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A saintly jubilee addition

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During its 75th anniversary year, Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington opened a prayer garden honoring its late former pastor.

Parishioners and visitors to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Arlington have a new way to deepen their faith: a grotto featuring statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Bernadette recently completed by Ben Hovatter and his fellow Boy Scouts from Troop 164 as part of an Eagle Scout project.

“I hope it’s a place that we can all pray and call to mind Mary’s blessing recalling us to the innocence of our baptism.” Fr. Frederick H. Edlefsen

The Msgr. Robert Avella Prayer Garden was dedicated and blessed by Father Frederick H. Edlefsen, pastor, Oct. 24 on a brilliant autumn afternoon following the noon Mass. The ceremony was attended by the Scouts, their families and longtime parishioners.

In 1858, the Virgin Mary appeared repeatedly to St. Bernadette, a peasant girl in the rural French town of Lourdes near the Pyrenees Mountains and the border with Spain. After remaining silent for several appearances, Mary eventually revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception and requested that a chapel be built there. The site has become a popular pilgrimage destination, especially for the sick. Over the years, 70 people experienced unexplained cures recognized by the church as miracles, according to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.

“This is a great image of that apparition,” Father Edlefsen said before the blessing. “And I hope it’s a place that we can all pray and call to mind Mary’s blessing, recalling us to the innocence of our baptism and to the life that Our Lord taught us.”

An Eagle Scout project marks the biggest step toward achieving Scouting’s highest rank. When Hovatter, an altar server at the church and a senior at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, considered what the focus of his project should be, he knew he wanted to do something in service of his parish.

“Looking around the campus, I noticed there wasn’t an outdoor prayer area featuring Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette,” he said. “I thought it would be a nice addition to the church as an area of reflection and prayer.”

Father Edlefsen joined the parish as pastor in June 2020, succeeding Msgr. Avella, who died last year and for whom the worship space is named. When he was approached about the project several months later, Father Edlefsen laid out several prerequisites. The grotto had to look good and be devotional for the parish, while also being durable and low-maintenance. He considers it providential that the project was completed this year as Our Lady of Lourdes marks its 75th anniversary as a parish.

Hovatter, 18, was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who supported him as the project moved forward. He thanked many who helped, including his parents and fellow Scouts and Troop 164 leaders, particularly Scoutmaster Joe Mazel.

The Scouts hand-mixed the more than 2,000 pounds of concrete necessary for the foundation to properly support the fiberglass statues, Mazel said. The six-month project would have been completed sooner if not for delayed delivery of the statues. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other shipping challenges, their arrival from Pennsylvania took 24 weeks instead of the eight weeks the manufacturer initially forecast. The project costs were split between the parish, local Knights of Columbus and Hovatter’s fundraising efforts.

Approximately five years ago, Mazel’s son undertook a similar Eagle Scout project in a tribute to the parish Knights of Columbus council (St. Joseph the Worker). He led the installation of a carpentry-themed statue of St. Joseph depicted with tools instructing a young Jesus in the craft. For Mazel, it’s encouraging to see the Scouts choose religious-themed Eagle Scout projects as opposed to a secular one aimed at the broader community. 

“It helps reinforce the fact that we are a Scout troop in a Catholic church as part of a larger Catholic community,” he said. “Sometimes the concern is that people just use it as a meeting place as opposed to the troop having a Catholic identity.”

After high school, Hovatter plans to attend college and join the ROTC program, all in the hope of serving as a U.S. Army officer.

“I am relieved that it is finished,” Hovatter said, recalling how daunting the project initially seemed. “I’m here often and I see people sitting here praying. It’s wonderful and it’s really an awesome experience.”

Schweers can be reached at editorial@catholicherald.com

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021