ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS —
A small log cabin, not shiny steps of marble, greeted the women as they finally arrived from France some 172 years ago.
At St. Mary-of-the-Woods on Wednesday, a crowd gathered near the Church of the Immaculate Conception, to dedicate a log cabin built to replicate the one first used by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin and her five companions. The Wabash Valley was still a wilderness on Oct. 22, 1840, and the cabin served as a spot for their first worship service since leaving France months before.
Dedicated Wednesday, on Guerin’s feast day, the cabin is now open to the public, said Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the Sisters of Providence.
“This is a charming addition to the heritage and tradition that our historic grounds offer now. We believe this chapel will be very popular with children who want to experience a bit of pioneer history, and with others who want a unique way to embrace their spirituality and re-center themselves from the busier times in their days,” she said. “We’ve already had many, many visitors who seem to enjoy the chapel. We believe, truly, that it will become another of our sacred spaces. And we are most grateful to all of our friends and staff who made it possible.”
Within its confines, the cabin is only about eight paces long from north to south, six paces from east to west. Logs hewn by hand form walls that support a roof of wooden shingles. Logs from a cabin in Owensville were donated by David and Faye Masterson, and organizers said many of them date back to the middle 1800s, the same time period as the original log cabin chapel.
Keith Ruble, superintendent of the Vigo County Parks Department, retired Vigo County Extension agent Max Miller and local contractor Earl Rodgers oversaw the project. Inmates from the U.S. Federal Penitentiary in Terre Haute were credited with providing much of the labor.
Miller said he used Guerin’s detailed journals to replicate the furniture inside the cabin, all of which was crafted from wood and stone.
Ruble — wearing a white period shirt and wide-brimmed hat — said most Indiana cabins of that day were built with tulip poplar logs, flattened with axes to provide a smooth surface off of which rain would roll. Assembling the logs delivered from southern Indiana was like working a “puzzle,” he chuckled, noting it took about a year to complete.
“This is the 26th cabin for me, so I’ve had a little practice,” he said.
In addition to volunteer labor, funding was provided by the Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau. Director Dave Patterson said the initiative was a worthwhile endeavor.
“This is a wonderful project because it hits both missions,” he said, explaining it carries forth Guerin’s mission and also serves as a destination point for pilgrims.
Wilkinson said the public is welcome to visit, adding autumn is a great time to do so.
“I encourage people to come out and enjoy the beautiful grounds. It is a wonderful time to do it,” she said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.