December 6, 2013

Pilgrimage to Ferdinand ‘started Advent season off right’

Monastery Immaculate Conception of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Ind., in the Diocese of Evansville sits on top of a hill in the southern Indiana town in this Nov. 16 photo. For all 16 years of the existence of Ferdinand’s Christkindlmarkt, the monastery has served as the site of the opening ceremony. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Monastery Immaculate Conception of the Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand, Ind., in the Diocese of Evansville sits on top of a hill in the southern Indiana town in this Nov. 16 photo. For all 16 years of the existence of Ferdinand’s Christkindlmarkt, the monastery has served as the site of the opening ceremony. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

FERDINAND AND JASPER—On a cold, dark night in Ferdinand, Ind., the tradition proceeded as it had for the last 15 years, just as it had in Germany since the 1500’s.

The event carried tones of Advent: people waiting on a hillside on a dark, cold evening, when finally, piercing the night, came a procession of candle-bearing children to the strains of an Alleluia chorus and a bell choir.

At the entrance of Monastery Immaculate Conception of the Sisters of St. Benedict, trumpets blew, the doors opened and the Christmas Angel came forth in brilliant light, singing a song of welcome.

“Ye men and womenfolk who once were children too,” she sang, “be a child again today and do rejoice … .”

So began the 16th Christkindlmarkt in Ferdinand, enjoyed by 45 members of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis as part of a Nov. 15-16 pilgrimage to start the Advent season.

As the chartered bus wound its way through the hills of southern Indiana, Father John Hall led the pilgrims praying the rosary, calling them to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.

Father Hall celebrated Mass for the group at Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Church in Paoli, where he serves as administrator. He also serves as administrator of Our Lady of the Springs Parish in French Lick and as pastor of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville.

Father Hall, dean of the Bloomington Deanery, shared stories of the region and his time there over more than 20 years.

The group stopped at historic St. Joseph Church in Jasper, Ind., in the Diocese of Evansville, the home parish of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein as a youth.

The current Romanesque church structure of the 176-year-old parish was completed in 1880. Its clock tower reaches to a height of 235 feet, and its interior is adorned with Italian marble altars, Swiss stained glass and Austrian mosaics.

A quick stop was made at the Providence Home geode grotto two blocks from St. Joseph Church. Father Phillip Ottavi was director of St. Joseph’s Providence Home, a care facility for mentally disabled men, when a cache of geodes—rocks with bumpy, rough exteriors but beautiful, crystal interiors— was discovered in a nearby creek.

He worked with a crew of Providence Home residents over a span of 10 years constructing the geode grottos and rock gardens that now cover four city blocks in Jasper.

In addition to visiting the colorful booths of handmade Christmas crafts, quilts, homemade baked goods and antiques at the Christkindlmarkt in Ferdinand (in the Diocese of Evansville) the next day, many pilgrims toured Monastery Immaculate Conception.

The Benedictine community there was begun in 1867 by sisters from Covington, Ky., to teach the German-speaking children of the area.

The original portion of the current monastery was completed in 1886. The current domed church was completed in 1924.

“It’s wonderful to have you all here with us at the monastery,” said Benedictine Sister Barbara Schmitz, prioress of the community. “We love to share our buildings and our lives so you know a little more about us.”

According to Sister Barbara, the members of the monastery have been involved in the opening ceremonies of the Christkindlmarkt and the festival itself since it began in Ferdinand in 1997.

“We’ve worked with the [Christkindlmarkt] organizers in Germany to make sure we’ve got it as close to the traditional one as possible,” said Sister Barbara.

The monastery not only served as the location for the welcoming ceremonies, dinner and tours. The sisters also sold their own handmade crafts, as well as fresh-baked goods, including such traditional German treats as Springerle and Hildegard cookies.

Father Hall again led the pilgrims in the recitation of the rosary on the hilly ride home, with a second Mass at Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Church. He called on the pilgrims to “always be prepared for the coming of Christ,” but also to “be not afraid.”

For Jim and Patty Smith of St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute, the pilgrimage spanned a special date.

“We were married on Nov. 15 in 1975,” Jim shared.

But celebrating their 38th anniversary was not the couple’s primary purpose for attending.

“We like short trips,” said Patty. “Carolyn [Noone, event planner for the archdiocese], does a wonderful job planning and finding interesting Catholic places to go. The fact that it was our anniversary was just icing on the cake.

“I especially wanted to see St. Joseph Church,” Patty added. “I loved reading Archbishop [Emeritus] Buechlein’s column [“Seeking the Face of the Lord”]. He always wrote so lovingly about St. Joseph’s, so I really wanted to see the church. It was just beautiful, just as he wrote about it.”

Paul Neuendorf, a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, looked forward to seeing Ferdinand and the Monastery Immaculate Conception.

“My mom grew up in Jasper,” he said. “So I’ve been in this area many times, but I’ve never been to Ferdinand.”

He was able to enjoy the trip more knowing that Noemi Teodosi, his Filipino fiancé of a few weeks, was unharmed by the devastating typhoon that struck the country on Nov. 8.

“She lives in Manila, so she was OK,” Neuendorf said. It was there that he proposed to her in October.

As for Rita Whalley, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, the trip was a surprise.

“[Fellow parish member] Pat Vesper was supposed to go, but she had to go to Arizona to help her brother.

“So she said, ‘Please go and enjoy it for me.’ So I went and have been praying for her and her family.

“The monastery was absolutely beautiful,” Whalley said. “I loved the paintings of Sister [Gregory] Ems [a Benedictine sister of the monastery in the first half of the 1900s]. Her life-size painting of the Blessed Mother was just breathtaking, and she never had an art lesson.”

Whalley felt blessed to be on the pilgrimage.

“I think this was a good idea to start the Advent season off right, to do it in prayer,” she said. †

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