July 12, 2013

Overflow congregation celebrates St. Mark Parish’s 150th anniversary

Following the sesquicentennial Mass at St. Mark Parish in Perry County, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne poses with members of the Bishop Chartrand Council #1172 Knights of Columbus, who provided an honor guard for the celebration.	(Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

Following the sesquicentennial Mass at St. Mark Parish in Perry County, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne poses with members of the Bishop Chartrand Council #1172 Knights of Columbus, who provided an honor guard for the celebration. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

By Patricia Happel Cornwell (Special to The Criterion)

PERRY COUNTY—Greeting a packed St. Mark Church in rural Perry County, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne told the congregation, “Happy anniversary! Just think, when this church was founded, we were in the middle of the War Between the States.”

The parish of 330 members and many visitors celebrated St. Mark Parish’s 150th anniversary on June 23 with a Mass and dinner. An overflow crowd participated in the Mass under a tent in the side yard of the church.

The liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Coyne, vicar general, with Father Dennis Duvelius, current pastor, and former pastors Benedictine Father Barnabas Gillespie and Father Mark Gottemoeller concelebrating.

The first immigrants to settle in Perry County arrived in 1847 from Switzerland, Bavaria and parts of western Germany.

The parish began in 1860 when Father Michael Marendt from Cannelton bought a one-room grocery store and one acre of land to establish a Catholic school. In June 1863, Father Ferdinand Hunt of Troy converted a school into a church and celebrated the first Mass there. For four years, Mass was celebrated twice a month by visiting priests.

From 1864-65, the visiting pastor was Swiss-born Benedictine Father Martin Marty of Saint Meinrad Abbey, who would become the abbey’s first abbot and, later, bishop of the Dakota Territory.

In 1867, Father Marendt proposed to the parish’s 18 families that they build a new church.

Undaunted, members quarried stone from a nearby property and moved it to the site by oxen and sled. The timbers came from the surrounding forest. In 1868, the cornerstone was laid, and Bishop Maurice de St. Palais of Vincennes named the parish after St. Mark. In 1869, the completed church was blessed by Father Martin Marty, then prior of Saint Meinrad.

The parish built a school in 1914, which operated until 1970. The structure now serves as the St. Bede Religious Education Resource Center for the Tell City Deanery.

In 1980, parishioner Shirley Rogier painted a large portrait of St. Mark, which hung in the sanctuary for more than 30 years. Today, it hangs on the left wall of the church. In addition to the depiction of the saint sitting in a doorway writing his Gospel, the picture’s symbols include a lion, a mustard-seed bush, a descending dove and an empty tomb.

In preparation for the sesquicentennial, St. Mark Church was remodeled in 2012, with parishioners removing old flooring and furniture, cleaning the church and reinstalling the pews. Contractors completed the church’s painting, flooring and stonework. During that time, parishioners attended Mass at St. Paul Church in Tell City.

The freshly painted church was filled with flowers gleaned from gardens and roadsides by a team of five women, who spent the previous day gathering and arranging them.

“We do this for every Sunday,” said Cathy Hagedorn, a member of St. Mark Parish.

In his homily, Bishop Coyne reflected, “This is the beauty of what we do as Christians: We come together and celebrate extraordinariness, then go out to live ordinary lives and do extraordinary things in the community. As St. Paul says, ‘We are one in Christ’ [Gal 3:28]. I like to think that churches like St. Mark’s are places where people can come and be ‘one in Christ.’

“We think of a cross as a burden,” he continued, “but Jesus is placing upon us a burden of love, to serve each other and those outside the community, to bear witness to Christ’s message. This is a burden that lightens us. When you give, even though it looks like a sacrifice, it’s life-giving and you feel joy in serving others.

“Every time you and I come to Mass, we are asked to bring all those large and small sacrifices and lift them up with Christ in the Eucharist.”

Members of Knights of Columbus Bishop Chartrand Council #1172 provided an honor guard for the Mass. Marlene Kunkler and Becky Hubert served as lectors, and J.P. and Pam Hilgenhold presented the offertory gifts.

Altar servers were Levi, Luke and Lane Hilgenhold, Sierra Bruggeman, Jenna Lutgring, Mary and Nick Parker. The musicians were Courtney Berger, Kyle Sweat and Jan Sprinkle.

Before the closing hymn, Father Duvelius surprised the congregation by reading a letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, extending “warm greetings” and the apostolic blessing from Pope Francis, who expressed the hope that the celebration would “inspire all the faithful, especially the young, to bear witness to the faith as members of Christ’s body.”

(Patricia Happel Cornwell is a freelance writer and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Corydon.)

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