Monastery Immaculate Conception: Touring the Castle on the Hill

In 1867 four Sisters of St. Benedict arrived in Ferdinand, Indiana, from a monastery in Kentucky to teach in the parish school. By the 1870s, with over 70 sisters working at a boarding school they had started for girls in Ferdinand, the group became independent of the Kentucky monastery.  Today the Monastery Immaculate Conception is one of the largest communities of Benedictine sisters in the United States, and the Romanesque-style domed monastery they live in is celebrating its 150th anniversary. We recently visited the Monastery Immaculate Conception, where Sister Christine gave us a brief history of the monastery and took us on a tour of what some call the “castle on the hill.”

Monastery Immaculate Conception

Monastery Immaculate Conception History

Sister Christine used a model of the monastery to point out the quadrangle that was the original monastery, as well as all of the wings that were added later.

Monastery Immaculate Conception model
The model has a history of its own. When the monastery was celebrating its 50th anniversary, Ferdinand resident Edwin Schilling made a model of the monastery out of cakes that local women baked. The nuns refused to eat the cake because they didn’t want to ruin the work of art. They finally ate it after word got back to Schilling, and he promised to build a wooden model.

By 1914 the sisters had outgrown the small church that was part of the monastery. The monastery superior contacted 21-year-old St. Louis architect Victor Klutho and asked him to draw up plans for a new church. He had the plans done within a month. However, the sisters didn’t have the money to build a church. So they saved up, sometimes eating only one meal a day to save money. They received some generous donations, and they borrowed money. The church exterior construction started in 1915 and was completed 14 months later. Then they ran out of money, so the interior was put on hold. For eight years they worshiped in a big, empty space below what would be their church. The interior of the church was finally started in 1922 and completed two years later.

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In 2005 they did an extensive restoration of the church. Although they mostly restored the church to its original splendor, they made a handful of changes to better accommodate the sisters’ needs.

Monastery Immaculate Conception Church Tour

The photos show more than I can tell…

Cloister Hall
We went through this hallway to get to the church.
The ceiling in Cloister Hall. A retired architect told sister Christine that he had only seen one other ceiling like this in his entire career.
Saint Hildegard of Bingen
Famous for her cookie recipe! A statue of St. Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine saint from the 12th century, stands in a place of honor in Cloister Hall. St. Hildegard did a lot of work with medicinal use of herbs. However, her fame at the monastery is her cookies, which the sisters today bake and sell in the gift shop. People in the 12th century believed that these cookies slowed down the aging process and increased intelligence, but Sister Christine would not guarantee that.
Doors to the original churc
Doors to the original church
The church
The current church interior
Hand-carved pews
The original pews from 1924 were hand-carved by German artisans.
Renovated sactuary
One of the changes made during the 2005 restoration was the sanctuary. The altar was pulled forward to bring it closer to the assembly. They also added a domed Eucharistic chapel, beneath the church dome, creating a dome within a dome and a more intimate space for private prayer.
There are 89 angels in the church, in the form of stained glass windows, statues and carvings.
View from Monestary Immaculate Conception
View from the church sacristy, where the priest prepares for Mass
Stained Glass Windows
There are 192 stained glass windows in the church.
Pipe organ
The pipe organ in the balcony. The sisters are quite musical, as Sister Christine points out that almost any instrument you can think of, at least one of the sisters plays, including a harp.

For Heaven’s Sake

For Heaven’s Sake, the monastery gift shop, sells hand-crafted items made by the sisters in the monastery, as well as items from Peru and Guatemala, where they have missions. We picked up a box of assorted cookies, which included Hildegard cookies.

Hildegard cookes
Hildegard cookies are based on St. Hildegard’s legendary 12th century recipe. I don’t think they slowed  down my aging process, but they were delicious, with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

If You Visit Monastery Immaculate Conception

Monastery Immaculate Conception. located at 802 E 10th Street in Ferdinand, Indiana, offers guided tours Tuesday through Sunday. Check the web site for tour times, directions, mass times, and other details.

Accommodations: We stayed at the Hampton Inn Jasper during our visit to Dubois County. Find the best hotel deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.

Monastery Immaculate Conception - collage

Disclosures: Visit Dubois County hosted my Dubois County visit. However, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
This article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase or book a room through these links, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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