March 11, 2022

Mass Excursions

French Lick parish and area draw visitors from around the world

Our Lady of the Springs Church in French Lick, built in 1887, is decked out for Christmas in this Jan. 29, 2020, photo. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Our Lady of the Springs Church in French Lick, built in 1887, is decked out for Christmas in this Jan. 29, 2020, photo. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Beginning in the mid-1800s, the mineral springs in French Lick in south-central Indiana were advertised for their “healing” powers (until 1971, when the naturally-occurring Lithium in the water was classified as a controlled substance).

By the 1880s, people were flocking to the area seeking physical healing from the springs. The need grew for a parish to address the spiritual welfare of the tourists, as well as resident Catholics.

From that need sprung Our Lady of the Springs Parish. It was founded in 1887 with the dedication of a wood-framed church on a small hill overlooking the town of French Lick.

‘People … as far away as Poland’

That church still exists today.

“It’s a quaint, country church with old doors and a beautiful rose [circular] window,” says parish secretary and bookkeeper Beverly Allen. “The bells call every hour.”

She calls the 123-family parish “close-knit.”

“Our Ladies Club is active with giving their time fundraising for the church,” especially the chili supper they offer during Orange County’s annual Pumpkin Festival in late September-early October, says Allen.

The parish also supports a local food pantry project providing packaged lunches for elementary school children and recently paired with nearby Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli to form a Knights of Columbus chapter.

Perhaps its largest ministry is serving the thousands of visitors who still come from around the world to the historic French Lick Resort and West Baden Springs Hotel, both founded during the height of the “healing water” craze.

“The hotels draw internationally because they’re just stunning,” says Allen. “We have a guestbook, and people have signed from as far away as Poland.”

With so many visiting the hotels and nearby Lake Patoka, “There’s always someone walking the church grounds,” she says. “The church doors remain open during the day to walk-in traffic. People always remark how friendly and warm [the parish] is.”

“We love showing off our parish to visitors,” says pastor Father Randall Summers. He invites all to “consider worshiping with us whenever you are in the area [and] experience a warm welcome from our parishioners.

“And don’t forget to sign our visitor book in the back of the church!”

One day might not be enough

There is much to see and do in and near French Lick, enough to fill a day, a weekend or more.

Historic French Lick Resort and West Baden Springs Hotel are world-renown for their architecture, beauty, recreation and sports—like the Pete Dye Golf Course, host of the 2015 Senior PGA Championship (frenchlick.com/golf).

Marvel at West Baden Springs Hotel’s atrium and massive free-spanning dome, the world’s largest until 1965, or take a chance at the French Lick Resort casino.

Stroll the resort, hotel and grounds for free, or take a guided tour of one or both structures to learn about their history, such as West Baden’s use as a Jesuit seminary from 1934-1964 (cutt.ly/FLWBTours).

From the Buffalo Trace to a basketball great (French Lick native Larry Bird), the independent French Lick West Baden Museum offers a wider look at the history of the area, including a massive, detailed panorama depicting West Baden’s years as Hagenbeck-Wallace circus’ winter home (www.flwbmuseum.com).

Water has always been a big draw to the area, and today is no different. With its retractable roof, the town’s 40,000-square-foot Big Splash Adventure water park is open year-round (bigsplashadventure.com).

For a more outdoorsy water experience, try swimming, renting a boat or taking a boat tour at nearby Patoka Lake. For a more refined liquid experience, enjoy wine-tasting at Patoka Lake Winery.

Much of the lake is located in the Hoosier National Forest. The forest offers 260 miles of trails, archaeological remnants of the Lick Creek free-Black settlement, the1874 Rickenbaugh House and more (www.fs.usda.gov/main/hoosier/home).

Finally, enjoy the natural beauty of the region throughout the year on a French Lick Scenic Railway train excursion (frenchlickscenicrailway.org). Special events include the Dinosaur Adventure Train (available during two weekends in June and two weekends in September) and the Polar Express Train Ride in November and December, which brings the book and movie to life.

Whether visiting the area for a day, a weekend or more, make Christ a priority of your excursion. Worship at Mass with the members of Our Lady of the Springs Parish (go to occ-indy.org or call 812-936-4568 for Mass times). And don’t forget to sign their book!
 

(Mass Excursions is a monthly feature highlighting an archdiocesan parish and local attractions, encouraging a trip to the area that includes Mass with the members of that parish. Each month will highlight a parish in a different deanery to showcase faith communities throughout central and southern Indiana.)

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