By Richard G. Biever
Enter Dubois County through its southeasternmost doorway, and you’ll think you’ve somehow crossed into rolling European countryside. Gently sloping fields flow around a hillside where ascends … a castle. The Monastery of the Immaculate Conception, a magnificent red brick Romanesque structure with its dome and corner turrets, majestically looks over the fields and town of Ferdinand.
Welcome to the German Catholic Hoosier heartland.
German-speaking immigrants were a minority in the area until Benedictine priest Father Joseph Kundek arrived as pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Jasper in 1838. Kundek heavily promoted German immigration to the area. And immigrants came — proudly keeping their native language, religion, and traditions.
Ferdinand, named after the Austrian emperor, was founded in 1840 by Kundek. The monastery was constructed in the 1880s with later expansions. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is still home to one of the nation’s largest communities of Benedictine women.
At Kundek’s home parish in Jasper, the massive St. Joseph’s Church was built from 1867-1880 with native sandstone. The dominating structure in the heart of town represents the historic immigration and is another significant architectural achievement in the county.
Ironically, Dubois County, created in 1818, was named after a Montreal-born Frenchman, Toussaint DuBois, who fought alongside Americans during the Revolutionary War. But American and German tongues changed his French pronunciation of “doo-bwa” to “doo-BOYZ.”
The county still celebrates its German heritage: most notably with Jasper’s “Strassenfest” each summer; and Ferdinand’s artisan-based “Christkindlmarkt” each November (please see sidebar below.)
The European artisans who came to Dubois County put its resources to full use. Jasper became known as the “Wood Capital of the World,” boasting a large number of furniture companies.
The county’s natural resources also provide tourism. On the southside of Jasper’s downtown, “Riverwalk” offers a walking path, a gazebo and shelter houses, a playground and other amenities popular for events and concerts along the Patoka River. Riverwalk is part of a community redevelopment that also includes reconstruction of the Jasper railroad depot and beautifully-restored “Spirit of Jasper” passenger train which offers scenic excursions.
Upriver, where the Patoka enters the eastern edge of Dubois County, is Indiana’s second largest body of water. Straddling Dubois, Crawford and Orange counties, Patoka Lake was created in the 1970s primarily for flood control and water supply. But the lake provides abundant recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.
Richard G. Biever is senior editor of Indiana Connection.
Named for: Toussaint DuBois, a Montreal-born Frenchman who joined the fight for American independence in the Revolutionary War and was later an influential fur trader and businessman in southwestern Indiana.
Population: 41,889 (2010)
County seat: Jasper
Check out this event!
Nov. 15-17 | Admission: Free
Details on opening ceremony found on event website.
The German tradition of “Christkindlmarkt” — during which artisans would sell their wares and gifts in a festival-style setting in the weeks leading up to Christmas — returns to the “Bavarian” village of Ferdinand.
Along with all kinds of crafts and goods for sale, various kinds of music, children’s crafts, monastery tours, and other entertainment will be provided throughout the two-day festival. The Melchior Marionettes will also perform each day at Forest Park High School.