Elegance on display: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods added to National Register of Historic Places
When Tommy Kleckner stepped foot on the hallowed grounds of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
Tommy had just started working in the Western Regional Office for Indiana Landmarks. His then-superior took him to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to take a look at the architecture. The classical and renaissance styles, the Beaux-Arts designs of the buildings, the magnificence of it all caught Tommy off guard.
“I thought, ‘it looks like a little piece of Europe was plunked down in the backwoods of Indiana,’” Tommy said.
Tommy is now the director of the Western Regional Office and when officials with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a sponsored institution of the Sisters of Providence, came calling, he was more than happy to work with them and the Congregation, to have the entire 67-acre area added to the National Register of Historic Places.
“The style of most of the buildings, the Saint Cecilia Conservatory of Music, Guerin Hall, just to name a few examples, are high-style Beaux-Arts,” Tommy said. “It’s wonderful, classical European. To find a collection like this is unusual. It’s classical architecture.
“For Indiana, I’d say it’s rare to have a campus like this in what is a rural area.”
Tommy worked with both the college and Sisters of Providence and on Oct. 3, 2017, their work came to fruition. During a press conference that day, it was announced that Saint Mary-of-the-Woods had been added to the register.
Sisters of Providence General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski said that 17 of the 26 buildings listed on the registry were built during the leadership of Mother Mary Cleophas Foley, General Superior from 1890-1926.
According to passages from “The Path Marked Out: History of the Sisters of Providence, Volume III,” written by Sister Mary Roger Madden, many of the college buildings had to be constructed at this time due to an increase in college enrollment.
The construction of the Church of the Immaculate Conception was completed in 1907. Other buildings still standing of this era include: The Woodland Inn (1894); Guerin Hall and the Conservatory of Music (1913); the O’Shaughnessy Dining Hall (1921) and The Blessed Sacrament Chapel and Le Fer Hall (both in 1924).
Diedrich A. Bohlen, owner of D.A. Bohlen and Son, had already established a good working relationship with the Sisters of Providence — having been the architectural firm that developed the Providence Motherhouse and Chapel in the mid-1800s.
That relationship continued with Diedrich’s son, Oscar, who oversaw the construction of many of the 60 projects the firm developed for the sisters.
“This was clearly their forte,” Tommy said, regarding the elegance of the buildings created by D.A. Bohlen and Son. “It’s interesting that the firm, throughout their body of work on the campus, continued this inspired classical look.
“There is that old saying, ‘God is in the details.’ Well, these buildings have wonderful details. Picture these buildings with the wonderful details stripped. They’d still be wonderful buildings, but it’s the details that start to catch the eye.”
Tommy specifically pointed to the details on the façade of Guerin Hall.
“Look at the wonderful fruit that is carved in there,” he said, “and the lion’s head. It’s pretty amazing. Think about that craftsmanship. We still have craftsman who do that, but not as many. It really is incredible.”
Sister Dawn said receiving the designation 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.
“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,” Sister Dawn continued. “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.”
Tommy added he is proud to have played a role in helping the campus receive the recognition.
“These buildings were really meant to last,” he said.
“The Saint Mary-of-the-Woods campus, the collective campus, deserves this kind of recognition.”
(Originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of HOPE magazine.)
Note – The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect America’s historic and archaeological resources.
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