St. Mary's Grotto
History of the building and dedication of the St. Mary's Grotto.
In 1942, two local men who had been drafted into the armed services approached Father Francis Zimmerer, the pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Windthorst, to pledge their World War II army pay to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This gesture, made in prayer for protection during military service, influenced many local soldiers to send home a portion of their stipends during the war to create a memorial shrine upon their safe return. In total, 64 from Windthorst were deployed during World War II, and an estimated $4,000 was sent home to build a grotto. Every Tuesday during the war, prayer vigils, or novenas, were held for the safe return of the soldiers. All 64 people who had been deployed eventually returned, and only four had minor injuries in their war-time service. At the grotto's dedication, Father Zimmerer stated that, “Under her protection, there went into war from this parish one of the toughest groups of soldiers the world has ever seen. She returned them safe and sound to their homes.”
The chief stone mason for the grotto was Father Patrick O’Neill, who dedicated two summers, with the help of a few locals, to complete the work of the grotto. The shrine stands at 20 feet tall and was built out of granite and stone from the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma. A ravaccione marble statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Help was imported from Italy for the shrine. The grotto was dedicated in August of 1950. In attendance at the dedication were the 64 veterans who served in the war and came home safely. Also attending were the Sheppard Air Force Base band, members of the Archer City American Legion Post, Father Abbott Edward Burgert (pastor of St Mary’s), Father Frances Zimmerer (former pastor and army chaplain) and Father Patrick O’Neill (chief stone mason).
In 2014, a veterans memorial brick wall was dedicated as an addition to the grotto. This wall displays the names, military branch, and dates of service of each veteran within the cemetery and will be updated to include recently deceased veterans.
The legacy of the grotto continues as it remains as a place of prayer and comfort for many. Candles are available there for visitors to light, and a notebook is also there in which visitors can write and leave their prayers.