In hard times, a splash of Bronx grace

Times Staff Writer

The clear cascade spilling over the rocks at this Bronx church grotto is New York City tap water, but the people who come here believe it heals.

Every day, dozens flock to the stream beneath the statue of the Virgin Mary at St. Lucy’s Roman Catholic Church, a replica of Our Lady of Lourdes in France where many believe miracles have unfolded.

Toting empty baby bottles, flasks, wine jugs, water and juice bottles, even gallon jugs, they douse their heads in the water, rinse their faces, pour it on their cars, and nudge their children and dogs under the flow.


Since 1939, people have come here from around the world to pray for cures to cancer or to rescue loved ones from their deathbeds. The coveted water once came from a natural spring, church leaders say, but the spring dried up long ago, forcing them to switch to city water blessed by priests.

Although church leaders say it’s not holy water, people still believe it performs miracles, and their faith is enough to keep them coming.

In recent months, many people making their way to this grotto have been hoping the water will bring them mercy from a crippling economy: They are asking the water to help bring them jobs, and money for groceries and rent.

“Food prices are ridiculous,” said Marlene Rosario, 35, who soaked herself on a recent afternoon. “Prices go up and jobs are going nowhere. Milk is $5 a gallon. Eggs are higher.”

It was Rosario’s first time visiting the grotto, and she came to pray for a better job because she can barely support her three children as a home health aide these days.

“I had to go today,” said Rosario, wearing white flip-flops and carrying empty margarine tubs she planned to fill with water. “Something was telling me ‘Go, go.’ ”

Tattooed men, high school couples, schoolchildren in uniforms, elderly men with canes, homeless people, and tourists enter through rusted gates, tracing the sign of cross on their bodies and kneeling before the statue.

Eight benches across the courtyard face the waterfall, where a man talks of how the water cured his wife’s aching ankles, and an elderly woman dabs a wet tissue on her deaf friend’s ears.

Drops from the stream trickle onto candles flickering in blue holders. Bouquets of orchids, carnations and roses peek from cracks in the rocks.

“I’ve been coming ever since I was little,” said Elizabeth Ayala, 47, on a recent afternoon. “I take a bath with it, clean the house with it.”

Lately, she’s been praying that the water will help her with hardships. “In my job, I’m getting less hours. . . . It’s gotten bad. I’m scared,” said Ayala, who recently applied for food stamps for the first time in her life.

“You have to keep your faith,” she said, “or everything will fall apart.”

Anthony Rivera, 51, drove an hour from Fishkill, N.Y., to cart home gallons of the water. He dunked his bulky body in it. Beads dripped from his tank top and denim shorts.

Rivera said he recently got laid off from his job. He hopes the water will bring him luck.

“I feel revived and I feel spiritually uplifted again,” he said, before splashing it on his blue Saturn, rosary beads hanging from its rearview mirror.

“This economy is going down, down, down. This is the way of the world, and we’ve got to survive some way.”