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A centennial celebration

This article is reprinted from summer 2007 issue of HOPE.

A place to worship — from the moment Saint Mother Theodore Guerin stepped foot on this hallowed ground at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods there has always been a deep-seated desire for a sacred place to honor the Blessed Sacrament. Mother Theodore, however, was not prepared for the primitive log cabin that doubled as a chapel and a residence for the priest. She later wrote about the log chapel in a letter to her superiors in France:

“The Church! Yes, dear friends, that is the dwelling of the God of the Universe, in comparison with which the stables wherein you shelter your cattle are palaces!”

The current place of worship for the Congregation began with the laying of the cornerstone of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in 1886. D.A. Bohlen and Son of Indianapolis, architects, completed the Indiana limestone building in 1891, but it took 16 more years before the interior was complete.

By June 1892, plastering had been done and the installation of a temporary wooden floor, seats and altars permitted the sisters to worship in the Italian Renaissance style edifice. Ten years later the church became the home of an organ purchased from William Schuelke Church Organ Builder of Milwaukee.

By 1902, the General Council, under the leadership of General Superior Mother Mary Cleophas Foley, focused its attention on the interior decoration of the church. Mother Mary Cleophas and General Councilor Sister Mary Alma O’Donald visited numerous churches in Europe, gathering many ideas for the church nestled in the Woods. Inspired by their travels, the two sisters returned home and soon artisans and craftsmen were employed to transform the church from a building to a truly sacred place of worship.

Religious dignitaries, including Bishop Francis Silas Chatard, and guests poured into the church Oct. 23, 1907, when it was consecrated. One of the visiting priests “praised the sisters for their many accomplishments, and especially for giving in this splendid edifice, the best they had to God.”

One hundred years after the laying of the cornerstone, the church underwent a transformation not only to conform with the liturgical norms of the Second Vatican Council, but also to strengthen the floor joists. As with the building of the church, this renovation was accomplished with the monetary assistance of many donors.

Those who worship in the Church of the Immaculate Conception have their senses awakened. The organ music, paintings, bas-reliefs, stained glass windows, murals and marble works provide an atmosphere for worship. But only when the church is filled with people does the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament truly come alive. You are always welcome to worship with the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to experience this truly holy site. The sisters invite you to make it part of your travel plans to worship in this magnificent church during its centennial year.

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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