Evansville, IN: Monastery of St. Clare

The rockwork construction in this grotto was truly amazing.

The Order of Poor Clares (a contemplative order founded by Clare of Assisi and St. Francis of Assisi in 1212) arrived in America in 1875, and after first establishing their order in Omaha, Nebraska, one of the sisters was left property in Evansville, Indiana. In 1897, the sisters built the Monastery of Poor Clare at the modern address of 512 South Kentucky Avenue.

The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at the Monastery of St. Clare was built in 1904, according to a newspaper article in the Evansville Journal of that year:

…a “Grotto of Our Lady of the Lourdes” was presented to the Poor Clare monastery. It was donated by Father Michael Wagner, former chaplain of the monastery and a few good benefactors of the Poor Clares. The “Grotto of Our Lady of the Lourdes” is placed in the back part of the public chapel at the monastery, which is open to the public any day. This grotto has a statue of “Our Lady of Lourdes” in the center part of it and at one side is the statue of a peasant girl. The grotto will be dedicated at some later date which will be made known later. The public will be invited to the dedication ceremonies. It is a fac-simile of the famous grotto of “Our Lady of the Lourdes” in France, which was ordered closed recently during the religious controversy in that country. Following is a brief history of “Our Lady of Lourdes”: Many pious Catholics have to their great consolation and spiritual benefit made a pilgrimage to Lourdes in France….

Evansville Journal May 7, 1904
Excerpt from an article in the May 7, 1904 Evansville Journal. (Click for more detail.)

The grotto was dedicated on May 19, 1904, according to another article in the same newspaper of May 18: “GROTTO OF LOURDES. The dedication ceremonies of the grotto of Lourdes will take place on Thursday at 8 a. m., at the Poor Clares monastery. The public is invited to attend.”

An article the following day described the ceremony:

GROTTO IS DEDICATED Impressive Ceremonies Held At Poor Clares Monastery: With impressive ceremonies, attended by a large number of people, a grotto in the chapel at the Poor Clares’ monastery was dedicated yesterday morning to the memory of Our Lady of Lourdes. The ceremonies were solemn and the occasion was one that will long he remembered by those who journeyed to the pretty chapel to witness them. The principal service was conducted by Rev. T. Blenel of St. Mary’s church. Rev. Father Surmersheim of St. Boniface church and Rev. Father Rollinson of Assumption church assisted in the services.

May 20, 1904 Evansville Journal

A longer article about the dedication was published a week later in the Evansville Courier-Press, and described the grotto: “The statue of the Blessed Virgin is in the center of the grotto. On one side is a statue of a peasant girl, 14 years of age, in prayer. On the other side is a stream of water.” It isn’t possible to see a fountain or pool in either of the postcard images of the St. Clare grotto, but those were common features in Midwestern grottos.

Even more interestingly, another sentence in that article asserted that “The water in grotto of the Poor Clare monastery is from Lourdes and can be obtained by any one who has faith in its power.” The church and local government in Lourdes, France shipped Lourdes water to anyone in the world, and charged only for the container and the cost of shipping it (it is forbidden to sell the Lourdes water itself).

The Monastery of St. Clare must have obtained Lourdes water and added it to the water in their grotto, at least for the dedication ceremony.

Evansville Courier-Press, May 29, 1904 (click for more detail)

It’s not certain how long the grotto remained at the chapel of the Monastery of St. Clare. A 1973 newspaper article mentioned a grotto of Lourdes in the chapel. The sisters moved to a new location at 6825 Nurrenbern Road in 1984.

It’s not clear where exactly on the property the outdoor chapel and grotto stood, but likely in a part now occupied by the large parking lot for the facility, which is now used for the charitable services of the Evansville Christian Life Center.

Another postcard photo of the St. Clare grotto, from around 1930. (Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library Digital Archives)

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