The Grotto photo
Thomas Fullmer and Fr. Jack Topper will team up to lead at Grotto.
The Grotto photo
Thomas Fullmer and Fr. Jack Topper will team up to lead at Grotto.

The new executive director of Portland’s nationally famous Catholic shrine is an experienced event manager who has been visiting Northeast Portland’s Grotto his entire life.

Thomas Fullmer steps in for Servite Father Jack Topper, executive director since 1991. Father Topper will remain at the Grotto, serving as rector. While Fullmer will become the administrative leader of the large landscaped shrine, Father Topper will be the spiritual leader, and will continue to lead sacramental and religious ministries.

Fullmer is a Portland native who has been involved in non-profit organizations, including serving as board president of Michael Allen Harrison’s Snowman Foundation, and as director of business development for the Total Development Center, a non-profit project working with youth. Fullmer has been involved with the Blanchet House of Hospitality and has served on the executive committee of the Portland Good Friday Breakfast.

Working with Peter Jacobsen Productions, Fullmer directed large-scale events, including the PGA JELD-WEN Tradition Golf Tournament and the USGA’s 2003 U.S Women’s Open at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course.

Fullmer and his family are members of St. Pius X Parish in Portland. He is a graduate of Jesuit High School and the University of Oregon.

“My parents brought me and my brothers and sisters to the Grotto frequently back in the 60s and 70s,” he says. “It was my mom’s favorite place. I am humbled to have been selected to carry on the 90-year tradition of the Grotto.”

Fullmer calls the shrine a “Portland treasure” and one of the area’s best-kept secrets.

The Grotto, formally The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, is a ministry of the Servite Friars.

Father John Fontana, prior provincial for the Servite USA Province, called Father Topper's long ministry there “stellar,” citing hospitality, prayerfulness and outreach to diverse groups. Built during Father Topper’s tenure were a welcome center and gift shop, a visitor complex and conference center and an exterior elevator. He oversaw the installation of Our Lady of Czestochowa Polish shrine and the Filipino Dambana shrine. Shrines in honor of Our Lady of Lavang and Our Lady of Guadalupe are in the planning stages.  

The Grotto’s Christmas Festival of Lights grew and now welcomes 60,000 people each year.

The Grotto will celebrate its 90th Anniversary on Sept. 20 with a dinner and auction at the Multnomah Athletic Club; the following day, Sept. 21, Archbishop Alexander Sample will preside at an anniversary Mass at noon in the Grotto Plaza.