North Carolina

Belmont, NC: Sacred Heart College

The Sacred Heart College grotto, probably in the late 1940s.

Sacred Heart College in Belmont, North Carolina was established in 1892 as a finishing school for women. It became a women’s college in 1935, and in 1987 it merged with the nearby Belmont Abbey College (which has its own much older grotto that still stands, built in 1891). A convent still exists on the Sacred Heart grounds, which are also used for academic functions for Belmont Abbey College.

The Grotto on the campus of Sacred Heart College was built around 1940, according to photos included in the annual Gradatim college yearbooks. The earliest photo included in the yearbooks was in 1940, and the last time it appeared was in the 1963 yearbook.

Two photos from the 1943 yearbook, showing the annual May Day event. The 1938 described this: “The crowning event of the year is the May Procession to the grotto of the Blessed Mother. Here, surrounded by her loving children, she is crowned as Queen of May.”

The grotto may have been designed and maintained by one of the sisters at the college, Sister Mary Helen, who was also the college librarian, according to the dedication page in the 1963 yearbook, which credits the grotto to her “careful planning and assiduous care”:

The grotto, with a central niche for the statue of Mary with hands clasped in prayer, stood behind a circular pool with a spray fountain in the center. In earlier photos, the irregular stones from which it was constructed can been seen clearly; in 1950s photos, creeping vines have covered it. The grotto had two wings of rock in a low semi-circle at its base, for visual (and perhaps structural) stability. A Bernadette statue was placed in front of the grotto, slightly to the customary left.

There appears to have been a small pool at the base of the grotto, into which water flowed down the rocks below the statue niche. Flowers and tropical plants were planted around the base of the grotto, likely by Sister Mary Helen.

The water flowing into the pool at the grotto’s base can be seen in the photo from the 1940 yearbook, taken soon after the grotto’s construction.
This aerial photo from the 1951 yearbook shows the location of the grotto and circular pool in the upper left corner of the grounds.

The grotto was likely removed in the early 1960s, when a faculty building was constructed next to it. The 1940s and 1950s yearbook and postcard photos of the Sacred Heart College grotto provide a record of the beauty created by Sister Mary Helen to inspire her students.

Bobby socks and college letter sweaters in the 1954 yearbook.
A beautiful day for these young women in 1953.

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