Petition started to “let PPS schools sing at The Grotto” - KPTV - FOX 12


Petition started to “let PPS schools sing at The Grotto”

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The inside of the Chapel of Mary at The Grotto, where dozens of choirs perform during the holiday season. The inside of the Chapel of Mary at The Grotto, where dozens of choirs perform during the holiday season.
The outside of the Chapel of Mary. The outside of the Chapel of Mary.

An online petition has now been started to get Portland Public Schools to change its decision and allow school choirs to sing at The Grotto once again.

The Catholic shrine in Northeast Portland is best known for its “Festival of Lights” during the holiday season.  Thousands of people come to see the five choral performances held inside the chapel each evening, along with a live petting zoo, puppet show, caroling and holiday food and beverages.

Choirs from all over the area – including those from several school districts – perform at The Grotto every year.

But after complaints from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation over the separation of church and state, Portland Public Schools decided to stop allowing student performances there.

“I became really sad, and I don’t want to say enraged, but really upset and PPS kind of made a sweeping decision,” said former Grant High School choral student Jennifer O’Leary.  “[Performing there] was one of those traditions that we looked forward to every year… it’s one of my fondest memories.”

O’Leary started an online petition hoping the district will reconsider its decision, and hundreds of people had signed it as of Thursday night.

“It’s a venue.  There are no candles lit, there’s no service planned,” she explained.  “Music is a gift and a lot of it is being taken away in the public school system, so I wish they would just re-think it and leave this one nice piece alone.”

It’s not clear how many complaints the Freedom From Religion Foundation has received.

A lawyer for the school district said in a letter she was concerned PPS could face a legal challenge if it continued to allow performances.

The Grotto’s Executive Director Tom Fullmer said he feels terrible to lose Portland Public School groups as performers, but understands and respects the district’s decision.  He said people of all faiths – and people of no faith – are welcome to sing there.

A spokesperson for The Grotto told Fox 12 it receives no funding from the Catholic Church and supports itself financially.  Choirs do not pay for the opportunity to perform and there is no parking fee, but there is an entrance fee for the “Festival of Lights” of up to $10 per person.  That money does go to support the operation of The Grotto.

“If a student didn’t want to perform or if parents didn’t want their child to perform, meet up with the choral director and figure something out on a case-by-case basis perhaps,” O’Leary said.  “But to ban all choral students from singing at The Grotto, I just feel is a really wrong way to handle something that has become bigger than I think they thought it might be.”

You can find the petition at

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