ST. MARY OF THE WOODS, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — “It’s a college with a mission.”
St. Mary-of-the-Woods College President Dottie King, Ph.D, believes the college and the city of Terre Haute together tell a beautiful story.
“St Mary-of-the-Woods College has been in the Wabash Valley for almost as long as Terre Haute’s been in existence and we’ve grown up together,” King said. “And I can imagine beyond the pandemic, we’ve gone through a lot of things together. And so we’re really excited to be part of what the community’s trying to accomplish.”
SMWC just celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Ring Day ceremony where qualified students receive a ring symbolizing their academic achievements at the college.
“Every year I probably love it more,” King said. “I will never wear the ring. So I observe the experience from the outside looking in, but it’s really meaningful to me. It’s a recognizable symbol of the college and it really marks achievement for the students and they feel it. And that’s the way I can best describe it, is that they feel it.”
SMWC is a campus full of tradition, but is also a place brimming with new ideas and plans.
King said progress on campus is a delicate balance of restoring the old and establishing the new. Currently, a fundraising effort is underway to restore parts of the Conservatory of Music.
“It’s gonna focus on the front exterior of the building and then the auditorium,” King shared. “So the really public part of the building, and really bring it back to its grandeur. That building opened in 1913 and the auditorium was patterned after a famous one in Leipzig, Germany. It’s got a really, it’s got an engineered German acoustical design. And so functionally, it’s beautiful and historically it was beautiful and we’re gonna bring it back to beautiful.”
King said the seats in the auditorium will be taken to a theater company this summer to be restored.
“While the seats are out, we’re gonna do some work on the floor itself to really address accessibility and lighting,” King said. “And then a lot of other things to make that sparkle again in inside. There’s a beautiful dome inside and we’re working with a foundation to come in and look at our dome.”
Across the avenue, La Fer Hall is receiving its own updates to student rooms following other recent renovations.
“All of the public spaces of La Fer Hall have now been completely updated and we’re into the student rooms,” King said. “So as we raise money, we’re doing student rooms,. We do them in stacks of three from two, three and four, because that allows us to address the ventilation of the buildings to do them like that.
So two, at least two more stacks this summer; we did five last summer. And then the formal parlor is right in the midst of its update and that’s the finish of the public spaces.”
The archives of SMWC and the Sisters of Providence are also getting a new home in the basement of the campus library.
“It’s about a $300,000 project and it’s gonna give us a nice place for people to visit and be able to see things,” King said. “The artifacts we have date all the way back to Mother Theodore, and some of them came from France.”
The Woods’ equestrian facilities are another focus of future renovation.
“We’re the only school in the state of Indiana, public or private, that has a Bachelor’s degree surrounding horses,” King shared. “And we think that this has been a well-kept secret for too long. And we’re now wanting to make that a more public venue and invite horse associations into our campus.”
King said the college is hoping to receive some READI grant funding to upgrade the facilities.
The addition of sprint football to the Woods’ athletic department is creating new fundraising goals for the school as well.
“Sprint football is causing us to really take a look at our outdoor athletics area,” King explained. “And I hope that this summer we will be adding a practice field and some locker room facilities to accommodate sprint football. For now, we will be playing our home games at West Vigo.”
SMWC also recently moved to NAIA and now competes in the River States Conference, another reason King pointed to for the need of upgraded facilities for teams and fans.
Some funding that is already in place to benefit students is the grant from the Lilly Endowment Fund that allows SMWC, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and DePauw University to prioritize mental health services.
“We know this about the current generation of students, they’re just more tuned into their mental health than previous generations,” King said. “So we are blessed that Lilly recognized that and we’re in this partnership, and what it’s gonna be able to do is enable us to hire, we’re forming a not-for-profit, and hire a psychologist.”
The pandemic’s effects on mental health were not the only thing noticed on SMWC’s campus. King also pointed to the strength of the nursing students in the face of the deadly virus.
“What I saw in our nursing program and in our students was a really strong resilience,” King said. “They were early adopters of the vaccine. They held clinics here on our campus. They were in their clinical experiences. Whatever they were allowed to do at the hospitals, they did. Some of them started working in nursing homes, and nursing homes were frightening places at that point because they were kind of cloistered and the death rate was high.”
But King said the students’ resilience and answer of the call to mission was not surprising to her, given the college’s foundress, Mother Theodore Guerin.
“She was an educator, so all of our sisters for all of these generations were educators, but if you read her journals, she was also a healer,” King explained. “She was really interested in medicinal plants and she had studied that in France. So she set up a bit of a pharmacy, and now remember, it was 1840, so that’s before the Pony Express, before the Civil War. She was helping people with some cures based on what she had learned in France.”