“It is a fascinating piece of property,” said Nancy Vinson, who coordinates advertising and marketing for Wiegmann Auctioneers in Fort Wayne, which will handle the sale.The 197 acres of real estate, which sits on a hill near the dam creating Syvan Lake, will sell at 5 p.m. Sept. 10 at the site, 2730 E. Northport Road in Rome City. Personal property on the site — restaurant equipment, tables, chairs, pews, tools and more — will sell at 9 a.m. Sept. 11.
Originally known as Kneipp Springs or Kneipp Sanitarium, the Sisters of the Precious Blood religious order in Dayton, Ohio, operated the site beginning in 1901 as a place where people could relax and get “treatments” in the spring water. The sisters sold the property, later known as Sylvan Springs, in 1976.
The site was owned by The Way religious group and briefly a Noble County nonprofit organization before being purchased in 2000 by current owner Larry Young, a Fort Wayne native who has worked in the bankruptcy auction and liquidation business in Chicago. Young planned to develop the site as a sports-training facility. That plan never attracted much interest, and Young has been looking for a buyer for the last few years.
A mortgage foreclosure judgment was issued last fall against ATCGG Partnership LLP, Young's company that owns Sylvan Springs. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Jan. 6 in Fort Wayne. Through the auction, Young hopes to generate money to pay off creditors, said attorney John Burns of Fort Wayne, who represents Young's company in the bankruptcy case.
“We hope whoever buys it will maintain most or all of the property as a historical site,” Burns said.Rather than sports teams contacting him, Young has seen an increasing number of people come to the property for its spiritual history.
Then-Precious Blood order member Sister Mary Ephrem reported in September 1956 that Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to her during evening prayer and then the next morning after Mass. Ephrem, who withdrew from her religious order in 1981 and died in January 2000, had said Mary continued to appear to her after she left Rome City to serve in other locations.
People who visit the grounds now still speak of feeling an overwhelming sense of peace, and some report spiritual and physical healings or conversions to the Catholic faith, said Irv Kloska of Elkhart, who visits the site frequently and strongly believes it is holy ground.
Others have reported seeing what they believe are spiritual signs, such as the sun spinning in the sky, images coming out of the sun and descending to the ground, and unusual orbs that appear in photos taken in the chapel.Young hoped the Catholic Church would take on the Sylvan Springs property as a religious shrine. That hasn't happened. He also believes the property could support a mineral water bottling plant: Combined flow of mineral springs there has been estimated at more than 500 gallons per minute, he said via e-mail, and lab tests done last fall show the spring water is “of very high quality and purity.”
Kloska thinks the site would make a perfect retirement center for Catholic priests.
“A lot of retired priests need a place to go,” he said. “A lot of them live a lonely retirement.”
Four townhouses on the grounds contain 16 living units, Kloska said, and each unit can accommodate two priests. The main building has about 40 rooms with their own restroom, he added, and numerous other rooms share restrooms off the hallways.
Other options mentioned include developing the site as a conference or retreat center.At the auction, bidders will have the opportunity to buy the entire property or to buy parcels of it. The details on the parcels still are being worked out, Vinson said, though one possibility would be to sell the former farm fields as one piece.
“I don't think we're going to have any problem selling the farm ground at all,” she added. Young converted some of that land into athletic fields.
So far, however, Vinson has not found any interest in Sylvan Springs' main buildings and mineral springs.
Wiegmann Auctioneers has been contacting potential buyers to alert them to the sale, she said. She also plans to place large advertisements about the auction in newspapers in Indianapolis, South Bend and Chicago.Young said via e-mail he hopes the campus sells as one piece, but he understands how auctioning it in parcels could generate higher bids.
“Dividing into parcels will forever change the disposition of this property and the surrounding community,” he said. “This whole process has been like watching a defenseless child die of a curable disease when you know there is somebody standing nearby with the cure in their pocket — but you just don't know who that may be. It really tests one's faith. But I have come to know God's plans are perfect, and we are all but a small part of it.”
If sale of the farm ground and personal property generates enough money to pay off his company's debts, Young said he would consider staying on to keep the main campus open for those who want to pray there.
Whether some faithful continue to view the site as holy ground depends on its future use, Kloska said.
“A casino would be terrible,” he noted.
“I truly believe she (Mary, Jesus' mother) is going to intervene, but I don't know when,” Kloska said. “If that happens, that will tell us how mystical a place this is.”
————————————-Reported appearances of Mary:
In the mid-1950s, Sister Mary Ephrem, then a member of the Sisters of the Precious Blood order, reported Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to her twice in the chapel at what now is known as Sylvan Springs. Ephrem said the first appearance occurred during evening prayer Sept. 25, 1956, and the second the next morning after Mass.
During the Sept. 26 reported appearance, Ephrem said Mary urged her to convey a message to “my children in America”: “I wish it to be the country dedicated to my purity. The wonders I will work will be wonders of the soul. ... I desire, through my children in America, to further the cause of faith and purity among peoples and nations.”
Ephrem, who withdrew from her religious order in 1981 and died in January 2000, previously said Mary continued to appear to her after she left Rome City to serve in other locations. Among the messages she reportedly received, Ephrem said Mary told her the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., should be “a place of special pilgrimage.” Mary requested she be honored there as “Our Lady of America, the Immaculate Virgin.”
The Catholic Church has not officially recognized the reported appearances. The church leaves it to the local bishop to decide whether Mary or another holy figure has appeared, an expert said. Former Bishop John M. D'Arcy of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend said previously he did not think reported spiritual happenings at Sylvan Springs warranted an investigation.
A priest who was Ephrem's spiritual adviser and later became bishop of Cincinnati did review her written record of her experiences. He issued a finding then that nothing in the recollections contradicted Catholic teaching.
A local connection:
Some Our Lady of America supporters cite a link to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., as the reason Mary reportedly appeared at Sylvan Springs in Rome City.
Archbishop John F. Noll, who headed what is now the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend from 1925 until his death in 1956, helped lead efforts to raise money for and to complete construction of the basilica. Noll, who founded Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newspaper and publishing house in Huntington, also spent part of his summers at Sylvan Lake and what is now Sylvan Springs.Here are excerpts of comments we received via e-mail from people who have visited Sylvan Springs:
— “As a Catholic, I am so pleased to be able to pilgrimage to this special place only a few hours from my home. My first impression, as I stood on the sidewalk beside the chapel, was a sigh, and a feeling of finally being home. The cares of my world were brought into focus, and a feeling of a greater power in charge came over me. Even with the paint peeling inside the chapel, I could feel that I was in a holy place. My heart felt at home. I did not want to leave.
“I would love to see this place opened and available year-round for any who need healing in any part of their lives. The apartments could house people who work there, while the dorm rooms could house visitors for a small room charge or gift. All people should be welcome to visit; as Mary said, ‘I want all my children to come.'”
— Mary Cosgrove of Ashley, Mich.
— “I was fortunate to be able to visit the site last month. I had many beautiful, spiritual experiences while I was at that site. I have wonderful photos of miracles of the sun and other miracles that happened while I was there.
“I would like to share with you the reason why I am working so hard to save this site to have it available for people to travel there to pray for physical and spiritual healing. In 2007, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I thank God that I have been healed. I was in treatment for 18 months. During that time, hundreds prayed for my healing. My doctor credits God for my healing because the healing I received was far beyond what was expected. I know firsthand the importance that faith and prayer play in healing.
“During my time of treatment, I wanted to go to Lourdes in France, but it was too far for me to travel during my treatment. I am a mother of young children, and a trip to France was just too much to try to do during my treatment. It was hard enough for me to just try to get through all of my duties as a mother. It was impossible to add a trip to France on at the time.
“During that time, as I prayed, I would ask God why there was not an apparition site in the United States that people could go to and pray as they do in Lourdes. I had no idea that there already was a site here. Had I known about the Rome City site of Our Lady of America, I would have gone there to pray during my time of illness. I was not able to go to France, but I would have been able to go to Rome City, Indiana. I am working hard to try to save this site because I want others to be able to go there to pray during their time of need.”
— Nancy Goggin of Randolph, Mass.
— “I would like to share with you and with others that Sylvan Springs is a place of miracles and of healing. It is a place of heaven here on earth. I pray that all may happen according to God's will, and that for Our Lady of America, Sylvan Springs may be preserved and maintained as a holy ground and as a place for all.”
— Cheri Irons of Battle Ground (Ind.)
— "For me it was a spiritual journey. I was in poor health, but had always wanted to visit a place where the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared. I knew of no such place in the U.S. ... Due to my poor health, I did not travel well at all, and my husband had been adamant that I couldn't travel to Medjugorje (or any other place out of the country). Once I found out about Sylvan Springs, I had no desire to travel further ... she had appeared right in the heart of our country. I live just outside of Kansas City, and, in July of 2007, my husband took me there at my request.
"It was a 12-hour drive one-way, and we stayed for three days then returned home. At the time, I was unable to follow conversations well, or to focus on things, people or conversations around me. I also had to use a walker and frequently a motorized wheelchair (due to pain and limited mobility) just to get around. I knew others had experienced miracles and healing there, but I asked only for whatever the Lord and his Mother wanted to give us. We were treated like royalty during our stay, and met Irv who does healing services as well as Larry, the owner. Both were very hospitable and unpretentious. My husband and I both consider them and their families like our own family now.
"During this trip, the peace we felt from the moment we set foot on the property was palpable (and has been every time we have visited since). After the first trip, I came home and told everyone I knew about this special place. My husband also shared miraculous stories, and I was on a mission to spread the word about Our Lady of America and her messages, which started in the chapel on the property.
"Within nine months (without any change in my medication or treatment regimen, other than our trip to Rome City and drinking the water), everyone who knew me began to notice changes. The phrase I most frequently heard was "you are like a completely different person!" I was alert, able to carry on normal conversations, and I no longer needed the motorized wheelchair or even the walker. Long before the walker, I initially used a cane which I have no use for either. The next spring we returned with friends and relatives, and Larry was so shocked at the difference in my appearance and affect that he did a double-take.
"We have made four trips altogether now, and each one is just as exciting and full of miracles. We have received miraculous photos, witnessed the sun spinning, pulsating and dancing on two of the four trips. I love the people I have met there: those who volunteer as well as those who travel there. I think it is the closest to heaven on earth I'll ever experience, and I feel like I have to go there for rejuvenation often. I am so thankful for the friends I have met because of this special place and devotion.
"Because of the healing I received I feel committed to "shout from the mountaintops" about Our Lady of America and Rome City. If I could, I would figure out a way to live there. I know I'm not the only one who knows how special it is, and I believe if others would go there they would be as excited as I am about Our Lady of America and the holy ground in Rome City! I pray it will be preserved for pilgrims and anyone who loves or is just curious about the Blessed Mother and our Savior, Jesus Christ! I believe this devotion could save our country as well as lead the world to peace if we do as Our Lady requested here!
— Pam Jackson of Peculiar, Mo.
For more on the Sylvan Springs property and its spiritual history, go to www.oltiv.org.
AuctionWhat: Sale of the 197-acre Sylvan Springs complex near Sylvan Lake in Rome City, about 30 miles northwest of Fort Wayne.
When: Real estate at 5 p.m. Sept. 10; personal property at 9 a.m. Sept. 11.
Where: On site at 2730 E. Northport Road in Rome City.
Information: Call Wiegmann Auctioneers at 447-4311 or go to www.wiegmannauctioneers.com.