March 5, 2010

‘Strengthened in faith’: St. Anne Parish dedicates new church

Nine priests assisted Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein with the Mass of Dedication and Consecration of the New Altar on Feb. 28 at the new St. Anne Church in New Castle. The parish children raised the money to pay for the oak cross which holds the large corpus and hangs above the altar. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Nine priests assisted Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein with the Mass of Dedication and Consecration of the New Altar on Feb. 28 at the new St. Anne Church in New Castle. The parish children raised the money to pay for the oak cross which holds the large corpus and hangs above the altar. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

By Mary Ann Wyand

NEW CASTLE—“Tested in Fire. Strengthened in Faith. April 7, 2007.”

That inspirational message is engraved on a small plaque below a gleaming black statue depicting St. Anne looking at her young daughter, Mary, which is displayed in an alcove inside the new St. Anne Church in New Castle.

The statue of the parish’s patron saint and the Blessed Virgin Mary as a child miraculously survived the arson fire that destroyed the Henry County faith community’s historic brick church during the early morning hours on Holy Saturday, April 7, in 2007.

Formerly painted in pastel colors, the statue was blackened by the intense heat of the fire yet otherwise is intact.

For St. Anne parishioners, the statue is a spiritual reminder of all that they have had to overcome and have worked so hard to achieve during the past three years as a loving and forgiving family in faith in order to finally be able to celebrate the Eucharist together in their own church again.

Now their beloved statue occupies a place of honor on a pedestal made from the cornerstone of the old church, which was built in 1923 at 1904 Broad St. and had been a landmark for 84 years.

During the Mass of Dedication and Consecration of the New Altar in their new church on Feb. 28, St. Anne parishioners were visibly emotional as Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein celebrated the Eucharist with them then installed the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. (Browse/purchase photos from the rededication | See more extra features)

On this historic Lenten Sunday, the parishioners often looked up in praise and gratitude at the new crucifix, a large white corpus mounted on an oak cross. The parish children were especially excited to see the crucifix on the brick wall behind the altar because they had contributed the money to pay for the wood cross.

“The Transfiguration story is a timely Gospel [reading] as we celebrate the rebirth of St. Anne Church after the tragic fire that seems like a very long time ago,” Archbishop Buechlein said in his homily.

Offering his congratulations and thanks to St. Anne parishioners for their patience, sacrifices and hard work, the archbishop said the dedication liturgy “marks a joyful conclusion to the sadness and the anguish caused by the destructive fire in your church three years ago.”

Lent is “a wonderful time to celebrate the dedication of your beautiful church,” he said. “These walls of brick and mortar represent the coming together in faith of all of you faithful people, and this charming church testifies to your vitality and your hope.”

As parishioners celebrate the dedication of their new church, the archbishop said, it is important to remember those ancestors of our faith who founded St. Anne Parish in New Castle in 1873 as well as the entire communion of saints.

“So we are a far larger parish in unity today than the eye can see,” he said. “As we rejoice this afternoon, it’s good for us to remember that this sacred dwelling is an expression of our love of God. … The beauty of this sanctuary is truly complete when it is filled with people of faith and love.”

The history of every faith community is a pilgrimage often marked by challenges, Archbishop Buechlein said. “I doubt that the pastor and folks who founded your parish envisioned that someday we would have to experience a fire by arson.”

As Catholics, we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us in our community of faith, he said, and we are the shoulders of future generations.

“And always we remember that our foundation is Jesus Christ,” the archbishop said. “At every dedication of a new church, I stress the fact that we are the dwelling place of God. … The Word made flesh is God coming to live with us, pitching his tent and making his home with us. … We are at home with Jesus Christ and—through him and with his Holy Spirit—we are at home with God our Father.”

With incense, oil and fire, Archbishop Buechlein said, “we mark this church as God’s house, a holy and sacred place. We consecrate this house to God. … This church of St. Anne is a wonderful dwelling place of God. May its beauty lead you to be renewed in faith in the awesome Architect of all beauty, and may Christ plant his dwelling place of faith in our hearts.”

At the conclusion of the liturgy, Franciscan Sister Shirley Gerth expressed her gratitude to the parishioners, the archdiocese and other supporters whose generosity helped build the church. The donors’ names are preserved in a book placed in the church narthex.

Sister Shirley has served as the parish life coordinator of St. Anne Parish as well as St. Rose Parish in Knightstown for 15 years, and guided St. Anne parishioners in the rebuilding of their church.

The total cost of the project was $4.2 million, which included $2.7 million in construction costs and $207,000 in liturgical furnishings in addition to site preparation, engineering and architectural fees, landscaping and other expenses.

“We raised about $1.5 million along with the insurance money to help in the rebuilding of the church,” Sister Shirley said after the liturgy.

“The tears came to my eyes when I saw the children carrying up the flowers for the vases,” she said. “The entire parish—and the children were a big part of that—worked so hard to help make this church possible. I was so touched week after week by the money that the children brought in. I think they’re very, very proud of the fact that they donated the money for the cross and the vases.

“It’s been such a learning experience for the children,” Sister Shirley said. “They have learned what the Church is all about, and I don’t think they will ever forget this experience. I think that we have conveyed to them that they are the present and the future of the parish, and how important they are to the Church.”

St. Anne Parish is the spiritual home of about 275 Catholic families, she said, including new members who joined the Connersville Deanery faith community while the parishioners worshiped in the basement of the Parish Life Center for three years.

Among the notable architectural features of the new church—which was designed by Entheos Architects and built by Brandt Construction, both based in Indianapolis—is the large, handmade rose window above the sanctuary. It is a replica of the ornate circular window installed in 1923, replaced in 1963 and then destroyed in the fire. Other stained-glass windows closely resemble the originals installed after the construction of the brick church eight decades ago.

“God really surprised me,” Sister Shirley said about her pastoral leadership in helping build a new church for the Lord.

“It was so beautiful to see the archbishop place sacred chrism on the altar,” she said. “… Now that Christ’s sacramental presence is here, it truly is God’s house and we can say, ‘We adore you, Lord, in this place.’ ”

Father Joseph Rautenberg, the pastor of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Cambridge City and sacramental minister of St. Anne and St. Rose parishes, said the new church is much more than a building.

“It’s the fulfillment of the vision of Church,” he said. “It’s also a vision of a process involving the religious and laity—the local people and the archdiocese—and the fruits of the process of community.”

St. Anne’s youngest parishioners helped celebrate the historic dedication by creating replicas of the church design during their religious education classes.

Third-grader Destiny Reece, who helped make rosary pouches to raise money for the cross and buy liturgical vestments, said “this church means a lot to all of us.”

Second-grader Jack Hawrot, who will receive his first holy Communion this year, was so excited after the dedication Mass that he couldn’t stop smiling.

“This is the best church ever,” Jack said. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’ve never seen anything like it. I liked it when we prayed. We had a great time with Jesus.” †

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