May 12, 2023

Mass Excursions

St. Agnes Parish serves needy in Brown County, sees ‘visitors from all over’

St. Agnes Parish in Nashville
By Natalie Hoefer

Joseph and Agnes Nurre owned a successful plate glass company in Bloomington in the early part of the last century. Among the products they made were glass backboards for basketball goals—not surprising, given their location in the city and state where basketball is religion.

But the Nurre’s true religion was Catholicism. In 1937, the couple approached then-Bishop Joseph E. Ritter with an idea to build a chapel in nearby Brown County in thanksgiving for their many blessings and for their children.

There was no Catholic church in the county at the time. So, instead of approving the Nurre’s idea, he asked Joseph and Agnes to contribute to the establishment of a parish in Brown County. In 1940, a log church was dedicated along State Road 135 on the north side of the town of Nashville.

So began St. Agnes Parish—as a nod to Mrs. Nurre.

Service-minded, from youths to young at heart

Twenty years ago, a new parish church was built just a half-mile west of downtown Nashville.

“The church is nestled in the woods of Brown County with an abundance of windows that let visitors and parishioners alike take comfort from being among God’s creation,” says parish life coordinator Deacon Russell Woodard.

Indeed, the light and view of the woods through the massive windows lining the sanctuary side of the church give the feeling of worshipping at an outdoor Mass.

While the majority of parishioners are retired, says Deacon Woodard, the parish’s youth and young adult ministries are still “vibrant.”

“They’re active. They like to do service work and help St. Vincent de Paul [of Brown County],” he says. The youth group goes to the National Catholic Youth Conference, often attends the annual One Bread One Cup liturgical leadership conference in St. Meinrad, and this year will make a pilgrimage to Rome and then to Portugal for World Youth Day, thanks to a “tremendous outpouring of financial support from our parishioners,” he notes.

Those parishioners also make a tremendous impact on the local community.

“The Brown County St. Vincent de Paul conference is led for the most part by members of the parish,” says Deacon Woodard. “They serve thousands of residents every year providing food, toiletries, clothing and household items to those in need.

“Our parishioners also support our Brown County Habitat for Humanity by providing volunteers who help to build houses and by providing financial support.”

Deacon Woodard notes that “a lot of school kids in the county are on reduced or free lunches.” The parish’s Brown County Weekend Backpacks ministry fills backpacks with food to distribute to schools on Fridays “for children whose parents can’t provide for them on the weekends,” he says.

Parishioners also volunteer for the United Service Organization at Camp Atterbury in nearby Edinburgh, and the faith community is working to develop a relationship with a parish in the Appalachian area of Kentucky.

For a literal taste of the St. Agnes faith community, come the first Friday and Saturday of November for the parish guild’s annual Christmas Bazaar.

“There is a plethora of baked goods for sale,” says Deacon Woodard. “There’s also an abundant variety of crafts and artwork from local artisans for sale, and we raffle off a hand-sewn quilt each year.”

When you come, expect to be joined by visitors from a plethora of places who’ve come to enjoy Nashville and beautiful Brown County.

“Every weekend, we have visitors from all over Indiana, the Cincinnati area, Kentucky and Illinois,” says Deacon Woodard. He invites all to join them and the parishioners to worship at the Lord’s table in St. Agnes Church.

For Mass times, go to

Famous park, famous town, famous artist

Encountering Christ in the Eucharist during Mass at St. Agnes can be part of a day or weekend trip to Brown County, where God can also be seen in the area’s natural cathedral of rolling, wooded hills.

Brown County State Park is one of Indiana’s most popular state parks, with its hilly hiking trails and hazy vistas. While it’s especially known for its brilliant fall foliage, the park is a natural respite any time of year (and from personal experience, the park makes for a beautiful setting to get engaged!). Hike, climb the park’s 90-foot-tall fire tower for a panoramic view of the hills or take a horseback ride. Come for a day or spend the night in a room or cabin at the park’s Abe Martin Lodge, where you can cool off in its 12,000-square-foot indoor water park. Camping is an option, too.

For a different perspective on the hills of Brown County, go ziplining or take an all-terrain vehicle ride with stops to learn about the Native American and pioneer history of the area. Both are available through eXplore Brown County. Call 812-988-7750 or go to for more information.

Nashville itself is a well-known destination, a walkable town with a cozy, rustic ambiance. It’s popular for its clothing and jewelry boutiques; shops selling local-made art, crafts and furniture; wine-tasting rooms; restaurants and more. Stores are typically open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., although some remain open later on the weekends and during the fall season.

Be sure to stop by Gifts from the Heart in the Heritage Mall, 41 S. Van Buren St., where you can purchase rosaries made by German-born Marie Nealy, a Catholic who was one of four rosary makers featured in an article in the Oct. 22, 2021, issue of The Criterion.

Nashville was also the home of world-renowned artist T.C. Steele (1847-1926), a member of the then-famous Hoosier Group of Impressionist painters. You can tour his hilltop home—known as the House of the Singing Wind—and art studio at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site, 4220 T.C. Steele Road, in Nashville. The site and tours are open Wednesday through Sunday from

10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information or to purchase tour tickets, call 812-988-2785 or go to

(Mass Excursions is a feature highlighting an archdiocesan parish and local attractions, encouraging a trip to the area that includes Mass with the members of that parish.)

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