June 5, 2015

150-year-old Terre Haute parish takes pride in its church, service

Bob Schafer, left, and Duane Miller, both members of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute, serve guests of the faith community’s soup kitchen on May 22. The charitable ministry has been in operation for around 25 years in the parish that is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding. (Submitted photo)

Bob Schafer, left, and Duane Miller, both members of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute, serve guests of the faith community’s soup kitchen on May 22. The charitable ministry has been in operation for around 25 years in the parish that is celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

The German Catholic immigrants who founded St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute 150 years ago and the descendants and other new parishioners who have come after them have taken pride in their faith and expressed it in many ways.

The first generation of parishioners let the residents of Terre Haute know about their faith through building the beautiful edifice of St. Benedict Church, which was completed in 1899.

The current generation of St. Benedict parishioners still has great love for the beautiful expression of faith seen in their church’s art and architecture.

They have added to that beauty over the past 25 years by their dedication to serving people in need in downtown Terre Haute in the parish’s soup kitchen.

Their gratitude for the foundation of faith laid by their ancestors and their desire to build on it into the future will be celebrated during an anniversary Mass at 11 a.m. on June 28 at the parish’s church, 111 S. Ninth St., in Terre Haute.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin will be the principal celebrant of the liturgy and will be joined by its current pastor, Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Day. Previous pastors and other priests serving in the Terre Haute Deanery are also expected to take part in the Mass.

Following the liturgy, a brunch for parishioners and visitors will be served in the O’Shaughnessy Dining Room of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in St. Mary-of-the-Woods.

“It’s an exciting year to celebrate our tradition,” said Brian Kiefer, president of St. Benedict’s parish council. “We’re seeing a renewed interest in our history. People are going through our history and see familial connections. It gives us a little pride to celebrate and to share with potential new members.”

Born in 1932, Mary Ann Tackett can trace her connections to St. Benedict Parish back to its first decades. Her grandparents joined the parish after emigrating from Germany in the 19th century.

“It’s been a very close parish,” said Tackett, who married her husband John in the parish church in 1953. “You keep up contact with people that you’ve been with for a long time. Everybody works together very well. I think everyone has a very good feeling about being at St. Benedict.”

The cooperation that Tackett has witnessed in the parish is a continuation of the hard work that was required two years before she was born when the parish’s church burned in 1930.

The interior was entirely gutted, and the church’s massive dome that had helped to make St. Benedict Church a landmark in downtown Terre Haute 100 years ago collapsed.

Even with the financial challenges of the start of the Great Depression facing the members of St. Benedict at the time, they still restored the previous beauty of the interior of the church. Rebuilding the dome, however, was not possible.

The ceiling above the sanctuary of the church features a mural that includes depictions of St. Benedict and St. Francis of Assisi. The parish is named after the former, and Benedictine monks from Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad staffed it in its early years. Conventual Franciscans have ministered there since the 1870s and are members of a province in the order that later became based at Mount St. Francis near New Albany.

“The parish takes great pride in its church,” said Father Martin. “The church is definitely the crown jewel. In spite of the fact that the maintenance of it is a substantial drain on the pocketbooks of parishioners, people really don’t begrudge that at all. They’re very happy to maintain it for future generations.”

Sue Butwin, a pastoral associate at St. Benedict, has been a member of the parish for 20 years. Over that time, she has seen how the members’ dedication to the faith community has been passed on from one generation to the next.

“There’s such a witness there,” she said. “They’re kind and good. And the church itself is simply and stunningly beautiful. But the people are just everyday [people]. They get the work done and worship the best way they can.”

The work that they get done includes serving people in need five days a week in the soup kitchen, located in Hellmann Hall, which housed the parish school that has been closed for about 45 years.

Tackett has volunteered in the soup kitchen on Fridays for about 10 years.

“It’s just wonderful,” she said. “It’s just a joy to be able to help these people and give them food.”

Kiefer said that the soup kitchen, which St. Benedict operates in conjunction with St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute, is not just an activity of the faith community alongside other ones.

“It’s a mission of our parish,” he said.

“It’s no longer just something that we do. It’s an important mission that our parish feels like is something that we want to do for the community.”

Other events that will celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. Benedict’s founding include a concert featuring historical anecdotes about the parish at 3 p.m. on June 14. A reunion of former students of the parish’s school will take place at 7 p.m. on June 27 at the parish.

The parish will host a dinner and a video virtual tour of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi in Assisi, Italy on Oct. 4 at the Indiana Theater in Terre Haute. On that same day, a time capsule to supplement an older one will be placed in the church’s cornerstone.

Whether it’s worshipping God in the parish’s beautiful church or serving people in need, Father Martin said that St. Benedict’s 150th anniversary is as much a time to focus on the future of the faith community as it is a time to celebrate the past.

“This isn’t the kingdom,” he said. “We have to keep moving forward. I think the community wants to do that together.”

(Cost for the brunch following the June 28 Mass is $10 for registered parishioners, $5 for children 12 and under and $20 for non-parishioners. Reservations for the brunch need to be made prior to June 12. To make reservations or for more information about other anniversary events, call the parish office at 812-232-8421.)

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