A Quest for a Grotto

Our trip today to Grass Valley was not only a fun day trip to an historic California town, it was also a quest to find where this picture was taken.


This postcard-size photo shows a class of girls at a Catholic school for young women. My husband’s mother is second from the right, front row, just in front of the statue of St. Bernadette. The location is a Lourdes Grotto, a shrine to the Virgin Mary.

Marjorie’s family lived for a time in Grass Valley and I remember her saying that she attended Mount St. Mary’s School, run by the Sisters of Mercy. The school is now the St. Joseph Cultural Center and Grass Valley Museum. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, 12:30 to 3:30.




The museum focuses on the convent and school, but also includes many other artifacts from Grass Valley history. It is packed full of paintings, china, furniture, vintage clothing, dolls, and numerous other items. Anyone can find something there to interest them, and the museum is free (though of course they appreciate donations).

It’s a handsome old building, surrounded by lovely gardens, and well worth visiting. The only problem is: it does not have a grotto. As far as the docent knew, it never had a grotto. So where was that picture taken?

A little sleuthing on Internet turned up several photos from the Center for Sacramento History. The grotto was at St. Joseph’s Academy in Sacramento, downtown on G Street between 8th and 9th. Alas, the original school and grotto are no more. But here is a very similar photo that shows the grotto about the same time:


We still have some researching to do, to figure out when Marjorie attended which school, because I have an idea that she attended both. It may be time to start looking at school archives and city directories.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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