August 10, 2012

Historic Shelby County parish celebrates 175 years

Father Paul Landwerlen, administrator of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County, reads a proclamation about the faith community’s 175-year history after riding a horse onto its grounds on June 24 during an event to kick off a series of celebrations of its anniversary. St. Vincent’s founding pastor, Father Vincent Bacquelin, rode on horseback from the Shelby County parish to minister to Catholics throughout central and eastern Indiana. (Submitted photo by Jennifer Lindberg)

Father Paul Landwerlen, administrator of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County, reads a proclamation about the faith community’s 175-year history after riding a horse onto its grounds on June 24 during an event to kick off a series of celebrations of its anniversary. St. Vincent’s founding pastor, Father Vincent Bacquelin, rode on horseback from the Shelby County parish to minister to Catholics throughout central and eastern Indiana. (Submitted photo by Jennifer Lindberg) Click for a larger version.

By Sean Gallagher

To the average motorist driving on Interstate 74 in rural Shelby County, St. Vincent de Paul Church might look like any ordinary country church sitting adjacent to a highway.

What’s not obvious to the naked eye, however, is the long and sometimes troubled history of the Batesville Deanery faith community located a few miles southeast of Shelbyville.

Founded in 1837, St. Vincent soon became the hub for the tireless ministry of Father Vincent Bacquelin, its founding pastor.

Bishop Simon Bruté, the first bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes, which later became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, met Father Bacquelin on a trip to France when the priest was still a seminarian. Bishop Bruté convinced him to finish his priestly formation in the U.S. and be ordained for the fledgling diocese on the edge of the American frontier.

Although assigned as pastor of St. Vincent Parish, Father Bacquelin ministered to Catholics in such far flung places as Anderson, Cambridge City, Columbus, Indianapolis, North Vernon, Richmond and Rushville.

He traveled from his base at St. Vincent by horseback to all of these places and it was on one such journey that he died. As he returned from visiting a sick Catholic in Rushville in 1846, his horse was spooked by a swarm of bees and threw him against a tree. The fall resulted in fatal injuries to one of the first priests of the Diocese of Vincennes.

The story of Father Bacquelin and the rest of the 175-year history of St. Vincent de Paul Parish is recounted in an updated booklet co-authored by Bette Lux and parishioner Jennifer Lindberg.

The founding pastor’s circuit riding ministry was also recalled during a June 24 pitch-in picnic at St. Vincent that kicked off a series of celebrations honoring the 175th anniversary of its founding. Father Paul Landwerlen, the parish’s administrator, rode a horse onto the parish grounds and read a proclamation about its history.

“I’ve ridden horses many times in my life,” Father Landwerlen said. “I thought that it was a good idea. I enjoyed it.”

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, apostolic administrator, is scheduled to be the principal celebrant of an anniversary Mass at 2 p.m. on Sept. 16.

Lux, 85, had been a lifelong St. Vincent parishioner until moving into the retirement facility at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove late last year. She was born three years after another challenging moment in the history of the parish—the burning of its church by an arsonist.

Although local authorities never pressed charges against anyone for the crime, Lux said that, both at the time that it happened and for decades afterward, parishioners and the broader community believed that members of the Ku Klux Klan, which had great power in the state in the early 1920s, were responsible for it.

“I think that the authorities were probably too afraid to pursue any prosecution,” Lux said. “That’s just my opinion. The people were afraid because sometime they’d come home and would find a cross burning in their yard. It was terrible.”

Although Klan members tried to strike fear in the hearts of Hoosier Catholics at that time, St. Vincent parishioners remained undaunted, completing the building of a new church by 1926.

Lux said that the parish showed a lot of togetherness in rebuilding their church then in protecting it.

“That was at a time when we didn’t have much money,” she said. “They all worked together to help build the new church. And for a long time, a lot of the guys had their shotguns and stood guard wondering what was going to come next.”

In addition to being vigilant, the parish and the priests and religious who staffed it also showed compassion.

That was true especially for Lux, whose mother died when she was a toddler. Members of the Oldenburg-based Sisters of St. Francis, who taught in St. Vincent’s school until it was closed in 1971, took her under their wings.

“The sisters kind of mothered me because they knew that I didn’t have a mother,” Lux said. “I had nothing but love for those sisters. Whenever they’d ask me to help them [clean the sanctuary of the church], I thought that was really great to get up there close to the altar and help them out.”

The members of St. Vincent Parish today honor their past, especially in a stained glass created for the parish’s church when it was renovated in the 1980s that features an image of Father Bacquelin on horseback and fire blazing through the church roof.

Father Landwerlen, 85, honors that past simply by ministering there.

His great-grandfather, John Landwerlen, emigrated from the Alsace-Lorraine region of Germany to the area around St. Vincent Parish in the early 1840s, becoming one of its earliest parishioners.

“I was excited about coming back here and ending my priesthood here,” said Father Landwerlen, who has ministered at St. Vincent since 1996. “We never know what’s going to happen in the future. Here I am, a great grandson coming back to minister at the parish where he first came.”

Although St. Vincent parishioners value their past, they look forward to the future of their faith community.

Debbie Nieman, 25, does that especially for her 2-month-old daughter, Jessica.

Nieman and her husband, John, both grew up in the parish. Many of the children that she grew up with at St. Vincent are now starting families of their own.

“I’m excited to be able to raise her there in the same church and start that history of our family,” Nieman said. “We see the same people every Sunday.”

One of those people is Father Landwerlen, who has been her pastor since she was a grade school student.

She sees lots of vitality in his ministry and the way he preaches.

“When he gets all excited and gets his arms going during homilies, it’s hard not to get excited and listen intently to what he’s got to say,” said Nieman, who also appreciates the presence of young families who have moved into the parish in recent years.

Lux said that St. Vincent has been in the past and remains today a friendly community that appreciates both longstanding families and newcomers.

“My parish family is very important for me,” she said. “That’s where I get a lot of my love. It’s always been a huggable place, a good place for hugs.”
 

(To learn more about St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County, log on to www.svdpcc.com.)

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