November 9, 2012

Tradition and family are at heart of 175-year-old Holy Family Parish

Members of Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg participate in a Corpus Christi procession on May 24, 2006, along the streets of the southeastern Indiana town. The procession has been an annual tradition of the parish since 1846. (File photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Members of Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg participate in a Corpus Christi procession on May 24, 2006, along the streets of the southeastern Indiana town. The procession has been an annual tradition of the parish since 1846. (File photo by Mary Ann Garber)

By Jennifer Lindberg (Special to The Criterion)

OLDENBURG—The brick church and other buildings of Holy Family Parish sit in the heart of Oldenburg, a historic village in southeastern Indiana.

The location of the parish campus suggests the importance of the Catholic faith to the town throughout the parish’s 175-year history.

One can’t drive into town without knowing that it’s a place steeped in Catholic tradition.

The skyline alone brings one’s mind to God as Holy Family Parish’s church steeple stretches 187 feet into the sky.

Across the street, the motherhouse church of the Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg also has a tall steeple, giving the town its nickname of “The Village of Spires.”

Even the architecture of homes and buildings beckons of a long ago village life that has managed to be preserved by residents.

To celebrate the 175th anniversary of the parish, Holy Family parishioners hosted their annual festival on Oct. 7 and will take part in Oldenburg’s “Holiday under the Spires” festival scheduled on Dec. 1.

Since their founding, the historic town and parish have defined the scenic Franklin County community located just off Interstate 74 in southeastern Indiana.

People can’t talk about the Catholic Church without talking about the town, and they can’t talk about the town without talking about the parish because the two are so intimately entwined in their history.

“Holy Family speaks for itself,” said longtime resident and Holy Family parishioner Jeff Paul.

“All the people who live here join together like one big family,” Paul said. “There is a big family spirit, and when it comes to volunteers there is never a lack of resources for what the town needs. The spirit of family is really significant and it really has meaning here.”

Paul, owner of a local grocery store, has longtime family roots in the town and parish. His store sits just at the foot of the hill on which Holy Family Parish is built. And even though it’s a grocery store, it fits into the Catholic history quite easily. Paul worked there as a boy before buying the store from the previous owner.

Franciscan friars who minister in the parish used to earn money by unloading the freight trucks that delivered groceries. One night, the friars came with their candles and crosses to bless the store and present a St. Anthony of Padua statue to the owner. That same statue sits proudly in Paul’s office, a visual reminder of how the Catholic faith is intertwined in village life.

Oldenburg was first settled in 1817 by the George brothers, who came from Pennsylvania. But it was the German immigrants from the Duchy of Oldenburg—who had first settled in Cincinnati—that made the town into what it is today when they started settling there in 1836.

Father Joseph Rudolph, who came to Oldenburg in 1844, is credited as the “father of the town” for his far-reaching goals and plans.

Longtime residents still call him ‘their Father’ when talking about their history, and his grave is underneath Holy Family Church. A stone marker sits by the side altar of the Virgin Mary showing where his body is buried.

Father Rudolph established many of the traditions that are still carried out today at Holy Family Parish, such as the Corpus Christi procession dating back to 1846.

Each Corpus Christi Sunday, the town joins together as the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the streets and adored at various chapels that sit alongside the route.

The ongoing presence of Franciscan sisters and friars ministering in Oldenburg is also rooted in Father Rudolf’s vision for the town and Holy Family Parish.

For years, he sought to bring religious sisters to the area to teach the children. In 1850, his pleas were finally heard by the cardinal protector of the Franciscans in Rome, who gave him permission to found the convent.

But finding the sisters to staff it was difficult. A priest in New York who was going to Europe made the connections for Father Rudolph in Vienna with Franciscan Sister Theresa Hackelmeier.

Mother Theresa arrived with three other sisters shortly before Christmas in 1850. The Franciscan sisters still minister in the town and in various places across the archdiocese and the nation.

Father Rudolph also insisted that Franciscan friars take charge of administering the parish after his death.

Bishop Maurice de St. Palais agreed to call the Franciscans to Oldenburg to take over administration of the parish in 1866, just a few months after Father Rudolph’s death.

Over the years, newer families who moved into the town and became members of the parish have helped to continue the longtime Catholic presence there.

Franciscan Father David Kobak, Holy Family’s current pastor, said more young families are moving to the area. Currently, there are 636 households who call Holy Family Parish their spiritual home.

Father David calls it a grace of God to be able to minister in Oldenburg.

A friar from a long line of Franciscans that have served the parish from their motherhouse in Cincinnati, he appreciates the family theme of the parish, which takes its namesake from the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

“The way we run it here is that 99.5 percent of the time you are going to hear laughter coming from here,” said Father Kobak. “We run it like a family here.”

Catholics who have lived their life at the foot of Holy Family Church’s altar—and received the sacraments of baptism, first Communion, confirmation and matrimony in the church—said they also plan to die in Oldenburg. They want to be buried in the parish’s historic cemetery just a short stroll from the church down the road past the tall brick wall that surrounds the convent of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.

“This is my town,” parishioner Cheryl (Lamping) Webber said. “I don’t care where I live in life. This will always be my town. If you ask for something here, it will be done. I never gave this town a thought as I grew up here, but it wasn’t until later in life that I saw how unique it was.”

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