Home to both Indiana’s only Saint and an alpaca farm, you’ll find peace and relaxation when you visit this incredible spiritual sanctuary in Western Indiana. Escape the hectic demands of the world and step into the vibrant tranquility of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods. “It’s special,” says Tara Elmore.
You won’t find any flashy signs leading to “The Woods” – across the Wabash River west of Terre Haute. There’s no pretense – only a way of life that speaks to the heart and to the world. “Spiritual tourism” are words we hear as we explore property’s ministries, art and architecture.
Elmore takes care of the alpacas at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, one of the ministries of the Sisters of Providence. The mission of the Center is to “take care of the earth,” explains Mary Riley, Marketing Manager for Mission Advancement. Opened in 1996, the sisters utilize organic practices and teach people about growing food and caring for the planet.
Visit with the alpacas – animals easy on the earth. They have beautiful fleece, which is spun into yarn and sold in the Farm Store. The natural colors of the fibers are gorgeous in themselves. Also find handwoven items in the Farm Store and Linden Leaf Gifts, some dyed with natural dyes. Greet Basilide and Jean, Olivia and Tracy and Wynne – familiar names to the sisters.
“Mother Theodore was about nature and plants and growing things,” explains Riley. The sisters maintain the sacredness of their vows amidst alpacas and chickens, beehives and organic gardens. The art and architecture reflect serenity, purpose and power. “You can get right with the world real fast here,” said visitor Joanna Suitors.
Experience the history
Enjoy a meal in O’Shaughnessy Dining Room. Then begin an indoor tour in the Providence Spirituality and Conference Center. Explore the journey of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in the Diorama and Timeline Hallway. Immerse yourself in the Shrine to her life.
Step into the jaw-dropping peace and beauty of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Sit for a while in the 1907 Italian Renaissance-style Church of the Immaculate Conception. Light shining through exquisite stained-glass windows accentuates the stunning marble and sacred art of both spaces.
The Sisters – “Breaking boundaries, creating hope.”
Encounters with sisters reveal the humble and vibrant spirit of the work happening here. A hospital, classes, advocates for social justice, fiber arts by Sister Jean Fuqua. “It’s hard to have a bad day here,” Elmore says.
“For many years our mission was teaching,” says Sister Nancy Nolan. “Now we teach in a different way.” A bi-lingual organizer. A doctor.
Sister Cathy Campbell talks of “ministry that takes advantage of what we have to offer in the cycle of life.” She smiles. “I’m reinventing myself.”
Walk the grounds. Visit the beautiful Saint Anne Shell Chapel. The oldest building on campus is a shrine of gratitude for deliverance through rough seas. Sit for a moment with the bronze sculpture of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin outside the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A rich history and exciting future
“I feel a peace here,” Mother Theodore said. Indeed. Experience the peace Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and five others found in the Indiana wilderness. From her arrival in 1840 to canonization in 2006, her legacy lives on in the work being carried out today by the Sisters of Providence.
Twenty-six buildings on the 1,000-acre property are on the National Register of Historic Places. St. Mary-of-the-Woods College on the grounds is dedicated to empowering young women and men. Guided tours, self-guided walking tours, volunteer opportunities, events, nature trails and more await visitors at the spiritual sanctuary. “All are welcome.”
“Once you get here, you can’t leave this place,” says Riley. She’s right. You don’t leave – you take the spirit of the work being done here with you into the world, until you return.