March 2, 2012

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Was staircase a miracle or a wonder of construction?

Shirley Vogler MeisterLate last year, I found two copies of a booklet about a trip made years ago to the Loretto Chapel Museum at the Chapel of Our Lady of Light, in Sante Fe, N.M.

Before Christmas, I filled a tote bag with books for a young lady that my husband, Paul, and I know who reads prolifically.

Paula is not Catholic, but she is a good Christian who often recites Bible verses. The first time we saw her this year, she thanked us for the books and pamphlets.

The one she singled out was a booklet titled Loretto Chapel Museum Staircase Wood Analysis: Miracle or a Wonder of Construction?

Carl R. Albach, a consulting engineer, wrote the booklet. Two references were noted: Franciscan Sister Mary Florian, who wrote The Inexplicable Stairs, which was printed in St. Joseph Magazine in April of 1960, and Loretto Sister Richard Marie Barbour, who wrote Light in Yucca Land, a centennial commemorative volume published by Pchifani Brothers Printing Co., in Santa Fe, N.M., in 1952.

Albach asks in his first sentence: "Are there such things as miracles in this day and age?"

I wish that I could sit down with him and relate some miracles in my life and in the lives of others who also know without doubt that miracles do happen.

And I wish that I had documented the times when I have seriously declared, "It's a miracle.''

What I believe were miracles weren't just mine, but happened to friends, family members and even strangers. I believe that miracles happen more often than we know.

When I first saw the Spiral Stairway at the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, I was skeptical as I looked at the winding stairs.

There were ropes at the bottom of the staircase preventing anyone from going up the steps because they are so old.

The story of the stairway's origin is fascinating.

In 1852, several members of the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross left Kentucky and traveled to the Southwest, settling in a village populated mostly by Mexicans and Indians that later became Sante Fe, N.M.

Thanks to Mexican carpenters, Loretto Academy of Our Lady of Light was built. Then a Gothic Chapel was patterned after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

The chapel and loft were beautiful, but scarce space prevented the carpenters from building a staircase to the loft.

The Sisters of Loretto prayed a novena to St. Joseph the Carpenter. On the last day of the novena, a gray-haired man with a donkey asked the sisters if he could build a stairway for them.

The only tools that he used were a saw, T-square and hammer. The wood used was first soaked in tubs of hot water.

When he had completed the circular staircase with 33 steps and a railing, the Mother Superior looked for him to offer payment, but he was gone. The miraculous staircase is still there.

Miracles come in many ways that are unbelievable but true, and I believe that others like me acknowledge them, too.

For more information about the Loretto Chapel Museum and a photograph of the miraculous staircase, log on to

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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