On Eagle’s Wings: Aledo teen’s restored grotto beautifies St. Catherine Church

Ray Leon proudly stands at the beautiful new grotto that is now located on the south lawn of St. Catherine Church. The new stone wall serves as a backdrop to the restored statues of Our Blessed Mother and the children of Fatima. Supplied photo

By Courtney Grussing
for The Catholic Post Online  

ALEDO — St. Catherine Church in Aledo has a renovated Our Lady of Fatima grotto thanks to 15-year-old Ray Leon. As part of his Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout project, Ray designed and rebuilt a new stone grotto that now serves as a peaceful spot for prayer and reflection.

A freshman at Mercer County High School in Aledo, Ray and his parents, Christian and Kendra Leon, are members of St. Mary Magdalene Parish (with locations at St. Catherine in Aledo and St. Anthony in Matherville).

“The hard work of Ray and other volunteers brought the grotto back to life.” — Father John Thieryoung.

A member of Boy Scout Troop 258 with St. James Lutheran Church in Rock Island, Ray has been in Scouts since first grade and has always aspired to become an Eagle Scout.

There are many pre-requisites to obtaining the prestigious Eagle rank — Scouting’s highest honor — including earning 22 merit badges and holding various leadership positions. Ray simply described the Eagle Scout process as “long,” and that as a Boy Scout goes up in rank, the grade gets steeper.

The original grotto was built sometime in the 1950s and had become quite deteriorated. A conversation between Ray and St. Mary Magdalene pastor Father John Thieryoung sparked the idea of rebuilding the grotto. Before Ray could rebuild, he first had to disassemble the old structure and move the pieces across the church lawn. Beginning in August 2023, Ray worked on the grotto almost every Saturday morning through early November.

The original grotto at St. Catherine Church in Aledo was a massive stone wall that had fallen into disrepair. Supplied photo


While Ray was the foreman of the job, he did not do it alone. He had help from approximately 30 others, including fellow Scouts, parish volunteers, family members and even Father John. Ray is very grateful to all who took the time to help. “The hard work of Ray and other volunteers brought the grotto back to life,” said Father John Thieryoung.

A requirement of the Eagle Scout ranking is for Ray to maintain the grotto until he turns 18 years of age. Additionally, a second part of Ray’s Eagle Scout project was planning a handicapped accessible parking lot at St. Catherine Church. He did the legwork with the parish board, city planning board and contractors. Weather permitting, the new lot will be installed by late April.

“Ray is a model scout and a respectful young man. He is persistent; he had a goal in mind and was not going to be deterred.” — Scoutmaster Daryl Empen.


Outside of Scouts, Ray is very involved with school activities. He plays percussion in the marching, concert and pep bands, and he is involved with Future Farmers of America (FFA). He also enjoys motorsports.

When asked how he was able to balance the rigorous demands of the Eagle Scout project, Ray’s answer echoed the Lord’s in Matthew 13:46: “When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” Ray said, “I prioritized this project over everything else.”

Ray Leon (second from left) and volunteers are shown disassembling the old grotto one stone at a time. Nearly 200 volunteer hours went into the project. From left are Troop 258 member Andrew Amacher, Ray, his father Christian Leon, and Troop 258 parent Brad Kopplin. Supplied photo

Ray officially received the Eagle Scout rank in November, 2023. Furthermore, his design and handiwork helped earn the distinctions of Best Eagle Scout Project from the Saukenuk District and Eagle Project of the Year from the Illowa Council (comprised of 13 counties across eastern Iowa and western Illinois).

“Ray is a model scout and a respectful young man. He is persistent; he had a goal in mind and was not going to be deterred,” said scoutmaster Daryl Empen.


Asked about the support he received from the Boy Scouts community, Ray said, “There is always someone willing to help. Now, I can help other Scouts achieve the same rank.” He is looking forward to participating in national Boy Scouts events this summer where he can continue his growth and leadership.

There are many similar pillars between being an Eagle Scout and living a Christian life, including reverence for God, loyalty to family and community, and a commitment to service. Ray Leon has exhibited all of these qualities, and has earned his eagle’s wings by paying tribute to Our Lady of Fatima through the work of his hands.









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