Thursday, September 09, 2010

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Monastery, Munster

Roadside America, that "caramel-coated-nutbag-full of odd and hilarious travel destinations" (its own words) calls this building material -- the stuff behind the girls in this picture -- "sponge rock," specifically sponge rock from "a mine in Arkansas."

The scant information I can find on line about "sponge rock" associates the term with perlite, a silicous rock that when heated expands to many times its original volume. The material we saw didn't resemble the perlite I see on line. But whatever it is, there's a lot of it at Our Lady of Mount Carmel monastery, in Munster, Indiana, which we visited on Sunday a short while after Valparaiso University (the interlude being lunch).

The monastery's Discalced Carmelite friars built the Grotto of the Holy Mother and the Holy Sepulchre Chapel out of these rocks, and it's an odd effect at first. Cave-like inside, but also as if the cave were ordered from the Sears Catalog back when you could get structures delivered to you in pieces for DIY construction.

The friars themselves say at their web site: "After the Second World War, a group of Polish Discalced Carmelites, including former chaplains of the Polish Army, came to the United States. They fulfilled St. Raphael Kalinowski's dream of a Polish Carmel in America when they established a monastery in Hammond, Indiana. Two years later they moved to Munster, Indiana... They built a monastery and Shrine dedicated to Mary under the title of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and in the monastery garden constructed a grotto in her under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes."

Roadside America, with its less serious attitude, takes it from there: "Small shrines and prayer spots populate the grounds. There's a memorial to the Polish Underground; a shrine (surrounded by barbed wire) to skinny Maximilian Kolbe, the martyr priest of Auschwitz; and another to St Therese of Lisieux, the 'Little Flower of Jesus,' who is sculpted as she tells her tearful dad that she's off to join the Carmelites.

"It's dark inside the Holy Mother Grotto, and warm -- hundreds of candles are burning. Decoration is sparse [no it isn't], with occasional marble sculptures, stained glass windows, and accents of fluorite, dogtooth calcite, dolomite and rose quartz to enliven the gloom. Overall, this place seems more like a twisty sponge rock catacombs than a religious shrine... We expected the same when we walked down a path to the Holy Sepulchre Chapel, but it has some surprises. Inside is the Flagellation Chapel, with a marble Jesus tied to an alabaster pillar.... In an adjoining alcove lies dead Jesus on his bier. Beneath his carved pillow and blankets is an impressive altar crafted from giant minerals -- a huge backlit ball of crystals evokes the image of a glowing sacred heart."

I didn't know the story of Maximilian Kolbe. The plaque next to his memorial on the grounds of the monastery says, Blessed Maximillian Kolbe O.F.M. Conv. • Priest • Publisher • Prisoner • Martyr of Brotherly Love • Gave His Life For a Fellow Prisoner in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp on August 14, 1941.

More detail came be found at the Jewish Virtual Library, including the fact that he has been canonized since the plaque was created (one of John Paul II's many new saints; the second one of his pontificate, as it happens). It was hard to get a good picture of the memorial, but if you look carefully you might see that his statue is partly surrounded by barbed wire threaded through wooden posts that evoke the camp.

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