August 25, 2017

St. Joseph Parish in Rockville celebrates 150 years … and crullers

Members of St. Joseph Parish bow their heads in prayer during a blessing of the parish’s Marian grotto as part of the parish’s 150th anniversary celebration on June 25. (Parke County Sentinel photo by Lisa Wood)

Members of St. Joseph Parish bow their heads in prayer during a blessing of the parish’s Marian grotto as part of the parish’s 150th anniversary celebration on June 25. (Parke County Sentinel photo by Lisa Wood)

By Natalie Hoefer

Every year in October, thousands of people take in the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival in Rockville. While there, they’re likely to grab a tasty pastry called a cruller from St. Joseph Parish’s “Cruller Shack.”

The parish’s annual presence at the 60-year-old festival marks just a portion of the faith community’s history. Founded in 1867, St. Joseph Parish is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

“I was involved in planning our 125th anniversary celebration,” says Dorothy Padan, 85, a member of the parish since 1974. “It’s hard to imagine 25 years have gone by.”

A look back at its 150 years reveals a parish with tenacity.

According to a history compiled in 1957 by then-pastor Father Flavian Strange, the parish was founded as a mission church by Father Meinrad McCarthy. It would not have its own pastor until 1904, and even then, there was a time between 1917-1947 when the parish did not have a resident pastor.

By 1879, the parish’s congregation numbered 18 families. The railroad industry kept Rockville steadily growing, increasing from a population of 1,187 in 1870—three years after the parish was founded—to 2,045 in 1900, keeping the congregation on the rise. The parish history notes that in 1955, due to crowding in the church building, the parish was given permission by the apostolic delegate to Washington to hold three Masses on Sundays and holy days of obligation.

According to an additional history of St. Joseph from 1957-1992 compiled by parishioner Sharie Law, “From the moment of its founding in February 1968, the mission of the parish council was to research the possibility of replacing the old frame [church] building that had been erected in 1886.”

Their planning proved fortuitous when, in February 1970, the church was damaged from a fire that gutted a gas station immediately next to the 1886 structure. The gas station was built on the church property in 1933 when the parish leased a corner of its lot.

By June 1971, $130,000 had been raised for the structure that now stands along U.S. 36. The construction cost of $290,000 was paid off by 1975.

Meanwhile, money was raised for the former wood-frame church to be moved down the road to Billie Creek Village, a site in Rockville comprised of historic structures relocated for preservation. According to Law’s history, the move was made possible thanks to “a last-minute [financial] intervention by Tony Hulman” of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology fame.

The 1886 structure was restored, and even served as the site for the parish’s 125th anniversary that Padan helped organize. A call to Billie Creek Village confirmed that, as funds diminished and the historic site’s hours were cut back, the church has unfortunately fallen into disrepair.

A portion of the money to build the new church and move the older one came from the parish’s main annual fundraiser: selling crullers during the Covered Bridge Festival.

Making and selling the crullers—a round, twisted pastry—involves a massive, parish-wide effort for the 10 days of the festival.

“That is quite a thing,” says Padan. “It’s our money-maker for the year. We’ve been doing it every year since the festival began” in 1957.

To make enough of the circular, twisted pastries, she says 30-32 buckets of dough are needed each day on the weekends, and around 15-20 buckets are used per weekday.

“At $.75 [per cruller], we’re the bargain of the town square,” says Padan, who puts her time in at the “Cruller Shack” every year. “Just being there is fun. The camaraderie is good.”

Such camaraderie defines St. Joseph Parish for the longtime parish member.

“It’s a family parish,” says Padan, who raised nine children there with her late husband, Bob. One of their sons is currently president of the parish council.

The parish celebrated their sesquicentennial on June 25 with a special Mass, followed by a blessing of the parish’s renovated Marian grotto and a banquet. The Mass was concelebrated by the parish’s pastor, Father Varghese Maliakkal; retired Msgr. Lawrence Moran, pastor of the parish from 1967‑1985, now age 90; and Father Joseph Feltz, archdiocesan vicar for clergy, religious and parish life coordinators

“I wouldn’t want to be anyplace else,” says Padan. “I enjoy the people. They’re all my friends. If I go to a parish I’d been in before, I wouldn’t know anyone. But if I left and came back here in 10 years, I’d still know people. Everyone is very close and helpful.

“I think we’re all pretty great.”

(The St. Joseph Parish Cruller Shack will be open on the square of downtown Rockville from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Oct. 13-22.)

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