Lourdes haunting: fact or fiction?

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013
KELSEY CHERWINKA

KELSEY CHERWINKA

Elise Nelson/Winonan

Students have experienced strange things at Lourdes Hall on Winona State University’s West Campus: dishes flying across the room, shadows passing by their doorways, tugging on their legs in the swimming pools and photos being turned around or knocked down.

And all these things are attributed to one person: the ghost of a former nun who killed herself in the dormitory.

Before Winona State University acquired Lourdes Hall, the looming, Hogwarts-like dormitory was owned by a Catholic school, the College of St. Teresa. As one version of the story goes, a priest impregnated a nun, known as Rebecca or Ruth, and she carried the child to term.

After the infant was born, the priest threw the baby down the elevator shaft, the nun killed herself by throwing herself down the stairwell and the priest hung himself in the chapel, which is now the Lourdes pool.

None of this is true, however, according to the archivist of St. Teresa, Sister Mary Lonan Reilly.

Reilly said while she lived there, there were no stories like the one told today. Reilly said she believed the story might have originated as a result of an incident involving a St. Mary’s University priest who attempted the murder of a colleague. She said she believed students who had heard the story might have taken inspiration from it and devised the story of the Lourdes ghost.

Despite this, former residents of Lourdes Hall Mackenzie Pochardt and Ashley Ouradnik cannot explain away experiences they had in fall 2010 and spring 2011, when they lived down the hall from the room people say Rebecca/Ruth was confined to during her pregnancy.

During the year Pochardt and Ouradnik lived on the fourth floor of Lourdes, they experienced a number of eerie incidents.

While in the bathroom late at night, Ouradnik heard a lock to one of the stalls creak as it unlocked, and when she exited the stall, no one was in the bathroom. She hurried back to her room.

Ouradnik and Pochardt also experienced shadows moving across their doorway when no one was in the hallway, paper bowls launching across the room from the top of their dresser, and what they described as orbs or lights in their room.

More often than not, however, they would merely experience an intense feeling of someone looking at them.

“We’d get this feeling of someone else being there,” Ouradnik said. “You’d just feel like someone was in the room watching you.”

Reilly said she had never heard the story while she lived on the St. Teresa’s campus, meaning the story is likely a product of Winona State faculty and students’ imaginations and not a result of happenings at the College of St. Teresa.

The College of St. Teresa closed in 1989, and Winona State acquired Lourdes Hall in 1990, so this popular story of a dormitory haunted by a nun is likely no more than 23 years old.

For those looking for a ghost story, this is not the only strike against the tale’s credibility. Though many students believe the pool on the first floor of Lourdes was the chapel the priest hung himself in, Reilly said there was never a chapel in that location.

Lourdes Hall did have a couple chapels over the years, according to “Design in Gold,” a history of St. Teresa by Sister M. Bernetta Quinn. However, the two chapels mentioned in the book were located on the second floor of the west wing and on the second floor across from what is now the north reading room. Both locations are far from the Lourdes Hall pool.

There are no records of the nun or priest or their deaths in the online newspaper clippings from the Winona Newspaper Project.

Contact Elise at ENelson07@winona.edu

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