October 1, 2010

St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour celebrates 150 years

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, right, shakes hands with Brett Sciarra, left, a member of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour, on June 27 at the parish. Fred Sciarra, second from left, his father, and Arlene Calmer look on. (Photo by Jamie Marshall/Marshall Memories)

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, right, shakes hands with Brett Sciarra, left, a member of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour, on June 27 at the parish. Fred Sciarra, second from left, his father, and Arlene Calmer look on. (Photo by Jamie Marshall/Marshall Memories)

By Sean Gallagher

Members of St. Ambrose Parish in Seymour began a yearlong celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of their parish with a Mass on June 27 at which Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein was the principal celebrant.

The parish in the heart of the Seymour Deanery was established in 1860 when a railroad was constructed through Jackson County, and German Catholic immigrants moved into the area.

However, St. Ambrose’s current pastor, Father Daniel Staublin, noted that the Catholic population of Jackson County has always been dwarfed by the Catholics in Jennings County, its neighbor to the east.

“The Catholics all settled in Jennings County right next door,” said Father Staublin with a laugh. “That’s very Catholic. This is a very heavily Lutheran community.”

Jennings County has four parishes. The only other parish in Jackson County is Our Lady of Providence Parish in Brownstown.

Despite the relatively small Catholic population in and around Seymour, St. Ambrose Parish has had a prominent place in the broader community throughout much of its history, according to Father Staublin.

“We’re right downtown,” he said. “St. Ambrose [Church] is very visible in the community. And the fact that it’s been here 150 years makes it an intricate part of Seymour’s history and Jackson County’s, too.”

The parish has held a special place in the hearts of many of its parishioners over the years.

Doloris Joray, 79, became a St. Ambrose parishioner at the age of 13 when her family moved to Seymour.

She later raised 10 children on her own after her husband left her. Joray lived half a block from the parish and half a block from Seymour’s hospital, where she worked as a nurse.

“After work, I would always go to the church and pray,” she said. “People asked me how I did it and I’d say, ‘Well, the Lord did it.’ But they were very kind to me. And the parish has been very helpful.”

Joray joined a group of fellow longtime members of St. Ambrose’s chapter of the Legion of Mary in bringing up the offertory gifts during the anniversary Mass.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “People were really impressed. Some of them were in tears. They thought it was so beautiful. One of them said, ‘There’s sure a wealth of prayers going up that aisle.’ ”

Current members of St. Ambrose value the memories of pastors from past decades.

Father Irvin Mattingly was the pastor of St. Ambrose Parish from 1946-67.

“He was pretty strict,” Joray said. “He was from the old school. He started the Legion of Mary [in the parish], which I belong to yet.”

Msgr. Cornelius Sweeney led the parish from 1975-83.

“He was kind to everyone,” said Mary Dominik, 88. “Even when he went to the hospital, some people were impressed with him because even if they weren’t Catholic, he’d stop in and say a prayer with them.”

Father Joseph Sheets was St. Ambrose’s pastor from 1983 until 2001 and still lives in Seymour.

“He is the priest that I remember growing up,” said Nathan Frey, 34. “I remember him being very stern, [but] in a good way. He was a very good leader. As a child, I guess you didn’t question what he was saying. For me, anyway, he was a good role model to look up to.”

Over the years, St. Ambrose Parish has also become dear to newcomers to Seymour.

Joseph and Mary Dominik, both 88, moved there from Hammond in northwestern Indiana in 1961. Once they retired and their five children moved out of their family home, their relatives back in Hammond wondered why they didn’t move back.

Part of their decision to remain in Seymour was the love they have for the town and their parish.

“I enjoyed it here,” Mary said. “The people were always so nice and friendly. We really enjoyed them. We still do.”

Those who moved to Seymour have also included people born outside the United States.

In the 1980s, several Vietnamese Catholic families became members of St. Ambrose Parish.

Frey was a student at St. Ambrose School at the time, and made friends with a Vietnamese classmate.

That experience, in part, paved the way for him to welcome a larger influx of Hispanic Catholics into the parish over the past two decades.

“You can definitely tell that the Catholic faith is very ingrained into their society,” Frey said. “I think it’s been a positive influence for our parish and our community.”

Father Staublin sees Hispanic Catholics as an important part of St. Ambrose Parish in the years to come.

“Those in the Hispanic community have really embraced being a part of the parish,” he said. “And the Anglo community has really embraced them. It’s still developing, but I’ve been amazed in just the seven or eight months that I’ve been here at how [both groups] really do just want to be [one] St. Ambrose. I look at that as a good sign for the future.”

Parishioners like Frey are also working to build a strong future for St. Ambrose because they want it to be a place that can nurture their children’s faith, just as it did for them when they were young.

“It’s always been an active part of my life,” said Frey, the father of two young children. “It’s been a guidance for just about anything that I do. … I hope that our children are involved with the Church as they grow up. I hope they build a relationship with God and go through the sacraments as I did.” †

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