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You can help bring a happy ending to restore St. Joseph’s Lake

St. Joseph Lake at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2018.

We’re writing a story about St. Joseph’s Lake here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. We need your help. We’ve got the beginning and middle written. We just need help with the ending.

The beginning

Our story begins in 1922. St. Joseph’s Lake didn’t exist, but the Sisters of Providence needed more water for the campus. Sister Mary Cyril relates that Terre Haute Water Works could not supply the amount of water needed. “The sisters did not know what to do … knowing St. Joseph was our protector we promptly started a perpetual novena to ask him to do something about it.” The novena worked the trick. The sisters identified a deep ravine on the property and “asked St. Joseph to fill it. As a ‘bribe’ they told him they’d put his statue there if he would keep his eye on the water supply.”

Sister Mary Cyril then describes how “a little dribble was found and another and then another. … it was not many months before the water was fairly deep and could be pumped up to the power house and from there to other buildings.” Besides filling a critical need, the sisters enjoyed the unplanned but welcome wooded area around the newly created lake.

Part two of the beginning happened in 1971 when a friend of Sister Jean Fuqua visited the lake area and remarked “this spot would make a nice recreation spot for your sisters. You should work on it.” Work on it Sister Jean did. Sisters and friends chose a site at the lake and worked and worked and worked to create a place for sisters to picnic, swim, canoe, camp. Enjoyment and refreshment were the goals. Check out this article to get the details of the hard work, fun, and collaboration with friends that carried on during this time.

The middle

The middle of this story? The lake water disappeared. Here one day and gone the next. (St. Joseph must have taken his eyes off the place.) In February 2018, days and days of heavy rain caused several large trees to be torn loose from the earthen berm. When the trees fell, a section of the berm collapsed, allowing the lake water to “escape.” The water flowed under US Highway 150 into a ravine and south along US 150. Traveling three miles south, the water flowed into Isaac Walton Lake in West Terre Haute. The once lovely, serene area of St. Joseph’s Lake became a muddy, overgrown, ugly mess.

Since February 2018, our leadership team has explored options for the repair of St. Joseph’s Lake. With the help of engineering students, engineers, naturalists and many others, a plan to restore the lake was created. This restoration will allow the Sisters of Providence to once again have an idyllic place to come for rest, recreation, prayer and playing. True to our commitment to care for Earth, the restoration will continue to preserve and allow animals, wildlife, plants, trees birds and fish native to the area to flourish. (Yes — even the beavers, moles, snakes and poison ivy).

As for practicality, the lake will again provide a quiet, beautiful place for visitors renting the hermitages near the lake for retreats, days of personal refreshment and renewal. The sisters’ families and friends also rent the hermitages, combining a chance to enjoy the beauty of Saint Mary’s and be close to those they come to visit. Hermitages allow the sisters to carry on a long tradition of hospitality. (St. Joseph must approve of this “return on investment” aspect of the project.)

A break in the berm caused the lake to empty.

Happy endings?

Here’s where we need help with the ending of our story — St. Joseph’s Lake has overcome all odds to retain its special place in the history of the Congregation.

We invite you to help us write this happy ending. The price tag for restoring the lake totals $178,500 (site preparation, tree removal, berm replacement and landscaping.) We’ve already pulled money from an emergency fund to make initial repairs on the berm. The lake is starting to fill in again. But we really need to replenish our emergency fund for the next emergency that comes along.

By contributing to repair the berm and restore St. Joseph’s Lake, you will — as you always do — make the mission of Providence come alive. Our shared values of hospitality, of care for Earth and maintaining places of beauty for enjoyment will endure. We look forward to being co-authors with you in writing a happy ending to a wonderful story.

(Originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.)

Would you consider contributing to the St. Joseph Lake restoration project? You can donate online here or call 812-535-2800.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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  1. Avatar Sam on January 29, 2021 at 7:20 pm

    That my husband Sam Dugger who is fighting Covid in icu on a ventilator.
    Please pray for him

  2. Avatar Cathy Dearing on February 15, 2021 at 8:14 am

    Sister Denise,

    Thank you for the history of St Joseph Lake. I made a donation to the restoration project. I have been on several private retreats at the Woods in the past seven years and have stayed in the Hermitages. St Joseph Lake has gifted me with much. I decided to make a gift back.

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