May 10, 2024

Mass Excursions

Historic St. Michael Church in Cannelton is built of sandstone and of ‘dedicated’ living stones

By Natalie Hoefer

St. Michael Church in CanneltonStories written in sand are washed away. But stories written in sandstone withstand the test of time.

Take St. Michael Parish in Cannelton on the Ohio River in Perry County. Its church, built of locally quarried sandstone, has stood on a hill overlooking the town since 1859.

Likewise, its generations of parishioners have carried on the faith. A stanza from a poem by Stella Miller, published in Michael Rutherford’s 1986 book St. Michael’s On The Hill &

St. Patrick’s Church, honors this fact:

“The years they spent in sacrifice
And toiling with a will,
Has left us with this grand old place:

‘Deep roots in the community’

Danielle Corley beams with pride for the Tell City Deanery parish she has been a member of for 43 years.

“St. Michael is blessed to have a dedicated group of people with a lot of deep roots in the community and parish,” says the president of the parish council. “We’re proud of our church and our faith.”

Corley says the 165-year-old structure is in “amazing condition,” thanks to parishioners’ generous, dedicated care. Its prominent location just a block

from the Ohio Scenic River Byway on State Road 66 makes the structure itself a form of evangelization.

“We have people come from miles around to see it,” says Corley. If a parishioner is present and a stranger asks for a tour, “They drop what they’re doing and say, ‘I’m happy to show you!’ ”

Highlights of the tour include the recently restored, 97-year-old stained-glass windows; the 74-year-old Wicks pipe organ; ropes in the entry that are still used to ring the four bells, one installed in 1860 and three installed in 1870 (while the sound of the church’s clock calling out the quarter-hour can be heard throughout Cannelton); and the crypt of parish founder Father Michael Marendt that resides below the altar.

St. Michael is made of living stones, too—its parishioners who bring the light of Christ to the local community.

One ministry Corley says “we’re really proud of” sees that Catholic patients at Perry County Memorial Hospital in nearby Tell City have the opportunity to receive the Eucharist seven days a week.

The ministry, coordinated by a parishioner, includes nine volunteers from the “quad parishes,” four local faith communities that share resources: St. Michael; St. Mark, Perry County; St. Paul, Tell City; and St. Pius V, Troy.

Members of the parish’s St. Ann Society women’s guild “do a lot of good work” too, says Corley. “One thing they do is donate each year to a backpack program that buys food to fill a food gap for children in Perry County who would otherwise be hungry.”

Food also figures in an annual ecumenical effort that the women of the parish participate in. St. Michael is one of several local churches that hosts a “traveling” breakfast speaker series for women during Lent.

The parish is also known for having a “very good, very popular Lenten fish fry,” Corley says. Its annual turkey bingo event the Sunday before Thanksgiving is popular, too, drawing more than 200 people last year. Winners take home a frozen turkey for their Thanksgiving dinner.

Just five days later, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, is the Cannelton Christmas parade, which includes floats.

A few years ago, parish volunteers constructed a roughly 10-foot tall wooden replica of St. Michael Church as a parade float. The reaction was exciting, says Corley: “You could hear people say, ‘Oh, wow! That’s that big church! That’s St. Michael!’ ” The float has won first place in two out of the last three years.

Christmas is a lovely time to see the church, she adds.

“St. Michael Church is just gorgeous, and at Christmastime it’s breathtaking. We have 12-foot trees, but they look like 5-foot trees, the ceilings are so high.”

But visitors are welcome at “this grand old place, St. Michael’s on the hill” anytime, Corley says.

“We love giving tours, and we just love having people join us for Mass!”

For information on Mass times, call the parish at 812-547-7994 or go to Cannelton is on Central Time.

Wine, history, river views, a Celtic cross and eagles, too

While Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist is the primary source of sustenance when visiting St. Michael in Cannelton for Mass, Corley recommends breakfast afterward at Julie’s Tell Street Cafe or pub food and craft beer for dinner at The Pour Haus, both in nearby Tell City.

Another place to drink in the local spirit(s) is Blue Heron Vineyards & Winery in Cannelton. Taste their wines, listen to live music and enjoy views of the Ohio River. Blue Heron is particularly noted for its 20- by 22- by 4-foot Celtic cross hand carved into hillside stone by a local sculptor. According to the Blue Heron website, it is believed to be the largest in situ (of its own source) Celtic cross in the world. For more information on the cross, wine-tasting hours and an event schedule, go to

For a taste of life in southern Indiana in the 1850s, take in an event or private tour at the Shubael Little Pioneer Village in Cannelton. Named for Shubael Little, a pioneer and first landowner of the farm where the village stands, the site includes six historic, reconstructed cabins, a mercantile, blacksmith shop, one-room schoolhouse and more. The site offers three annual events: a Dogwood Festival the last weekend in April, a fall festival and open house in October (Oct. 19-20 this year), and a candlelight Christmas tour in December (Dec. 14 this year). Private tours and school field trips can also be arranged. For more information, go to or call 812-547-8215, 812-968-9522 or 812-547-6594.

There’s locks to see in Cannelton—and a dam, and the Ohio River, and eagles. See them all at Eagle’s Bluff Park and Overlook. The 128-acre park includes three easy-level walking trails, picnic shelters and an observation deck overlooking the Ohio River and Cannelton Locks and Dam. Bring your binoculars to see the locks at work—lifting or dropping river vessels 25 feet in about eight minutes—or to catch sight of a majestic eagle soaring over the river or perching in a tree. For more information, go to

(Mass Excursions is a monthly feature highlighting an archdiocesan parish and local attractions, encouraging a trip to the area that includes Mass with the members of that parish. Each month will highlight a parish in a different deanery to showcase faith communities throughout central and southern Indiana. View past features at

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