December 13, 2013

St. Mary-of-the-Rock Parish and St. Anne Parish in Hamburg merge with Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg in Batesville Deanery

By Natalie Hoefer

When fire destroyed St. Mary-of-the-Rock Church in the town of St. Mary-of-the-Rock in 1906, Gary Meyer’s grandfather was one of the first men on the scene to start the cleanup.

Meyer’s father, part of the next generation of Meyers to be lifelong members of the parish, held his wedding in the church building his own father helped rebuild.

Meyer and his siblings formed the third generation of family members at the parish.

“My mother came from Oldenburg,” he said. “She was a member at Holy Family [Parish] there before she married my dad.”

So, for Meyer, there was a bit of family history he could reunite with as St. Mary-of-the-Rock Parish merged into Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg on Dec. 1 through the “Connected in the Spirit” planning process in the Batesville Deanery.

Nevertheless, that connection does not diminish Meyer’s sadness at the closing of his home parish.

Meyer, who served for many years on St. Mary-of-the-Rock’s finance committee and parish pastoral council, said his mood during the final Mass on Nov. 3 at the church was “sad, knowing it would be the last Mass and seeing everyone together as a congregation, people you see every week.”

Deacon Robert Decker, who had been the parish life coordinator for St. Mary-of-the-Rock Parish, agreed that “there were tears and grieving hearts” at the Mass.

“But [afterward] everyone came together for a meal and had a good time talking and sharing and watching a slide show,” Deacon Decker said. “It was a very special day.”

While the parish is officially being merged with Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg, Deacon Decker noted that “there are also four other Catholic parishes within eight miles. Parishioners have been discerning which to attend.”

Wendy Weisenbach, a lifetime member of the parish who served on the parish council and as president of the ladies’ society, said she has “tried to keep a positive attitude for my kids.

“Of course, there are a lot of sad people,” she said. “Some are angry, but several understand that it is what it is.

“Mass is Mass,” Weisenbach continued. “No matter which parish you go to, Jesus is present there. I hope others can embrace another parish and get involved.”

Weisenbach and her family will join St. Anthony Parish in Morris, not for lack of outreach from Holy Family Parish, she said, but rather because “that’s the parish my husband was raised in, and we already spend a lot of time there.”

Franciscan Father Dave Kobak, pastor of Holy Family Parish, said there has been an ongoing outreach to St. Mary-of-the-Rock members, as well as to the members of St. Anne Parish in Hamburg, which has also merged with Holy Family Parish.

“For the last two years, we’ve said intercessory prayers, had inter-parish council meetings, and before the merger I had a Mass at each parish,” said Father Dave.

John Starost, former president of St. Anne Parish’s pastoral council, is in the process of joining Holy Family Parish.

“The welcome has been good,” he said. “Father Kobak is a good guy.”

But he still grieves the merging of his parish into another.

“It felt like losing a good friend,” said Starost of the final Mass at St. Anne Church on Nov. 23. “There was a solemnness about it.

“The Church is our community. Out here, it’s totally different than in a large city. Here, ancestors have gone for years and years, started the church, taken care of it.”

Cindy Lamping, a secretary, bookkeeper and lifelong member of St. Anne Parish, agreed.

“When the actual words, ‘The parish is now closed,’ were said, it was like a knife through the heart, especially with me being involved and a parishioner all my life,” she said.

Since Lamping is also the bookkeeper for St. John the Evangelist Parish in Enochsburg, she opted to join that parish.

“I know three or four other families joined St. John’s, too, because they live closer [to that parish than Holy Family Parish],” she said. “But many families joined Holy Family because that’s where their kids were already getting religious education.”

Others, she said, just feel “lost.”

“Until folks can settle in and get comfortable somewhere else,” said Lamping, “there will be people looking for an answer.”

Father Willaim Ehalt, pastor of St. Anne Parish, empathized with the parish members.

“It’s a good group of people,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll find another parish home. This was part of our spiritual journey that many of us didn’t think we would have to participate in.”

Father Dave is sensitive to this change.

“This is still a tender time. It will take time for everyone to adjust. It’s painful, heartbreaking. We’re doing everything we can to be compassionate.”

Deacon Decker agreed.

“What’s most important for our parishioners is finding a new home where they can celebrate the Eucharist as a body of Christ, and become an active member of the body of Christ.”

(For more information about the merger of St. Mary-of-the-Rock Parish and St. Anne Parish in Hamburg into Holy Family Parish in Oldenburg, including the decrees stating reasons for this change, log on to

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