The story behind and impact of a hidden image of Mary

On December 11, just before the end of last semester, Bobby Kloska (‘90) found himself on campus for a Sunday morning Mass at the Basilica. Walking back to his car, he stopped briefly at the Grotto and took a photo of a student praying in the falling snow. That evening when he was deleting some photos from his phone, he noticed what he called “a vertical cloud directly above the student.” To many people, it appears to be an image of Mary holding her baby Jesus. Since that time, this photo along with his accompanying blog post has been viewed in at least 167 countries by hundreds of thousands of people. Many have reported being moved to tears at the astonishing sight of the Blessed Mother.

In a Rover interview with Kloska, he spoke about his love for Our Lady and the Grotto, the power of prayer, and what he thinks this photo means for Notre Dame.

Kloska explained how during his freshman year in Carroll Hall, a sophomore named Greg Andres inspired him to commit to visit the Grotto every day. “We were leaving South Dining Hall. It was very cold and Greg started toward the Grotto. I was surprised at this because it was so dang cold  so I asked him if everything was okay. He said, ‘Come with me and I’ll tell you.” As they walked, Andres said, “Here’s the deal: This place is a long way from home for me. I’ve only got four years, so I decided that I would visit the Grotto every single day.’ That struck me. Without giving it much thought I said, ‘I think I’ll do that too.’”

Kloska admits that it was challenging to stick to that commitment, but he had no regrets when Senior Week came along and all his classmates talked about wishing they had visited the Grotto more often. He realized the impact of just a few minutes at the Grotto each day reflecting, “Little things done repetitively add up to big things.” The Grotto remained a constant for him even after he graduated. He returned to the Grotto at every opportunity and even proposed to his wife there.

Thirteen years after graduation, when he was diagnosed with his first bout of cancer, Kloska instinctively met his dad there to tell him the news. As they sat on a bench, “Fr. Paul Doyle walked up to us and said, ‘Howdy, what’s the occasion?’ That seemed a little odd but it gave me the chance to tell him that I had just been diagnosed with cancer. Next thing I know we were all in Corby Hall Chapel for me to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.”

Since today he now lives only 1.1 miles away, Kloska routinely makes trips to the Grotto to walk his dogs and light candles for far away classmates. He encourages Notre Dame students to adopt the habit of visiting the Grotto daily. He told the Rover, “When you have something that beautiful, that powerful, that close to you, you don’t always appreciate it until you’re gone. It’s a habit of prayer, and it does Notre Dame students more good than they can possibly realize. Short but frequent attempts at prayer can create a deep relationship. When you live so close, why not just go?”

Kloska believes that sometimes we over complicate prayer. “Never make the perfect the enemy of the good. Prayer is not mental gymnastics, it’s real. It’s a true relationship. She [Mary] really does hear your prayers. It makes a difference. She’s there to lead you to her Son and assure you that everything’s going to be all right.”

Ordinary trials of life become opportunities for grace, even in “trudging” through difficult times. The perfect timing of that snowflake falling in the photo is an example. “Everybody can see it. But there’s also beauty in knowing the image was created by a snowflake because God is often found in ordinary things.”

Kloska continued to the Rover, “I’m overwhelmed by the number of people who cry when they see the photo. That’s not natural. That’s supernatural.” The more people saw the photo, the more messages came pouring into his inbox. “That hunger and desire for something transcendent is so deep and so strong. We all yearn to be listened to, to have hope, to unite with something greater than ourselves. Since he took the photo, Kloska has had “the surreal experience” of seeing visitors at the Grotto looking at his photo on their phones in awe of Our Lady.

As an alum, Kloska acknowledges that the University of Notre Dame is not perfect. He concedes that he has seen fluctuating morale among faculty, staff and alumni due to official decisions or silence on different issues. However, he tries to look beyond any one thing to a bigger story unfolding. As an up close observer of the university, he feels reassured that devotion to Christ and Our Lady are still alive and well on campus. He firmly believes the photo is validation that, as he told the Rover, “Notre Dame, Our Lady, is bigger than any one person, any one coach, any one administration, anyone. Our Lady’s special presence is bigger than it all.”

Mackenzie Kraker is a sophomore studying biochemistry and theology. She serves as Evangelization Co-Commissioner for the Militia Immaculata and loves all things Marian, including Our Lady of Guadalupe socks, Miraculous Medals, and of course, the Grotto. Contact her at