Sunday, August 5, 2012

Closure to an 18-month-old shoot

Those of you who follow Photo Potpourri regularly are aware that I occasionally find myself playing "catch up" with shoots that I don't get around to logging here right away. Today's post is about an unusual "catch up" of sorts; it involves three shoots at the same place, one 18 months ago, another almost a year ago; and the most recent -- the shortest of them all -- just yesterday.

The delay in saying anything here was deliberate, and here is why.

In early 2011, the Benedict Inn Retreat and Conference Center in Beech Grove, Ind., announced it would be closing its activities center, effective at the end of March of that year. The center, adjacent to Our Lady of Grace Monastery and just down Southern Avenue from St. Paul Hermitage, was once home to Our Lady of Grace Academy, which operated as a school for girls from about 1957 to the late 1970s. After the school's closing, the Benedictine order adapted the facility to become part of its retreat and conference center. It also opened the athletic facilities to the public, charging modest membership fees. But traffic wasn't strong enough to offset operational costs, so the order put the building up for sale, and when there were no takers, the sisters made the hard decision to close it.

Stories about the closing -- which announced it would cease operations at the end of March 2011 -- ran in the local media at the time, piquing my interest, as the activities center had housed, among other things, a swimming pool and gymnasium used for many years by youths in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) athletic leagues. My children were among those youths, although their occasion to visit the center wasn't nearly as frequent as others'. But I do recall being there for at least two volleyball contests involving my kids, and I know they spent time there for their high school senior retreats, even though they boarded in an adjacent -- and still standing -- hall that still  serves as the retreat house.

So there was some sentimental value with the news of the activities center's closing. The Sisters of St. Benedict granted my request, in late March 2011, to photograph the center's interior and exterior before it shuttered. In return, I agreed to provide them a copy of my images, which they said they wanted to store in their archives. The sisters said at the time that the plan was to raze the structure in the early fall. I asked them if they would object to my including this shoot at Photo Potpourri, explaining that I use the blog to log all of my shoots. They requested that I not write anything about the closing, that the news had already been in the public media, and that the sisters were concerned that another public splash would bring on a new wave of public sentiment that they would prefer not to have to deal with, as they wanted to put this difficult, emotional decision behind them as soon as possible. I didn't attempt to argue that this blog's readership is hardly such that it would have led led to any kind of "wave" of reaction; I simply agreed not to post anything as long as the building remained standing.

After getting the interior shots in March, I returned on Sept. 1, a Thursday evening after work, to take my pictures of the exterior. I remember being excited because I was able to catch some dramatic sunlight, getting there around 7 p.m. or so and shooting until well past 7:30 p.m. The photo leading off the page, a high-dynamic range (HDR) rendering (as are most from the September shoot), is my favorite of the building's front facade. Afterward, I sent the sisters a copy of the images, as I had promised. I received a very nice letter of gratitude from the sisters about a week or so later. For the record, I did post two of the Sept. 1 pictures at my Facebook photography page, both from the backlighting shots behind the building, but in each instance, I made a point to say only that the shot was taken in Beech Grove.

I returned to the site twice more -- once in early 2012, and again in spring -- to see if the structure had been razed as planned. It had not. On Saturday, while in the vicinity to run errands, I swung by again. I brought along my Canon PowerShot G12 on the off-chance I'd have something to photograph. Lo and behold, I did. The center was gone, and an expansive asphalt parking lot had been developed in its place. I stopped briefly to take a few pictures -- I wasn't there for more than 10 minutes -- to put closure on my quest to photograph this story. Below are a few pictures of my "project."

For a complete gallery of the center, interior and exterior, visit my online site at SmugMug.

A related note: On Aug. 1, Sister Mildred Wannemuehler, a former prioress at the academy and a founder of the Our Lady of Grace monastery, passed away.

Above and below: Two views of the building's front from the September 2001 shoot.

Above and next two below: Views from the backside. The structure on the right in the photo immediately below is the retreat center, which still stands. Also remaining is the white structure in the image in the second photo below. 

Above: Another view from the front, integrating the grounds' welcoming sign into the composition. 

Above: This is one of the shots I ran on my Facebook photography page last fall. This tree is on the grounds.

Above and next two below: The setting sun availed some splendid backlighting compositions. These shots are taken from the back side of the building. The two below are nearly identical, but I included both because the second enlarges the pavement shadow and color portion of the composition. 

Above: The first of several from the March 2011 shoot. This shot, and one below, are from the swimming pool.

Above and next two below: From the gymnasium. Note the scoreboard still carried the Our Lady of Grace Academy school name.

Above: A conference room and its view overlooking the campus green. 

Above: The ceramic mosaic that greeted visitors entering the main entrance of the building. 

Above: One of several small lounge or chat areas near the front of the building. 

Above: This labyrinth is a meditation tool for retreat participants ... or anyone in general. One walks the deliberative path from the entry point to the center then sits to do additional meditation before completing the exercise by exiting, again in deliberation, to assess what he or she has learned. 

 Above and below: Pictures from yesterday. The one above looks southeast, looking approximately from the same vantage point as the second picture below the text above. The one below looks northwest, from a point south of where the backlighted shots in September were taken. In the background is the remaining structure of the retreat and conference center.


  1. What beautiful photos, and how sad the center had to close. Still your photos will serve to memorialise it. May I post the tree picture you used on Facebook on my blog? (Giving you full credit and posting a link to your blog of course.)

    Hawthorn Park, near Terre Haute, has a beautiful labyrinth as well; I shall have to try to get some pictures of it.

  2. Sure on the repost, Jacqueline. I appreciate you asking.

    I felt bad about the building's closing. It was a very nice facility. I could only speculate on why it fetched no offers. Perhaps because it's off the beaten path. Or, maybe it needed a lot of "hidden" upgrade work (infrastructure), something that a buyer would have had to do because the sisters did not have the means to do it as part of the terms for a sale. But on surface, the sisters did a great job keeping it looking nice, I thought, and I was there to shoot the inside at the very end -- on its second last day of operation.

  3. Thank you for letting me re-post the photo Joe; and you're very's your intellectual propery, your 'baby' so to speak, and I don't steal babies. ;-)