Techny, IL: St. Mary’s Mission House

The Society of the Divine Word missionary order was founded in 1875 in Steyl, Netherlands by a German priest who fled his homeland during the religious conflicts of that period. In the 1890s, the order arrived in America, and in 1900 established the St. Joseph’s Technical School to teach skilled trades to local orphanage children, on a farm in an area that became named Techny, Illinois (from “Technical”), on the north edge of Chicago (and now part of Northbrook).

By 1913, the Society closed the technical school and concentrated on mission and seminary work at the St. Mary’s Mission House, a large seminary established in 1909, that had more than 800 students training to be foreign missionary priests at Techny.

The Lourdes grotto at St. Mary’s Mission House was built by Brother Fridolin Iten, one of the lay brothers at Techny, a gifted artist, sculptor and grotto builder who built numerous grottos and shrines of various types at SDW locations in the Midwest and eastern states. Brother Fridolin built at least five Lourdes grottos, mostly during the 1930s.

He built the Lourdes grotto at Techny around 1937, and it was dedicated in May 1938. A biography of Brother Fridolin Iten described the Lourdes grotto:

The good Brother’s devotion to the Blessed Mother is evident in the alcove shrine of the Blessed Virgin in reproduction of the apparition at Lourdes in 1858 to St. Bernadette Soubirous. A fountain that issues forth fresh water is self contained within the shrine’s precincts which recalls the incident of the miracle at the original French site. The statue of our Lady garbed in blue and white brings to mind the colors worn as asserted by tradition.

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

The Lourdes grotto does not appear to still stand on the Techny grounds.

A photograph of the Lourdes grotto at Techny, likely the photo from which the above postcard was made, probably taken around 1940. It shows the true details obscured by the added colors in the postcard. (Society of the Divine Word Archives)

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