Rome City, IN: Kneipp Springs Sanitarium

The Lourdes grotto at Kneipp Springs Sanitarium in Rome Springs, Indiana, probably around 1920.

The Sisters of the Precious Blood, established in Switzerland in 1834 and arriving in America in 1844, purchased the 80-acre property near Rome City Indiana in 1901, according to an article on the website of the Sisters. It had been established as a “Kneipp cure” facility by a medical doctor employing the methods of Dr. Sebastien Kneipp, a Bavarian priest and philosopher who combined bathing in natural springs with natural foods, herbal tea, exercise and spiritual guidance to promote healing among the ill.

The Sisters had a Lourdes grotto built at the facility in 1905, according to a newspaper article of that year about the pilgrimages at the Notre Dame grotto:

…to-morrow another grotto of Our Lady of Lourdas will be dedicated on the grounds of the Kneipp sanatorium by Bishop Alerding of the Wayne diocese, and Catholics and others will make the pilgrimages to the new grotto.

The New Grotto’s Location. It stands on the side of a hill at whose foot runs one of the brooks in which the followers of the Kneipp system of curing nervous and other diseases go in their bare feet. It is a delightful spot that is thus to be converted into a holy shrine and dedicated to the Virgin who appeared in in a grotto by the side of the Carve of the Pau in southern France, to poor, humble, thirteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, the shepherdess….

….The new grotto, which is to be dedicated here to-morrow, is not a faithful copy of the original grotto at Lourdes, but it is a delightful spot. The beautiful grotto which the Sisters of the Precious Heart, who own the land have had built, contains a small, but perfect copy of the original statue at Lourdes. It is to be replaced in a few months by a life sized statue, which is being imported from Lourdes….

The Indianapolis News, August 19, 1905
A newspaper photo of the grotto accompanying the Indianapolis News article.
A a real photo postcard image showing sanitarium groundskeepers maintaining the grotto area, probably around 1915.
A c.1930 postcard of the Kneipp Springs Lourdes grotto, showing that a grotto of Gethsemane had been built further beyond, with steps leading to it. This was built by Brother Fridolin Iten, a lay brother with the Society of the Divine Word in Techny, Illinois, and a gifted artist, sculptor and grotto builder, according to a biography about him held by Society archives.
A c.1940 postcard photo showing a closeup of the interior of the grotto, decorated with flowers and candles.
A photo from the Sisters of the Precious Blood website photo archive page, showing visitors to the Kneipp Springs facility.

The Sisters operated the sanitarium from 1901 to 1976. According to their website, they continued to hold “a procession to the Kneipp Springs Grotto every year for the Feasts of Corpus Christi and the Assumption; they also had annual retreats each year conducted by either their chaplain or a visiting priest. Until the 1940s, retreats were offered in both German and English.”

The Sisters sold the property in 1976, and it changed hands several times, until the Mother of Mercy Chapel, built there in 1903, returned to use as a Catholic site. This is largely due to the property being the site of a number of religious visions, to Sister Mary Ephrem, from 1956 through 1958.

In 2020, local bishops declared (according to the website for the chapel), “that what Sr. Mary Ephrem experienced cannot be said to be of supernatural origin in the sense of objective occurrences such as those seen at places like Guadalupe and Lourdes, but rather: ‘It seems that these were authentically graced moments, even perhaps of a spiritual quality beyond what most people experience…’  …. (and that) they recognized Kneipp Springs as the birthplace of the devotion where there have been many reports of good fruit including reported healings and conversions.”  The site has been allowed as a Private Devotion of the lay faithful.

The now-named Our Lady, Patroness of America Center is now raising money to restore the chapel and the property, including doing repair work to the chapel, making the healing water available to the public again, and efforts to “Re-establish the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto on Holy Family hill.”

The original Lourdes grotto at Kneipp Springs was probably located on a hill south of the chapel. A path still leads to that hill, and it looks like several religious statues have been placed in a circular clearing on the hill. But the original grotto probably doesn’t still stand, even in a partial, abandoned state. No modern photos of it can be discovered online.

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