June 27, 2014

Eucharist, church renovation brings Rushville parish community together

Members of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Rushville listen to Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin deliver a homily during a June 21 Mass in which he blessed the parish’s recently renovated church. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Members of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Rushville listen to Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin deliver a homily during a June 21 Mass in which he blessed the parish’s recently renovated church. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

RUSHVILLE—Mary Schneider has seen many changes at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Rushville during her 72 years.

But the recent renovation of her faith community’s church is the most dramatic of those changes.

“It’s breathtakingly beautiful,” said Schneider. “I just get goose bumps talking about it. Everywhere you look in the church, it’s more beautiful from one place to the other.”

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin blessed the renovated church of the Connersville Deanery parish during a June 21 Mass on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. (Related: See a photo gallery from the Mass)

In his homily, Archbishop Tobin said that the Eucharist sustains the very life of the Church as the body of Christ.

“We go to the Eucharist to stay alive,” he said. “The Eucharist is meant to be God’s regular nourishment for us, daily manna to keep us alive within the desert of our lives.”

Archbishop Tobin said that the point about the relationship of the universal Church and the Eucharist is also true for St. Mary Parish.

“You’ve done a marvelous job in revitalizing this church building. It really is beautiful,” he said. “But without the Eucharist, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception will certainly die.

“And so, we thank God for the gift of his body and blood. We thank God that this gift makes us a community.”

The community of faith at St. Mary that is nurtured through the Eucharist came together in a significant way to accomplish the $1.3 million renovation of the church’s interior.

Father Jeremy Gries, pastor of St. Mary, said that approximately 85 percent of the members of the parish contributed financially to the project.

“It has been a very unifying project for the parish overall,” he said. “Everyone contributed. Everyone wanted to see it happen. People have been very pleased.”

Like Schneider, many parishioners were thrilled when they saw the renovations of their church’s interior completed just before Holy Week this year.

The project included completely replacing the church’s plaster walls, giving walls a new paint scheme, re-working the side altars, replacing the floor of the sanctuary and constructing a new baptismal font and a reredos altar in the middle of the sanctuary to hold the church’s tabernacle.

The renovation of St. Mary Church’s interior was the culmination of other projects over the past decade—repairing structural problems in the church’s attic, tuck pointing its bricks, replacing its ceiling and lighting and installing a new heating and air conditioning system.

St. Mary parishioner Ed Harpring gave much of the credit for the renovation’s success to Father Gries.

Harpring worked closely with his pastor when he served as co-chair of the Preserving Our Heritage Campaign, which raised funds for the renovation, and on the parish’s renovation committee.

Harpring described Father Gries as “the guiding light, the lynchpin” for the project. He especially appreciated the expertise that his pastor brought to the work from his days working as a structural engineer before entering the seminary.

“His two engineering degrees came in very handy. He, possibly, is the most qualified priest on the face of the Earth to head a renovation project of this size,” said Harpring in remarks at the end of the Mass, inspiring laughter and applause throughout the congregation.

In comments after the Mass, Father Gries was quick to put the focus on the Eucharist as the source for the strength and unity of the parish, something he said is expressed in the placement of the tabernacle directly behind the main altar.

“The Eucharist is central to what we do,” Father Gries said. “It’s back in the center. Having the tabernacle back there and having us gather around the altar has been a good part of it.”

At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Tobin gave the members of St. Mary Parish a mission that he thinks can be energized by the renovation project.

“Statistics say that 20 percent of our state belong to no church,” Archbishop Tobin said. “So I imagine that there are a few folks here in Rushville that don’t have a spiritual home. Maybe they’re people you work with, people you know in different civic organizations.

“Reach out to them. Say, ‘We’ve got a really good thing here. … Most of all, we’ve got a generous, loving body of Christ that is nourished by his word and sacrament.’ ”

Father Gries, who thought Archbishop Tobin was “spot on” in giving that mission to the parish, said that St. Mary Parish is ready to reach out in earnest to the broader community.

“The title of our campaign was ‘Preserving Our Heritage,’ ” Father Gries said. “And certainly there was a physical heritage that we had to preserve.

“But, more importantly, is the heritage and tradition of our faith. We recognize that we not only need to preserve it, but also to put it into practice and spread it and share it with those around us.” †

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