St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines seek home for Our Lady of Lourdes grotto
by Rob Neufeld
A year-and-a-half ago, St. Genevieve-of-the-Pines alumnae worked to preserve the Ivy Building on the A-B Tech campus. The Ivy had been the auditorium and gymnasium—and last surviving building—of the exemplary school established here by a French order of nuns in 1908. (See article and video.)
With the help of A-B Tech president, Dr. Hank Dunn, the alumnae succeeded.
Now, they have another memorial to save, a sacred one—the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto to
which nuns as well as students of all faiths had
gone to celebrate feast days and to meditate in either a religious or secular way.
Mother Margaret Potts, Academy principal and Mother Superior at St. Genevieve’s for many years, described the site in her memoir, “St. Genevieve’s Remembered.”
“On the right of the grotto was a little circle of benches and chairs with a tree right in the middle,” she wrote. “The sisters would come there in the summer for prayer and recreation. It was private and cool. In front of the grotto was a rose garden. In fine weather the sisters could walk up and down saying vespers.”
Kieta Osteen-Cochrane, Class of ’60, recalls going to the grotto to meditate about such subjects as the works of Charles Dickens and John Donne; and about how the individual is connected to all humanity. It had been the nuns’ mission to educate young women to be leaders in their fields. Their methods were self-reflection and a classical education that taught critical thinking.
“There were days on which we didn’t speak,” Osteen-Cochrane says. She remembers dwelling on John Donne’s poem “No man is an island”; and Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true.”
The shrine resonates not only as an important part of an influential Asheville school, but also as a symbol of humanities education, currently sidelined by both Gov. McCrory and President Obama in their initiatives to support job-oriented and technical education. Oddly, an examination of the wisdom of such a focus would require humanities thinking.
The alumnae have two months to save the grotto before it has to be demolished for new construction at A-B Tech. Bill Wescott, Historic Preservation Consultant, has determined that the structure is stable.
“We are looking for a home for the grotto,” Osteen-Cochrane, lead alumna in the Save-the-Ivy campaign, emphasizes. “It could be located at a church or another appropriate site, and it could be repurposed for rest and meditation.”