Most Reverend John Carroll, of Baltimore, was America's first Roman Catholic Bishop. In 1792, he consecrated the newly-created nation of these United States under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the title of the “Immaculate Conception”.
On May 13, 1846, the U.S. Bishops proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of “Immaculate Conception”, as the patroness of the United States of America. One year later, Pope Pius IX would finally recognize Bishop Carroll's original consecration of 1792 by proclaiming the “Immaculate Conception” as the “Patroness of the United States”. And, so it was until it was re-confirmed in 1959 when the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was dedicated in Washington, D.C. after facing so many obstacles to completion (the project was nearly abandoned entirely in the 1930’s until an unlikely figure emerged to help save it ).
These consecrations are not mere symbols taken lightly by the Holy men who conduct them but they are the product of deep thought and discerning wisdom. As the roots of Our Lady of America are deep within the walls of this fabulous property She chose to announce herself to a young nun, so is the thread that ties the Immaculate Conception, all the way back in 1792 with Bishop Carroll, to the Diocese of Fort Wayne and this property in Rome City, IN.
Let us go back to the Catholic Church’s beginnings on this continent, and in particular, the diocese where Rome City, IN is located.
What we would consider the Fort Wayne area was first placed under the care of the Bishop of Quebec from 1674 -1789.
Then, with the establishment of the Diocese of Baltimore, the Fort Wayne area was under the jurisdiction of Bishop Carroll from 1789 until 1810.
In 1810 it was under the Bishop Flaget, the Bishop of Bardstown, Kentucky.
From 1834 to 1857 the Fort Wayne area was governed as part of the Vincennes Diocese. Vincennes would later become the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
The earliest accounts of Catholic Mass being said in the Fort Wayne (called Miamitown at the time) area was on December 20, 1789 by a Fr. Louis Payet, a priest from Detroit conducted, "eight services of worship in as many days." At this time, Miamitown would have still been under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Quebec and there really were not that many settlers in the fort itself. The missionary priest only expected to say Mass a few days, gather provisions, and continue on his journey through the still-unsettled territory.
Word quickly spread throughout the area of the good priest's availability and many trappers and woodsmen made their way to the fledgling settlement area to attend Mass and receive Our Lord in The Eucharist. Times were harsh for these settlers and having a priest available to offer sacraments was not that common an event. These people dropped what projects they had in progress to journey to this settlement so that they could partake in the sacraments they sorely missed on the frontier (imagine your own life in their circumstances).
Shortly after these Masses were held, the Diocese of Baltimore was started and the Fort Wayne area (Miamitown) became part of Bishop Carroll’s jurisdiction. Three years later, in 1792, Bishop Carroll would issue his consecration of the United States under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the title of the “Immaculate Conception”.
In 1857, the northern half of Indiana was broken off from the Vincennes Diocese and the Cathedral in Fort Wayne, IN (established 1836) was consecrated as The Cathedral to The Immaculate Conception, thus placing this entire newly-formed diocesan area under the mantle of Our Lady’s protection.
John Francis Noll (from Kneipp Springs History Jan. 7) was born Jan. 25, 1875, in Fort Wayne, one of 19 children. He was baptized at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and attended grade school in the building next door. He entered the preparatory seminary at St. Lawrence College, Mount Calvary, Wis. at the tender age of 13, and went on to Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati for his theology and philosophy studies.
The diocese had a great need for priests at this time, and his mentor, cathedral rector Fr. Joseph Brammer, was gravely ill and worried that he would not live to see the first boy from his parish ordained. Consequently, John Noll was ordained at the cathedral at the age of 23 on June 4, 1898 shortly before the passing of Fr. Brammer
John Noll as a seminarian
Within a year, Father Noll was named pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Ligonier, IN at age 24 (a few miles from Rome City). His parish was 30 square miles, which he covered on foot or horseback. He would occasionally make it by the newly established Kneipp Healing Center to visit with Dr. Geiermann and discuss the progress and relative success of this particular venture.
Fr. Noll was moved about the diocese in 1906 to the community of Besancon approximately 30 miles outside Fort Wayne. It was here that he percolated the idea for a parish newspaper whose aim was to spread Catholic doctrine and catechism to the members of his parish who he felt were lacking in these elements. Later on, convinced of this medium’s success and his desire to repel the influence of dispassionate newspapers like The Menace, a periodical devoted to propaganda against the Catholic Church, Fr. Noll started the first National Weekly Catholic Newspaper and called it “Our Sunday Visitor”. It was not long before Our Sunday Visitor Inc. would become one of the world’s largest Catholic publishers.
At the age of 46, the title of monsignor was conferred on Father Noll in 1921. He was named the fifth bishop of Fort Wayne in 1925, after the death of Bishop Herman Joseph Alerding (also a long-time advocate of Kneipp Springs, but he will be discussed in the coming months).
Bishop Noll immediately became an influential leader among U.S. prelates. He was named secretary of the fledgling National Catholic Welfare Conference (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), and was a longtime member of that body's administrative committee. In his role with the bishops' conference, Bishop Noll demonstrated remarkable foresight about the coming information age, helping to launch Catholic News Service and the "Catholic Hour" on NBC radio. He would have been a big proponent of the internet and would undoubtedly have used it to great advantage in his work.
During the summer months and vacation get-aways, Bishop Noll would often retreat 35 miles north of Fort Wayne to his lake cottage on Bishop’s Island in the middle of Sylvan Lake which was directly across the road from Kneipp Springs. He would say Mass in the beautiful Our Lady Mother of Mercy Chapel and sometimes seek the benefit of the therapeutic treatments offered at the facility. It became a time and place of recreation and relaxation in his otherwise hectic work schedule.
In the 1930’s, the advancement of the construction of the planned National Basilica of The Immaculate Conception had come to a complete stop. In the middle of the depression era, funds were terribly short for all projects such as this. The work that had already been done was in peril of being demolished and the project abandoned. Bishop Noll took it upon himself, with the co-sponsorship of Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle of Washington, to lead a fund-raising campaign to finish the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., through a campaign in Our Sunday Visitor.
He was also credited with numerous other great achievements, of such great import that if anyone else were to have accomplished any single one of them in their careers, they would be lauded with the highest laurels. For this man, however, it was just a testament to how prolific a thinker and visionary he was.
As a sign of Vatican esteem, Bishop Noll was given the honorary title of archbishop in 1953, even though his see was not an archdiocese.
In 1955, Archbishop Noll suffered a stroke that left him unable to communicate with anyone except his niece, Cecilia Fink, who had been his devoted secretary and had assisted him in his numerous writing projects. His last year of disability was difficult not only for him but for his devoted niece Cecilia. From time to time during his last year, they were able to get back to Rome City for a little R&R and the sisters would always welcome them with comforting care and a good meal of fresh-caught fish from Sylvan Lake. It is quite probable that Sr. Mildred Ephrem Neuzil, who worked in the dining room as a server, would actually have served many of these same fresh dinners to the Archbishop and his niece during their visits.
Archbishop Noll died on July 31, 1956. Our Lady of America appeared to Sr. Mildred Neuzil just 57 days later in Our Lady Mother of Mercy Chapel on Sept 26, 1956. Our Lady appeared again to Sr. Neuzil on October 13 of that same year and showed Sr. Neuzil a model of the completed National Basilica of The Immaculate Conception…a building which would not be completed for 3 more years in 1959.