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Tribute to Appearance of Virgin Mary Concerns Park Hills Neighbors

It is not unusual for city government meetings to include comments from residents expressing concern about the potential for a new development to create traffic jams.

Rarely, though, are traffic concerns related to the possibility of supernatural happenings.

Enter, Park Hills.

"We are now being told by a few local residents that the proposed grotto is too large, or that we will somehow have a “miracle” here or that an “apparition” will occur (by this, of course, they mean to suggest that we will in some way produce them ourselves as they do not believe the wondrous works of God), reads the latest newsletter from Our Lady of Lourdes, the new Catholic parish that recently acquired and refurbished a former Lutheran church at 1101 Amsterdam Road. "This in turn, they claim, will cause serious traffic and parking problems in the city."

The experience, the newsletter claims, is not unlike the event that inspired the name of the parish.

"Having heard some of the comments at this city council meeting, one would think that we were standing in the very shoes of St. Bernadette."

In a way, to stand in the shoes of Bernadette - to whom the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared multiple times in a grotto near Lourdes, France in the 1850s - is the goal of the new parish, which seeks to create its own grotto on its new grounds. The story goes that, after Mary's visit to Lourdes, which the parish's newsletter stated was to combat "the liberal Enlightenment" and its effects in France, the woman who would become Saint Bernadette argued that a chapel should be built on the site and that the people should make a procession.

Our Lady of Lourdes parish explains the story further:

Officials from both the Church and the State tried in a variety of ways either to ignore or silence the counter-attack coming from the grotto and its newly-found sacred spring. Even Bernadette’s family, friends, schoolmates and teachers joined in this resistance. At one point, Hell itself seemed to rise up to fight back directly, with a troop of demons making a din in the waters of the nearby River Gave. Voices from Hell threatened St. Bernadette to get out of there or else! It was Our Lady of Lourdes contra mundum! As we well know, all these feeble efforts of the worldly-minded proved of no avail. Each and every plan of man was countered and forced to bow down and accept the sweet commands of this heavenly Queen to do Penance! Penance! Penance! Even as the apparitions progressed, the Abbe Peyramale, Dean of Lourdes, noticed the increase in the number of confessions as well as an increase of virtue in his people. Since that time, millions upon millions have found their spiritual, mental and physical health restored by making pilgrimage to the Grotto and its Niche at Lourdes, France… by washing in and drinking of its waters, by going to confession, kissing the ground, praying the Rosary, lighting candles, and making procession.

Similarly, the planned grotto at the new church is facing resistance.

Residents packed the Park Hills city council meeting at Notre Dame Academy on Monday night. Mayor Matt Mattone said that he had spoken with Father Shannon Collins of Our Lady of Lourdes, and told the audience that the priest informed him that the church intends to conduct geotechnical tests on the nearby hill where dead ash trees had been removed out of fear that they could fall on vehicles.

Collins also said, according to Mayor Mattone, that any needed overflow parking would be accommodated by Covington Catholic High School, per an agreement.

Council member Pam Spoor, who is listed as a director of St. John the Baptist, Inc., which owns the church building, attempted to explain the grotto project, but resident Sheila Dean suggested that Spoor should recuse herself from the discussion as she had previously because of her close connection to the church. "There is a conflict of interest here," Dean said to Spoor.

"Everything up to this point has been your doing," another resident told Spoor.

One resident said that the grotto itself was not the problem, just the planned size of it.

"It is going to be two-thirds the size of the (Devou Park) band shell," the resident said. A smaller grotto, like one at Notre Dame, would not bother anyone, another resident suggested.

What other residents don't want is a repeat of what went down in Cold Spring twenty-five years ago, when a priest at St. Joseph suggested that the Virgin Mary would appear, a suggestion that lured nearly 8,000 people to the Campbell County city in 1992, according to a report in The New York Times.

"Whether it could happen or not, there were 8000 people who came to Cold Springs in 1992," one resident said. "That level of traffic is hard to plan for."

Mattone said that the church would have to submit its plan to the Kenton County Planning Commission since a grotto is not an approved use in the zone where the church sits. "We are not taking action at this meeting," Mattone said. "They haven't submitted anything. There is not a whole lot we can do. We can listen to your concerns."

Meanwhile, the church's colorful newsletter has also upset some residents.

"They have been putting in a newsletter that those who disagree with them are heathens and devils," one resident complained. "How do you communicate with people like that? This is our community as well as theirs."

In one edition of the newsletter, it was written that pushback to the grotto "is beginning to echo happened to our beloved Bernadette."

There are no official plans yet submitted for the grotto - described as "a cave of refreshment in dark times" on the church's website that links to a live feed of the original grotto in France - and Mayor Mattone said that he would investigate the appropriateness of the city or a delegation of representatives engaging the church or Diocese of Covington at this early stage on the matter.

If the grotto is constructed, though, one resident at Monday's meeting said that Park Hills must address the negativity of its dialogue, and to prepare to be welcoming to those who may wish to come and visit it.

Written by Michael Monks and Patricia A. Scheyer