December 22, 2023

St. Maurice Parish in Napoleon celebrates 175 years of family-like faith

This crèche in the narthex of St. Joseph Church in Indianapolis was designed and constructed by Thoai Keeley, a former member of the parish’s Vietnamese community who moved to South Carolina but returns each Advent to design and build a new crèche for the church. (Submitted photo by Father Pious Malliar Bellian)

Standing at the altar, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson celebrates Mass on Dec. 3 at St. Maurice Church in Napoleon as part of a celebration of the 175th anniversary of the parish’s founding. Joining him at the altar are extraordinary minister of holy Communion Kevin Tunny, left, altar servers Mason Ryder, Macey Kinker, Sam Simon and Hudson Kohlman, retired parish life coordinator Franciscan Sister Shirley Gerth, concelebrants Father John Geis, Father Joseph Rautenberg, Father William Turner and Father Binu Matthew, and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion Susan Schutte and Vicki Wagner. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

Mary Merkel grew up in a family with 17 children. So, when she and her husband Ray, with five young children of their own, went to Mass at St. Maurice Parish in Napoleon about 45 years ago, she felt like she was with family.

“It was such a warm, beautiful time during that Mass,” Mary recalled. “It meant so much to us. I just felt like I came home.”

“We were greeted right at the door by one of the older parishioners,” Ray remembered. “A different parishioner invited us over for coffee and donuts. That impressed me.”

“Our children loved the coffee and donuts,” Mary recalled fondly.

The Merkels and many other families in the parish family of St. Maurice came together on Dec. 3 with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Batesville Deanery faith community.

Father Binu Matthew, St. Maurice’s administrator since July, spoke of being impressed by the way parishioners worked to organize the anniversary celebration,

He also noted that it’s just emblematic of how the parishioners throw themselves into the life of the parish as a whole.

“I see in every meeting—whether it’s the finance committee or the parish council—they’re always looking to see what more they can do [for the parish],” Father Matthew said. “They’re always eager to do things.”

That involvement of the parishioners in caring for the faith community is in part rooted in the fact that, for much of its 175-year history, St. Maurice has not had a resident pastor.

At 83, Ray Merkel is glad to see this participation continuing in younger generations.

“We the people of St. Maurice take ownership of our parish,” he said. “The people before us showed us how to do that. Our generation carried that on. Now we’ve passed it on to the next generation. They’re doing that and following up on it.”

The Merkels see the value that St. Maurice’s parishioners place in their faith community in part through their worship at Mass.

“Around here, we’re known as the singing parish,” Ray said. “There’s always singing. We have a lot of singers and musicians.”

“The music here is like being in heaven with the angels,” Mary added.

The Merkels also see people buying into the parish simply through the presence of so many young families at St. Maurice today. They noted that Masses on weekends can be kind of noisy with the sounds of crying babies and boisterous toddlers.

“For me, it’s a blessing,” Ray said.

“They’re talking to God,” Mary added.

One of those families with young children belong to Matt and Leslie Hicks. Both grew up in St. Maurice Parish and now have three children ranging in age from 11 down to 1.

“To be able to stay at St. Maurice has been good,” Matt said. “It’s home to me. You feel welcome and involved at the same time. And when you can bring your kids there, knowing that that’s where you grew up, that feels great as a father.”

“St. Maurice is a place that brings me so much joy and has taught me the importance of having a strong faith,” Leslie said. “It has shown me how to love, work hard and always turn to God.”

Matt serves on the parish’s finance committee. Through that role, he’s seen the strong footing the parish built up through the leadership of Franciscan Sister Shirley Gerth, who served as its parish life coordinator from 2010 until her retirement in July.

During that time, Sister Shirley oversaw many physical improvement projects at St. Maurice, most notably the building of a new parish life center.

“Sister Shirley helped us to get on a good path to succeed in the future,” Matt said. “Now we have a good priest here. It’s great. I would love to see my kids stay around and be a part of the parish going forward into their adult lives. The parish is in a good spot.”

“St. Maurice has a bright and strong future,” Leslie said. “I pray that someday my children and grandchildren will get to experience what St. Maurice has given Matt and I as children, teens, a newly married couple and now young parents.” †

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