One by one, the reverent placed roses at the foot of the statue of the Blessed Mother Mary.
They were attending the Dedication Mass of the new Gonzaga University grotto on Saturday. The grotto, located between St. Aloysius Church and College Hall, is designed to honor Mary and provide a place for prayer and reflection.
The Rev. Frank Case, who blessed the grotto, anointed the statue with holy water and incense before candles were lit by Gonzaga alumni, students, faculty, staff, members of the St. Aloysius parish and others from the community.
The grotto was created with the help of alumni and replaces the original shrine created in 1951 as a tribute to fallen soldiers of World War II.
For John McBride, the space is a place of protection. A proud Gonzaga alumnus who graduated in 1949, McBride was a member of the ROTC while attending the university, and he later became a combat veteran, a priest and a chaplain who served at several prisons.
“I have a tremendous gratitude because I think through the prayers of Our Blessed Lady I came home from World War II and I came home from the Korean War safe and sound,” he said.
McBride found Saturday’s dedication and the transformation of the space moving.
“Beautiful,” he said. “It was very touching and it was historic.”
The dedication was one of many happenings taking place as part of Zagapalooza, an alumni reunion that is part of Gonzaga’s 125th anniversary celebration this school year. The events drew thousands of visitors to campus starting Thursday, with events continuing through today.
About 2,000 former students from class years 1941 to 2012 celebrated Gonzaga during Zagapalooza, which was combined with the university’s annual Fall Family Weekend, a time for parents to visit students and see what the Gonzaga and Spokane communities have to offer.
The weekend allows attendees to reconnect with old friends, to meet new friends, to share in their common bond of being a Zag, said university spokesman Peter Tormey.
“I’ve been struck by the profound affection they have for this place,” Tormey said of students and alumni. “It’s something that’s been profoundly moving to these people.”
Zagapalooza and Fall Family Weekend were held in conjunction for the first time. A number of special anniversary events were held this weekend.
The theme of the 125-year anniversary celebration is “tradition and transformation.”
“The tradition is the alumni reunion,” Tormey said. “The transformation is the personal transformation that everyone has experienced and also how the university must continue to transform itself to continue to be what it has been to so many people.”
Jim and Cathy Neir, who attended the grotto dedication, came from Woodinville, Wash., to visit their daughter Katrina, a Gonzaga freshman.
“It’s really neat that they have these events for family,” said Cathy Neir. “There’s lots to do. We love it.”