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Marian grotto in Fort Smith rebuilt after car crash

New Mary statue cast, modeled after original one from the 1950s

Published: June 6, 2024   
Mayra Palma watches as her second-grade daughter Alice places a crown of flowers on the statue of Mary in the new grotto at St. Boniface Church in Fort Smith May 12. (Kristyn Holden)

FORT SMITH — St. Boniface Church celebrated Mother’s Day May 12 by dedicating a rebuilt grotto for the Blessed Mother. The original grotto had been leveled in a car accident 10 months earlier. 

“Last July 27, right before the 8 a.m. Mass, we heard a loud crash,” pastor Father Mario Jacobo said. “I ran out towards the front of the school and saw the grotto in pieces. The driver had taken off, and the police were never able to solve the crime.

“The statue of Mary remained standing in the demolished grotto. We saw it as a sign of hope that she continued to watch over our parish. Deacon Brad (Brown) said that the original grotto had been built in the 1950s and that for decades the children would pause and pray to Mary when they went outside.” 

The parish decided to replace the grotto with a taller, stronger one. 

“One of our parishioners, Rojelio Picasso, has a strong devotion to Mary. He, assisted by his son and one employee, spent a week and a half rebuilding the shrine last November,” Father Jacobo said.

The parish decided to move the original statue of Mary to the rectory grounds and purchase a new, slightly larger statue to better fit the new grotto.

“We sent the company that built the statue a picture of the original, because the parishioners wanted the new statue to be as close to the original as possible,” Father Jacobo said. “It took about five months for the company to cast the mold and complete the statue.”

The bilingual blessing ceremony was led by Father Jacobo and Deacons Brad Brown and Jaime Flores. Parishioners sang “Immaculate Mary” and a Spanish hymn. A little girl crowned Mary with flowers she had brought from her garden.

“Mary’s love leads us to be an example of love to all who come to the Church and see the love and respect we show one another,” Father Jacobo said.

Father Jacobo celebrated his eighth anniversary as a priest May 25, and his parish hosted a reception for him after the 4 p.m. Mass. He has pastored St. Boniface for seven years and has seen many changes during his tenure. Leading the oldest parish in Fort Smith has been both a blessing and a challenge. Persistent water problems forced two closures of the adoration chapel, requiring extensive roof work and a chapel renovation. The parish school closed in 2019, but the building, rented partially by the Community School of the Arts, remains a hub of activity for its growing community. 

“I have seen how much we’ve grown in the past and how strong we’ve become. We are open to the Holy Spirit because he’s the one who leads us to the right path,” Father Jacobo said. “St. Boniface is God’s favorite part of his vineyard. Our parish is so blessed.”

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