.
Dedication of the Shrine

On May 29, 1924, three thousand people gathered for the first Mass and Dedication of the Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother. At the blessing, Archbishop Alexander Christie offered this prayer:

“Let this be a sanctuary of peace for all peoples of the earth, and surely in this day a sanctuary is needed. Torn with differences, strife, and grief, the world needs sanctuary where the human spirit can seek peace and consolation.”
The Dream of One Man

Today, we welcome people from around the world, people of all faiths and no faith. Without exception our visitors speak of the peace they experience here in the spiritual and natural beauty of this holy sanctuary, where God’s presence abounds and where special tribute is given to Mary, the Sorrowful Mother of Jesus.The Grotto continues to change over the years to meet the needs of the people in an ever-changing world. The dream, work and promise of one man have become the ministry of all who serve here.