On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, I decided to finally, once and for all, make a mini-pilgrimage up to St. Mary-of-the-Woods in Indiana. I was originally going to go back in December for the feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception (as the church onsite is dedicated to her), but I was lazy and didn’t go. But now, I had a reason to trek northwards, finally, after so many years of being so close, yet so far, from SMWC campus. An added benefit was the Lourdes Grotto on campus, along with the remains of St. Mother Theodore Guerin, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 15, 2006 (whose feast day is October 3).
Driving onto campus, I was astounded at the beauty of the campus. The buildings themselves look like they were constructed “to last” and for generations to enjoy and utilize. The Conservatory of Music (which I do not have photos of) was particularly striking. Making my way (rather haphazardly) to the church, I parked near a lovely Marian statue set on top of a pillar. As can be seen by the photos, it was put there to commemorate the declaration of the Immaculate Conception. It stands across the road from the church, and is looking at those driving from the access road.
Walking up to the church, you begin to appreciate the immense beauty of the structure. That belltower’s stonework, the intricacy and detail put into it, all hearken back to a time when Catholics cared for their Faith, and built beautiful structures to show our devotion and love to (and for) God. Walking inside (you have to follow some placards), the church is rather… overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. The stained glass windows come from Bavaria, and they are gorgeous. They depict the lives of Jesus and Mary, predominantly (most are some mystery of the rosary, or something from the Old Testament, as I learned from their surprisingly informative website). The worst thing about the church is really the loss of a focal point. You walk inside, and everything is just kind of… there. But your eye isn’t drawn to any particular point. Really (and here’s my editorializing hat), it’s a bit symbolic of the Catholicism of the Sisters of Providence. There is a shell of Catholicism, but the heart, the substance, the meat of the Faith is absolutely gone. So, in a sense, their 1986 “restoration” (their words, not mine – how you could EVER think of what they did to that poor high altar as “restoration” is beyond me, absolutely beyond me) was an appropriate one. Click on that link to see a booklet they produced for an explanation of the changes, or look to the bottom of this post to see a photo from 1903 that shows the high altar intact and installed. You can see clearly then that the church had its focal point – the center of the Mass, the altar, the tabernacle. Removing the high altar stripped the church of its visual center and installed, instead, a table altar (with hardly any dignity, especially compared to the previous one!). As was the case for many churches worldwide, the high altar was broken up and they created a “presider’s chair” out of it (what arrogance!). </rant>
Back on point…. with the exception of the naked sanctuary (along with the pews with kneelers removed….), the church was better than I expected. A lot of the church escaped unharmed. It seems as though four side altars were removed at some point (one was dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary, I think, based on my photo and the photo at bottom), which is lovely. Ah, for a time when side altars were used! The pews themselves seemed to be of sturdy woodwork, and, while they lacked any significant detail/artwork (which is fine), they were respectable. I can only imagine two religious side by side in each pew, assisting at Mass.
I was particularly impressed with the altar rail that survived (separating the tabernacle from the rest of the church), along with the gate that was at its center. Very ornate, and richly decorated, it was truly worthy of a motherhouse church. In my first “go ’round” of the church, I hadn’t noticed the detail of “IHS” on what I presume are marble candlestick holders or flower pots flanking the Marian and St Joseph statues on the surviving side altars. That was a nice, subtle touch to add a bit more beauty to items used in the sacred liturgy. It was even more interesting to see that St Theodore and Pope St Urban I had some relics somewhere in the church (perhaps in the crypt underneath the church? I’m not sure). Surrounding the church (in the walkways connecting the motherhouse to the church), there were old, large prints of some sort that look like lithographs from the early 1900s. They were huge, probably about person-sized in height, and a few feet wide. One showed the buildings of the congregation, the other just a pretty saying embellished with ‘nature’ stuff.
I eventually stumbled my way into the St Mother Theodore Guerin Shrine, where I was able to learn about the history of the congregation (even if it was a little scant on information, considering it is 175+ years old…), but her coffin was just sitting in the center of the chapel. Which was nice. Also really eerie, being the only person in the vicinity, kneeling next to a 150+ year old saint’s remains… #justcatholicthings, right? I did actually like the “Our Lady of the Woods” stone statue I took a picture of. I’m unsure if that was ever built of installed anywhere, but I generally appreciate (and enjoy) that 1960s-style of Catholic artwork (if anyone has a name for it, lemme know…. ok? Then I can stop using the phrase “the GOOD 1960s-style Catholic artwork…”). They also have three of her hand bones encased in wood and glass. That was a neat addition. They were tiny. Also, eerie, because old and brown. But, hey, saint relics! And, y’know, we’ll all be like that, someday….
There’s an Our Lady of Providence shrine and altar set up in the main entryway (which is why you need to follow placards to get in), and it apparently was erected in memory of one of the chaplains to the congregation. I also took a picture of the church cross, which you’ll find every so often in consecrated churches. They were used (12 of them, I think) in consecrating the church, and most of them get painted over or removed as the post-conciliar years went on, which is a depressing thing. They are just one more bit of Catholic tradition being lost. Also found a cool statue of St Peter in the motherhouse proper, right outside the church. He wasn’t vested though. Poor, “naked” statue… There is also, apparently, a Blessed Sacrament chapel that is supposed to be gorgeous (and is, based on the pictures from their website). It had closed by the time I found my way around (the church and chapel and Shrine are not very “visitor-friendly”, which is disappointing. I was glad most everything was open, however, it was a bit annoying to find my way around alone). Thankfully, from the photos, it appears to have been spared any misguided “restoration”, as it looks gorgeous!
One constructive “complaint” I have… well, two. One, I wish they would find the resources to restore (!) the painting above the sanctuary. It is so dim and hard to see. Maybe if it is lit up, then it’s easier to see, but as it was when I visited, it seemed rather faded. Considering the painting honors Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, it seems only fitting that the painting be… restored to its former glory (as seen in the painting by I think “Salty” Seamon and the early 1900s photo).
After having interrupted some workers at the college, I stumbled across campus to find the Lourdes Grotto (the one with the altar, as apparently there are two?). At first I came across the St Anne Shell Chapel, which is a semi-hidden beauty. The walls are lined with shells. It’s pretty. That’s about it. I took a panorama of it, and it is sideways, thanks to WordPress, so… just turn your monitor (or head) to see it. Apparently, all the shells were collected from the Wabash River… given the beauty of the shells, this must have been before any significant industrial activity!
Ended up walking across/along the stations erected (some stations shown) to see the cemetery and the altars erected for Mass (presumably). So many Sisters are buried there, it’s truly amazing. It is a shame the congregation has seemingly dwindled to 350 sisters, 300 of whom live and or minister from the motherhouse. Reading I think Wikipedia, the Sisters would go to their assignments throughout the year, but return for the summer, and process to the St Anne Shell Chapel, numbering up to 1,000 sisters! What a sight! If they reclaim their Catholic Faith and heritage, it is likely they could do the same… alas….
Finally, resorting to my smartphone and the use of the “Internet,” I found the location of the Lourdes Grotto, and realized I both drove and walked right by it (like I said, their signage is not very visitor-friendly…). It’s basically your standard Lourdes Grotto, with an altar, a kneeler, some vigil lights, and the statues. Very pretty, even in the dead of winter (the snow was great, since, y’know, I love snow). I almost lit a vigil candle, but … the ceiling of the grotto alcove was not very welcoming (so many wasp tubes, and I’m 90% sure I saw a dead bird’s carcass wedged into an opening…. noooo thank you).
A-ha! So, I guess there are two grottos. One is the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto and the other is the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. Yeah, that’s not confusing at all…. So, for the record, since I’m not changing this post, every time I’ve referred to “Lourdes Grotto”, I mean the “Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes”. BUT, the OLLG has a nice history behind it, and was the first on-site. The GoOLL was built in thanksgiving to the Great War ending before the feast of the Immaculate Conception, is based off the blueprints (?) of the Lourdes Grotto in France, and incorporates some stones from Lourdes, as well. Very cool! I guess the area KofC Councils (and Assembly) erected a monument in memory of their deceased, but I’m not exactly sure why they chose there. Oh well.
As I walked back through the grounds, I stopped by the other Mary-on-a-pillar, this time she’s holding the Child Jesus. It’s worn, and clearly been there for some time, but still stands a testament and sign of the devotion of those who went before us/the current Sisters. There is also a pretty statue of St Michael the Archangel. Not all too sure why that statue is there in particular, but it’s a nice addition to the campus! To cap off the photoset, I took another picture of the belltower, because its beauty ensnares me. From the stonework to the detail to the general pristine quality of the exterior… it just stands against the backdrop of the sky and hearkens to the laity to come and worship Him. Finally, there is a photo of a statue of St Mother Theodore Guerin outside the walkway to the motherhouse (I assume it’s the motherhouse) and the church.
St. Mother Theodore Guerin, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us!
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
St. Mary-of-the-Woods, pray for us!