Parishioners fear once-popular Catholic shrine in South Haven could be lost forever

2012-12-22T21:00:00Z 2012-12-23T22:30:06Z Parishioners fear once-popular Catholic shrine in South Haven could be lost foreverJoyce Russell, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222

SOUTH HAVEN | It was once a destination for thousands.

But now, some of the neighbors of the former Seven Dolors Shrine in South Haven have raised concern about the state of disrepair of the remaining structures, some of which date back to the 1930s.

"We might, as a community and a parish, want to restore that grotto. We are restoring our end of the grounds. We could even do that as a joint project," said David Lasayko, Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church parish council chairman.

Lasayko said parish members are concerned the remnants of Seven Dolors could be lost forever due to their lack of upkeep. The group also is concerned about vandals.

Seven Dolors was founded in the 1930s by Franciscan friars. Among several buildings, the friars constructed a main grotto, the Lourdes grotto, the St. Francis Altar, the 14 Stations of the Cross and various buildings.

For decades people made pilgrimages to the shrine to worship and pay respects to the Sorrowful Mother for whom the grounds were dedicated.

In 1996, the friars, whose numbers had dwindled, left the grounds. Some of the original 160 acres was given to the parish, and the remaining land was sold to developers.

What remained were the Lourdes Grotto and the outdoor altar.

In 2007, one of two figures of angels that stood on either side of the statue of St. Francis embracing Christ at the outdoor altar was stolen. Lasayko reported to police Thanksgiving week that the second angel was missing from the altar.

One of two doors of the Lourdes Grotto appears to have been kicked in. While the doorway is surrounded by an iron gate, it is apparent someone had been in the building because of the broken door and a blanket lying in the middle of the cave-like structure.

Some benches around the outdoor altar also appear to be in disrepair, with pieces of concrete jutting up from the benches.

Most of the land was developed into Coventry subdivision. Homes surround the south side of the altar and grotto. A mixture of parish property and township-owned property lies to the north. A bridge connects the remnants of the shrine to Our Lady of Sorrows property.

The parcel of property is owned by developer Dennis Koesters, who also serves as president of the subdivision's property owners association. Lasayko said the parish has made attempts to contact Koesters about the situation.

Koesters did not return messages left on his voicemail seeking comment for this story.

Portage Township Trustee Brendan Clancy said he has met with parishioners and subdivision residents.

Clancy said he would be willing to work with the property owner to help maintain or restore the site.

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