Merrillville, IN: Sts. Peter and Paul Church

A postcard photo of the grotto built by Edward J. Koenig at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Merrillville, Indiana. His brother, Father Fred. F. Koenig, pastor of the church, is likely pictured with the new Lourdes grotto, around 1910. (Dan Long)

Sts. Peter and Paul Church was established in the 1850s in Merrillville, Indiana (in northwest Indiana), in an area that was known at the time as Turkey Creek. The parish’s first proper church building was built in 1863 at 5851 Harrison Street.

Father Fred F. Koenig was appointed pastor around 1905, and was active in building up the parish, constructing a parochial school, sisters’ residence (1905), rectory, the Lourdes grotto and a new church building (1916), according to a 1916 newspaper article.

It was likely at Fr. Koenig’s invitation that his brother, Edward J. Koenig, immigrated from Germany. Edward’s listed contact person on the ship’s list for his arrival in New York City in June 1906 was Fr. Koenig, identified as his brother. He likely stayed with him when he arrived.

Edward had trained in Germany as a landscape architect and was a specialist in the building of grottos (he built at least twenty Lourdes grottos throughout the Midwest). His c.1917 brochure promoting his practice lists “Rev. F.F. Koenig” of Crown Point, Indiana as among his clients.

Edward’s first grotto project in the US was at St. Michael Parish in nearby Schererville in 1906, but the grotto at Merrillville was likely built soon after that year, due to the Koenig family connection. No newspaper articles announcing the completion or dedication of the grotto could be found, but it was likely built before 1910.

The postcard photo above shows a Lourdes grotto with the Virgin Mary niche directly above the ground-level cave, and a concrete pool beneath. Water probably flowed from some part of the grotto into the pool. The Bernadette statue knelt on a rocky outcropping a short distance from the kneeling bench and railing of rustic bentwood.

Sts. Peter and Paul Church built a new church building in 2000, and the 1916 building was torn down in 2017. The parish merged with St. Andrews Church in 2022, which is now named Holy Martyrs Catholic Church. It’s not known how long the Lourdes grotto remained standing at the location before being removed.

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