Providence College War Memorial Grotto


Rev. Charles H. McKenna, O.P.

Completed in 1948, the War Memorial Grotto of Our Lady of the Rosary was constructed to honor those Providence College students who made the ultimate sacrifice to free the world of tyranny during the Second World War.

To memorialize the sixty-nine Providence College graduates, who gave their lives in the fight for freedom during World War II, as an “enduring acknowledgement to those who have served so well" Rev. Charles H. McKenna, O.P., Chaplain of Providence College (1938-1955), undertook the task of administering the construction of the memorial.

Construction for the War Memorial Grotto of Our Lady of the Rosary began in the summer of 1947 and was completed in May of 1948.  Built of flagstone and fieldstone, the structure included two white Carrara marble statues depicting St. Dominic’s reception of the Rosary from Our Lady that were placed in the alcove at the top of the Grotto.  To complete the Grotto, bronze altar appointments and a Wurlitzer organ were added.  The organ could be moved indoors during inclement weather.

Honor Roll panels constructed of black granite imported from Sweden displayed the names of the honored.  Additional tablets’ containing the names of benefactors known as the “Names Immortal” was placed around the amphitheatre.  A gift of One Hundred Dollars or more assured the donor an inscription of their name on the panel.

The cost of the Grotto up to May 8, 1948 was figured at $100,000.00.  Three-fourths of this amount was met through class gifts, donations of funds and construction materials, monies raised from a Penny Sale, and donated work performed by the students.  A penny sale is the purchase of a single ticket for a dollar, which in turn, entitles an individual to one hundred chances on a series of one hundred prizes.  The first Penny Sale organized by Providence College on February 25, 1949, provided six series of one hundred articles and the ticket on each series was a dollar.  A total of six hundred prizes were offered. 

The raffle, sponsored by Chaplain McKenna, was very successful and offered bids on a drawing for a pre-fabricated, five-room Cape Cod cottage, plus $500.00 towards the purchase of a lot.  The drawing yielded $41,000.00.  So great was Rev. McKenna’s gratitude, that he pledged to each benefactor a share in every Mass offered at the Grotto and every devotion held there as an expression of his appreciation.

On May 9, 1948, an audience of almost 10,000, including relatives of the honored, civic leaders, and church dignitaries joined together to witness the blessing and dedication of the Grotto.  The first Baccalaureate Mass was celebrated on June 6, 1948, four days prior to the 30th Commencement of the graduating class of Providence College.

Through the intervening years additions were made to the Grotto.  By 1952, fourteen bronze Stations of the Cross were raised and mounted on a retaining wall.  Inclement weather, however, often proved a deterrent to celebrating mass outdoors, thereby forcing frequent cancellations of the mass.  Over the next few decades, the area gradually became used primarily for recreational purposes and Providence College students nicknamed the surrounding area “Grotto Beach.”

The ensuing years saw the slow deterioration of the Grotto and College officals recognized that the cost of restoration and yearly maintenance fees would far out-weigh the feasibility of investing money into reconstructing the memorial.  Since the Campus chapel facilities were becoming woefully inadequate to meet the spiritual needs of a growing student body, President of Providence College, Rev. John F. Cunningham, O.P. (1985-1994), formed an Ad Hoc Committee for the War Memorial Grotto in 1989 to address these issues. 

The committee recommended a linkage between keeping and refurbishing the War Memorial Grotto with the construction of a campus chapel and that the Grotto’s essential components be located in or near the chapel.  A planning grant of $20,000.00 received in 1996 from the Kimball Foundation to develop a preliminary design, including cost estimates, to determine the feasibility of building a chapel proved to be one of the catalysts to launch the campaign to build a new chapel on the War Memorial Grotto site.  The new St. Dominic Chapel was dedicated February 2, 2001.


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