Terra Haute, IN: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College was established in 1840, by Mother Theodore Guerin and five Sisters of Providence, who left their convent in France at the invitation of the Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana, to establish a school for young women. They founded the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and the college in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (near Terra Haute), Indiana.

The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College campus was built in 1918, according to an article on the Saint Hary-of-the-Woods Historic District website.

An article at Atlas Obscura tells the story of why it was built:

IN 1918, THE GREAT WAR (World War I) was raging in Europe, and Mother Mary Cleophas Foley, general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, made a vow.

She promised that if peace was declared before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th of that year, she would build a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes. When the nuns’ prayers were answered and an Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Foley was true to her word.

The grotto took ten years to finish, and was dedicated in 1928.

A photograph of the dedication of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1928. The Sisters of Providence

It’s possible that an earlier grotto stood on the St. Mary-of-the-Woods campus; I found at least two illustrations of one:

These drawings were made around 1879 by Sister Maurice Schnell, and are part of a sketchbook held by the Sisters of Providence. (Click for more detail.) (Wikimedia Commons)
I found this image of an 1891 engraving of that same earlier grotto on Wikimedia Commons too, but I can no longer locate it there.

The inscription in the sketchbook above specifies that the grotto was commenced (began to be built) in March 1879, which made it one of the earlier Lourdes grottos to be constructed in the US.

According to information on a modern postcard, the grotto was built with stones from the original Lourdes site in France, as well as a rosary from Lourdes. Water trickled over the stones when it was built, but it’s not known if that feature still functions. The college retains the original blueprints for the grotto, according to their website.

A beautiful photo taken in 1944 of students praying at the grotto. (Indiana Historical Society)
A later postcard of the grotto, likely from the 1940s.
The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes remains a lovely part of the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods campus today.

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