June 1, 2012

May 20 liturgy marks final Mass at St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute

St. Ann Church in Terre Haute is now the home of the Catholic Charities Christmas Store, which serves the poor in Vigo County. The parish was founded in 1876 at 1440 Locust St. The parish’s fourth worship space was completed in 1953. (Submitted photo)

St. Ann Church in Terre Haute is now the home of the Catholic Charities Christmas Store, which serves the poor in Vigo County. The parish was founded in 1876 at 1440 Locust St. The parish’s fourth worship space was completed in 1953. (Submitted photo) Click for a larger version.

By Mary Ann Garber

TERRE HAUTE—For nearly 140 years, St. Ann parishioners in Terre Haute have been “faithful witnesses to God’s goodness,” Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, noted in a letter of thanks to members of the Terre Haute Deanery parish.

His letter was read to parishioners during the final liturgy on May 20—the solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord—at St. Ann Church, which was closed by the archdiocese as part of the future parish staffing plan for the deanery.

Also as part of the Terre Haute Deanery plan, St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish in West Terre Haute was closed on Nov. 19, 2011, and St. Joseph Parish in Universal celebrated its final Mass on Easter Sunday, April 8. Holy Rosary Parish in Seelyville will close on Oct. 12.

“The prayers of the entire archdiocese are with you today as you celebrate the final Mass at St. Ann Parish,” Bishop Coyne wrote. “The closing of your parish brings some pain and sorrow, and I thank you for the dignified manner in which you have carried out this difficult task. I especially thank Providence Sister Connie Kramer and Father Rob Hausladen for their ministry and care for you.”

Sister Connie ministered as St. Ann’s pastoral associate and director of religious education from 1991 until 1993 when she was named parish life coordinator. Father Hausladen has served as the sacramental minister since 2010.

“Formed by the Word of God and the sacraments,” Bishop Coyne noted, “you have faithfully lived out your parish mission statement of providing life-giving spiritual experience and social programs for yourselves and your neighbors.

“During my short time in the archdiocese, I’ve learned about the many different ways you have blessed the Church and the people in the Terre Haute area with your food basket ministry, dental program and medical clinic,” he wrote. “I am grateful that you want to see these important ministries continue, and that you are welcoming Catholic Charities and allowing them to make the church building the new home for the Christmas Store.”

Bishop Coyne said he also is grateful to St. Ann parishioners for their “care and generosity to the greater Church” through donations of sacred art and liturgical furnishings to surrounding parishes as well as the Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis and St. Luke Parish in Salyersville, Ky., in the Diocese of Lexington, which lost their church on March 2 when it was destroyed by a tornado.

Nearby St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute has been designated by the archdiocese as the receiving parish for St. Ann parishioners. Members of other area parishes are also welcoming them.

“It’s terribly painful to close a vibrant parish,” Sister Connie said on April 22 about the closing of the 240-member faith community dedicated to serving the poor.

“There are 14 parishes in this deanery and 10,000 or so Catholics,” she said. “We have too many parish structures for too few people. Our churches are only 40 percent or 50 percent occupied.”

St. Ann parishioners have “asked God for the gift of acceptance,” Sister Connie said. “… We are happy that all of our ministries will continue.

“St. Ann’s medical and dental clinics, which will now both be ministries of the Sisters of Providence, will continue to serve people in the same building,” she said. “The parish food ministry will be absorbed into the Catholic Charities food ministry at Bethany House. We made our last food baskets in April after 37 years. In May, we gave people certificates for food with a list of where they can go for help with groceries.”

St. Ann parishioners have helped poor people in Vigo County since the parish was founded in 1876 at 1440 Locust St.

On July 1, 1894, the first church was destroyed by a fire, but was rebuilt within a year. In 1906, the church was moved to the second floor of the school building. St. Ann’s present church was constructed in 1953, and recently served about 120 households.

“The parish was formed out of a social justice need because the first families rallied around the [Providence sisters’ former] orphanage [for girls],” Sister Connie said. “The bishop recognized that the people deserved the nourishment of a faith family and sacramental life. The school, which was a very strong ministry, was built in 1906.”

After the school was closed in 1979 due to low enrollment, she said, parishioners worked with the sisters to found the St. Ann Clinic in that building.

“In 1975, a parishioner came to the pastor at the time and said, ‘My neighbors are hungry, and we need to get them some food,’ ” Sister Connie said. “That was the beginning of the parish food basket ministry, which has lasted until now.”

In 2002, St. Ann Parish received a $50,000 grant from the St. Francis Xavier Home Mission Fund, which was made possible by donations from archdiocesan Catholics to the United Catholic Appeal, to help renovate the second floor of the former school and operate it as a free parish emergency dental clinic serving the poor.

A $20,000 gift from St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Cambridge City, $3,000 donation from St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis and $360,000 grant from the city of Terre Haute also helped fund the dental clinic, a $500,000 project which opened on Jan. 12, 2005.

The St. Ann Clinic, also located in the former school, provides primary health care services and referrals to low-income people as a project of Providence Self-Sufficiency Ministries Inc.

Sister Connie’s pastoral ministry at the parish continues a longtime relationship with the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, who started the former school and provided teachers for many years.

St. Ann parishioners generously support many Church and community projects, Sister Connie said. “We made our goal for the United Catholic Appeal 21 years in a row, including this year when the people knew that their parish was closing. That’s more than amazing.

“Our parishioners know the poor, and they care for the poor,” she said. “They know what meaningful liturgy is, and they create it. They know what good relationships are with each other, and they build them. … The pastoral leadership over the years has empowered the people in many ways, and I am very grateful for that. They will take their gifts and talents that they have generously shared at St. Ann Parish, and enrich the other parishes with their presence and their gifts.”

Parishioners Martin and Jody Thomas of Terre Haute joined St. Ann’s faith community in 1976. On April 22, they said the parishioners have become their family.

“I feel like one of the reasons why it is so hard for us to give up our family home here is that … these are the people that were here when our babies were born,” Jody Thomas said. “Our children have come back to the parish to be wed here, our grandchildren were baptized here and we just had our granddaughter’s first Communion here.”

St. Ann Church was full during the final Mass on May 20, Sister Connie said, and the parish’s talented music ministers helped lead the people through the vibrant and emotional liturgy with favorite songs.

“We had a lovely concluding rite then went outside and rang bells on our way to the school to tell the neighborhood that we are still here for them in our outreach services,” she said. “We had a lovely dinner for 200 people and did a champagne toast to the parish, and simply had a wonderful, wonderful time.”

On May 21, Sister Connie began the administrative task of giving away the religious artwork and liturgical furnishings to local parishes, Bishop Bruté seminary and St. Luke Parish in Salyersville, Ky.

Parishioner Martin Thomas, who was active in the music ministry for many years, said St. Ann parishioners will receive a CD of their favorite songs recorded at Masses during the last year as a special way to remember their beloved faith community. †

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