Haunted Colleges: Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

SaintMarysOfTheWoodsWhen it comes to apparitions that truly terrify, few come close to that of the Catholic nun. Enveloped in crisp black cloth which rustles eerily when crossing a room, she naturally presents a dark and ominous specter that becomes human only when one catches a glimpse of her face (sometimes). Now imagine seeing one with only a vast darkness where her face should be – now THAT’S creepy!

That’s what is rumored to prowl the campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, a Roman Catholic liberal arts college just northwest of Terror Haute — excuse me, Terre Haute, Indiana!

The oldest Catholic College in Indiana, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods was founded as an academy for young women by Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in 1840, and granted the first charter for higher education of women in the state of Indiana in 1846. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin became Indiana’s first saint after being canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

So how did the campus become haunted? Well, any institution as old as this one, forged from the wilderness of Indiana by six brave nuns nearly 200 years ago is bound to have its share of legends, and SMWC is no slouch in that department. From the Dark Angel of Guerin Hall and Ghosts of Le Fer to the Black Bird, stories abound about paranormal sightings and encounters. Students have even claimed to have felt ghost touching them while they were sleeping.

The faceless nun, however, is the most well-known and easily recognized of the restless spirits that prowl the campus. As the story goes, one of the sisters at the school had a talent for painting portraits, and spent many an afternoon in Foley Hall capturing every nuance of her current subject at hand, always saving the face for last. Insisting that the face was the most important part of the portrait, she gave it her full attention only after completing all the rest of each painting.

Lacking a subject for a time, the nun decided to do a self-portrait, and spent countless hours working out every detail of her painting until it came time, finally, to recreate her own face. Unfortunately, she fell ill that very day and was rushed to the infirmary. Although the doctors could find nothing wrong with her, she mysteriously died, leaving the portrait unfinished.

Shortly after the nun’s passing, paranormal sightings began to occur, with students and staff reporting a shadowy nun roaming Foley Hall and its courtyard. One of the sisters was said to have heard sobbing coming from the hall where the unfinished portrait stood, still on its easel. Upon entering the room, the sister saw the back of another nun who stood weeping in front of the painting. She moved to comfort her, but as the mysterious nun turned, the sister saw that there was only darkness where the woman’s face ought to have been.

Foley Hall caught fire and was torn down in 1989, but paranormal activity has persisted throughout the campus. In the conservatory next door, pianos are have said to play themselves from time to time.

The lesson to be learned here is, if you’re going to do a self-portrait, for Heaven’s sake, paint the face first!

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