Epworth, IA: St. Paul’s Seminary

The Lourdes grotto at what is now Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa. Fragrant plum trees surrounded the grotto in a beautiful flowering grove. This grotto is now gone. (Society of the Divine Word Archives)

The Society of the Divine Word missionary order was founded in 1875 in Steyl, Netherlands, and in 1909 established the St. Mary’s Mission House, to train priests for foreign missionary work, at Techny, a farm on the north edge of Chicago. Divine Word opened the St. Paul’s Mission House seminary in the small town of Epworth, Iowa in 1932.

In 1934, a Lourdes grotto was built by Brother Fridolin Iten, a Divine Word lay brother at Techny, who was a gifted artist, sculptor and grotto builder. He also built an Agony in the Garden grotto (1935) on the Epworth seminary grounds.

According to the biography of Brother Fridolin, the Lourdes grotto was:

…located on the summit of a little hill near the Sisters convent. The 40 foot wall for the new grotto was built in reproduction of the world famous grotto of Lourdes in France…. Artificial lighting installed at the grotto gave illumination on the subjects. The grotto engineer, Brother Fridolin, completed the grotto before winter and completed the landscaping the following spring. Plum trees in the background produced a fragrant garland when in full bloom surrounding the niche containing the statue of Mary Immaculate.

Brother Fridolin Iten biography, held by Society of the Divine Word Archives, Techny, Illinois

In the early 1960s, the Society removed the older buildings on the site and built a modern educational facility renamed Divine Word College, which still trains priests for missionary work. The Lourdes grotto was likely removed during that period of construction, and the Grotto of the Agony was dismantled during the 1980s.

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