Today in the Sioux City diocese paper, I read this story about recent chronic budget shortfalls for the Grotto.
"In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005, we lost $45,000," he noted. "This year we were at a shortfall of $28,700 through May 31- so with June revenues we may end the year with not a big loss. We anticipate losing $15,000 to $20,000 this year. Our estimated budget for next year has a deficit of about $30,000 so it is time to call the question: Can we continue to keep operating at a deficit and if so, who will make up that deficit?"
While the future is uncertain, he said the one known factor is that they cannot keep operating at a loss. Through the years, the diocese has loaned about $260,000 to the Grotto. He acknowledged that some of those funds were used to remodel the restaurant.
The Office of Stewardship and Development for the diocese helped the Grotto coordinate a capital campaign in 1999 to secure funds for the restoration of the Grotto.
"One of the things that was happening is that we were not spending money to maintain it," said Ranniger. "The rosettes and rocks were not being sealed properly. The weather takes a toll on it."
He acknowledged that people have had a false sense of security that the Grotto would always be there. Many people also erroneously perceived it as a moneymaker for the parish/diocese.
"We felt it was important to tell the real story. Sometimes when we share the story, people will step forward and they may say that they don't want to lose the Grotto," said Ranniger.
He mentioned that one of the Grotto's biggest struggles has been with the attendance. In the 1950s and 60s, the Grotto had about 100,000 visitors a year. In recent years, attendance is at about 40,000 to 45,000. Since most of the revenue comes from free-will donations, the decline in visitors has hit hard.
"It used to be families came here several times a year. Now, we're lucky if people come once every 10 years," said Miller. "People have always been busy, however, there are so many more things for people to do, see and be involved in today."
She mentioned that many times people think that taking a pilgrimage has to be to far away places such as Rome or Lourdes and they don't consider things close to home.
"If you need a place to seek inspiration, spiritual renewal or a strengthening of faith, the Grotto may be just what the doctor ordered. In May, of the 3,500 people who visited, 34 states and 19 foreign countries were represented along with 1,200 school children from 36 schools," noted Miller.
For Ranniger, he acknowledged that his greatest challenge is the need to look at the big picture concerning ministries and challenges of the diocese. He equated it to looking at the family budget and trying to categorize things as wants and needs.
"Another side of me does say that the work and energy that Father Dobberstein put into the Grotto is immense. This shrine does have significance to the diocese," he said.
His heart wants to support this cause, but the business background in him tells him it is time to ask the tough questions.
So the basic point of this post is to urge all of you out there to consider stopping off and visiting the Grotto in West Bend, IA. Don't forget to slip a $20-bill in the donations box. :)
If you've never been there before, seeing it for the first time is an amazing experience. For me personally, everytime I make it back, the wonder at the endeavors and faith of Father Dobberstein and his assistant/successor Father Greving never loses its power.