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Lourdes Friary offers unique path to history and spirituality

 061721friary walking Cedar Lake Lourdes

Statuary representing a visit from Our Lady of Lourdes stands on an island surrounded by a small lake on the grounds of the Franciscan Lourdes Friary in Cedar Lake on June 4. Owned by the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province of the Order of Friars Minor since 1938, the 63-acre property was put up for sale after the order recently consolodated their mission to address other priorities. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)

 

BY MARLENE A. ZLOZA

Northwest Indiana Catholic

 

      CEDAR LAKE – You are never alone when you go walking on the grounds of the Franciscan Lourdes Friary.

      That’s because anyone stepping onto the grounds is surrounded by beautiful statuary, from Our Lady of Lourdes to the Stations of the Cross to a likeness of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

      Walkers who want to admire the statues and experience the beauty and serenity of the 63.4-acre retreat are advised to lace up their sneakers pronto, since the property has been offered for sale by the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Province of the Order of Friars Minor, which closed the friary and retreat house at the end of 2020 after 82 years of ownership.

      Father Tony Janik, OFM, the local superior, said the land, which boasted a golf course, hotel and spa, was purchased by the friars in 1938 for a “theology house” that used both the house near Parrish Avenue and the large building down the hill as a seminary until 1955, when a new seminary was opened in west Chicago.

      The friary then operated a house of retreat that housed men in the upper house and women in the lower house. The men’s retreat house closed in 1980, and three provinces transformed the upper house into a novitiate and house of prayer. “Ten years ago we took the upper house down and moved the novitiate to Burlington, Wisc.,” explained Father Janik, who lived at the Lourdes Friary for 53 years. “The friars living in the upper house then moved down to the lower house.”

      With the closing of the friary, four Franciscan fathers – Father Janik and Father David Kelly, both in the Pastoral Care Department at Franciscan Health Crown Point, and Father Patrick Gawrylewski and Father Tojy Jose Mandapathil, both pastoring at Holy Name of Jesus in Cedar Lake – are now living in a private home in Cedar Lake. Four other Franciscans, including Father Michael Surufka, rector/pastor at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary (as well as pastor Ss. Monica and Luke and administrator at St. Joseph the Worker in Gary), are living at the cathedral as they develop a Gary mission.

      “People have been walking the grounds at the friary for more than 80 years,” noted Father Surufka. “It is so beautiful. The friars have been there since the 1930s, and thousands of people have found peace and solemnity and beauty there. People made gifts of some statues, and when it was a seminary, the seminarians would work in the summer on the grottos and grounds.”

      “The grounds were always open for those on retreat, and with the Stations of the Cross, the rosary made of bowling balls around the lake, there was the ability to sit and find quiet and peace,” Father Janik said. The bowling balls representing rosary beads were the victims of vandalism, but the island in the bigger of two ponds, displaying a state of Our Lady of Lourdes, was refurbished about 7-8 years ago,” Father Janik added. “There are a number of shrines built by the fathers.”

      For the time being, said Father Janik, the grounds are open during daylight hours to walkers and joggers, with parking available near the main building.

      Diane Stratton, a parishioner of St. Mary in Crown Point, remembers fondly driving past the Lourdes Friary on the way to her grandparents’ house as a child, and has recently explored the grounds more closely on a number of walks. “I feel so sentimental about it,” she said. “The beautiful rolling hills, woods and ponds inspire gratefulness for God’s magnificent creation of nature. There is such a sense of peace and awe as you pray and contemplate and communicate with God and the Blessed Mother.”

      “The grottos are made of such unique, porous, rough stones and have crosses carved atop them,” said Stratton, who has been surprised by her discoveries more than once. “Behind the building there is a grotto and inside you can see a statue of the Risen Christ. Then I walked further inside and found a statue of Jesus in his tomb, and his feet looked so real.”

      Another grotto “is shaped like a tepee, and inside I found a statue of St. Takeri Tekakwitha,” said Stratton. Known as the Lily of the Mohawks, the 17th century Algonquin-Mohawk lay woman was canonized in 2012.

      “There is so much history there, Cedar Lake history and Catholic history, and you wish they could still be having retreats there,” she added. “I’m praying for a miracle that will save it. You can build houses anywhere, but once this place is gone, it will never return.”

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