“What an inheritance we have received from those who went before us, whose vision and deep appreciation for the beautiful helped shape the architectural expressions found both in the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College buildings and in those places where the Sisters of Providence live and work.”
Those words – spoken by General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski – say it all.
There truly is a beauty within “The Woods.” And a lot of that beauty is within the buildings located on the 67 acres of the grounds.
Recently, officials with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) and the Sisters of Providence provided a joint press conference to announce the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Historic District was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
During the press conference, SMWC President, Dr. Dottie King, and Sister Dawn spoke, as well as Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett and Indiana Landmarks representative Tommy Kleckner.
While speaking to the conference attendees, Kleckner noted how when he first arrived in the area, his predecessor took him to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods first.
“I thought a little of Europe had been dropped down into the backwoods of Indiana,” he said.
Sister Dawn discussed how many of the buildings and structures came about.
“I think this designation truly honors the legacy of all who have gone before us, but especially the Sisters of Providence who were instrumental in shaping the landscape of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods as we know it,” she said.
Sister Dawn noted one particular Sister of Providence as being instrumental in the building of the “majority of the buildings on this campus.”
That Sister of Providence was Mother Mary Cleophas Foley, the sixth General Superior for the Congregation.
“During her time of leadership, 17 of the 26 buildings listed on the contributing sites list for this designation were completed,” Sister Dawn said.
Mother Mary Cleophas was chosen as General Superior in 1890, a position she maintained for six terms (36 years). Mother Mary Cleophas left the office of General Superior in 1926 and passed away in 1928.
Our records in the Archives Department state that “an extensive building program took place,” under the leadership of Mother Mary Cleophas. In 1886, for example, building of the Church of the Immaculate Conception took place. The church was completed in 1907.
Also, The Woodland Inn was built in 1894, and a new novitiate was constructed in 1902. Guerin Hall and the Saint Cecilia Conservatory of Music were opened in 1913. The O’Shaughnessy Dining Hall was completed in 1921, and in 1924, the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Le Fer Hall were completed.
Sister Dawn added that all of these buildings were constructed by one architectural firm, D.A. Bohlen and Son (now known as Bohlen Meyer Gibson and Associates) – based out of Indianapolis.
“Mother Mary Cleophas’ intent was to expand the prestige and the program of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College,” Sister Dawn said. “This place is made sacred not only by the beauty of the buildings and the environment, but also by the people who have walked here, the spirituality that has been shared here, by the work of education and now, health care that takes place here.
“We’re grateful for the designation as a Historic District to honor this powerful legacy, and we hope the gift will be to invite others in to share not only in its historical significance, but also to enjoy its beauty and peacefulness, to be touched by its sacredness. All are welcome here.”