November 5, 2021

Christkindlmarkt in Ferdinand is backdrop to follow footprints of faith

The Christmas angel greets visitors for the opening of the annual Christkindlmarkt in Ferdinand, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

The Christmas angel greets visitors for the opening of the annual Christkindlmarkt in Ferdinand, Ind., in the Evansville Diocese. (File photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

There’s a chill to the night air as people wait in anticipation on a hillside in front of the Sisters of St. Benedict’s Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, Ind. Finally comes a procession of candle-bearing children piercing the dark to the strains of an Alleluia chorus and a bell choir.

The monastery doors open. From the flood of light, the Christmas angel appears to greet the crowd, singing, “Ye men and womenfolk who once were children too, be a child again today and do rejoice.”

So begins the annual Christkindlmarkt festival in the small, German-founded town in the Evansville Diocese.

This year the evening opening will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 19. The market itself will take place on Nov. 20-21 in various sites around the town, including the monastery.

The event offers more than 200 booths of hand-created items, antiques, art, Christmas wares, regional food and wine, live entertainment and free tours of the monastery. For more information, including lodging, go to www.ferdinandchristkindlmarkt.com.

The peaceful, hilltop monastery that serves as a backdrop to the festival is a reminder of the region’s strong Catholic presence, which includes Saint Meinrad Archabbey and seminary six miles to the south, and a unique Catholic find 13 miles to the north in Jasper: a geode grotto spanning a half-acre.

So, make a trek to the Christkindlmarkt festival, but carve out time to appreciate these footprints of the faith, as follows.

Monastery Immaculate Conception, Ferdinand

The town of Ferdinand was founded in 1840 by Father Joseph Kundek, a German-speaking Croatian who came to minister to the area’s German settlers.

In 1867, the local parish priest invited German-speaking nuns from St. Walburg, a Benedictine monastery in Covington, Ky., to teach at the parish school.

Four sisters were sent. Within three years, they founded an all-girls boarding school, and one year later became independent of St. Walburg, forming Monastery Immaculate Conception.

The current quadrangle of buildings was constructed between 1883-1887, with other structures built in subsequent years.

The large domed chapel—which can be seen for miles—was added in 1924, featuring 47 stained-glass windows and hand-carved Stations of the Cross, all made in Munich, Germany.

The monastery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Additionally, the grounds offer serene gardens, outdoor Stations of the Cross, a labyrinth, three shrines and a gift shop.

Touring the monastery is a must. The Sisters of St. Benedict will offer free tours during the Christkindlmarkt from 10 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m. on Nov. 20, and from noon-2 p.m. on Nov. 21.

Visitors are also welcome to join the Sisters for Liturgy of the Hours on Monday through Friday at 7:30 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.; Saturday at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.; and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Mass is available on Tuesday and Thursday at 7:55 a.m., Saturday at 8:55 a.m. and Sunday at 10:30 a.m.

For more information about the Sisters and the monastery, go to thedome.org.

Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad

Saint Meinrad Archabbey was founded in St. Meinrad in 1854 by Benedictine monks from Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. Father Kundek asked them to come to help meet the pastoral needs of the German-Catholic population in the area and to form men for the priesthood.

The latter purpose continues to this day through Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. There, men are formed for ordained ministry as diocesan and religious order priests who serve in central and southern Indiana and beyond.

The pastoral, manicured grounds and buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district. The campus includes the archabbey church, seminary, guesthouse, library, gift shop and more.

A few miles away on property owned by Saint Meinrad is the Our Lady of Monte Cassino Shrine. It was erected in honor of a novena to Our Lady of Monte Cassino credited with saving the village of St. Meinrad from a smallpox epidemic in 1871.

Tours of Saint Meinrad, led by a Benedictine monk, are offered each Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Central Time. The tour begins at the Archabbey Guest House and Retreat Center.

Self-guided tours are available anytime. Free visitor’s guides that include a walking tour of the campus are available at the Guest House, Memorial Lobby or the gift shop.

Visitors are also welcome to join the monks for Liturgy of the Hours on Monday through Saturday at 5:30 a.m. (7:15 a.m. on Sunday), noon, 5 and 7 p.m., with Mass at 7:30 a.m. (9:30 a.m. on Sunday). All times are Central Time.

For more information on Saint Meinrad, go to www.saintmeinrad.org.

Geode Grotto, Jasper

Just 13 miles to the north of Monastery Immaculate Conception is the German-founded town of Jasper in the Evansville Diocese.

Approaching Jasper by car, the tower of St. Joseph Catholic Church can be seen for miles. The 141-year-old structure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the church for yet another Catholic community founded by Father Kundek. It is usually a must-see when visiting Jasper. Unfortunately, the church is currently closed due to major interior renovations.

But just behind the church lies a half-acre mineral marvel known as the Geode Grotto. At first glance, geodes, abundant throughout southern Indiana, are simply dull, bumpy, round rocks. But cracked open they reveal crystal interiors shimmering in hues of white, yellow, pink and purple.

Encircling the half-acre space are geode shrines depicting the mysteries of the rosary, with a 12-foot-tall hand-crafted cave as the centerpiece. Inside the grotto are a large cave re-creating the Lourdes Marian apparition site in France, seven smaller saint shrines, flower-lined walls, two fountains, dozens of flowerpots that weigh as much as 2,500 pounds each, and plenty of places to sit, enjoy, meditate and pray.

The shrine was constructed in the 1950s by Sons of Divine Providence Father Philip Ottavi. As a child growing up in Italy, he was trapped beneath rubble by a devastating earthquake that took more than 80,000 lives, including his parents.

He decided to take rocks, the source of so much fear and anger in his life, and turn them into a thing of beauty.

It took more than a decade of labor, but the result is stunning. All are welcome to enjoy its beauty for free at any time.

As a side note, those who like authentic German food will want to dine at Schnitzelbank Restaurant in Jasper. Appetizers like kraut balls and Bavarian pretzels, dishes like homemade dumplings and weiner schnitzel, and desserts like hot apple strudel and German chocolate pie will bring out the Deutschelander in any diner.

The restaurant is open on Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. and, true to the Third Commandment, is closed on Sunday. †

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