October 19, 2012

Oct. 7 liturgy marks final Mass at Holy Rosary Parish in Seelyville

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary parishioners Tamara Richards, left, and her father, Kevin Richards, of Indianapolis hold a pro-life sign as they pray in front of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Indianapolis on Sept. 26 as part of the fall rally for the “40 Days for Life” campaign. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Holy Rosary Church in Seelyville was built in 1908. The first Mass was celebrated in the partly completed church 104 years ago on Oct. 7, 1908, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. (Archive photo)

By Mary Ann Garber

Holy Rosary parishioners in Seelyville celebrated the last Mass for the Terre Haute Deanery faith community on Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Several members of the 67-household parish have appealed the archdiocese’s decision to close Holy Rosary Church as part of a strategic plan for future staffing in the west-central Indiana deanery.

After a lengthy discernment process, the strategic plan was initiated by Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein before his retirement in 2011 to address declining membership and staffing challenges at four of the smaller parishes in that deanery.

St. Leonard of Port Maurice Parish was closed by the archdiocese in November of 2011, St. Joseph Parish in Universal was closed in April and St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute was closed in May.

Father John Hollowell, administrator of Holy Rosary Parish since July 3, was the celebrant for the final liturgy at the small, white frame church built at 2585 N. Main St. near U.S. 40, the National Road.

He also serves as administrator of nearby Annunciation Parish in Brazil—which is eight miles away and has been designated as the receiving parish for Holy Rosary parishioners—and sacramental minister of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute.

“According to canon law, parishioners have the right to appeal to the Vatican any diocese’s decision to merge or close a parish,” Father Hollowell said. “The archdiocese has been very helpful to them in this process.”

About 50 current and former parishioners enjoyed a reunion dinner on Sept. 29.

“I think one of the hallmarks at Holy Rosary Parish that I have experienced is their welcoming spirit,” Father Hollowell said. “A lot of the families have been members for a long time, and everybody knows everyone else in the parish. They all take care of each other, and help each other get to Mass.”

Parishioners selected Marian hymns for the final Mass, he said, and his homily focused in part on turning to the Blessed Mother for her help in times of need.

Janet King, a longtime Holy Rosary parishioner and administrator of religious education, described the small-town faith community as “a loving church family who is concerned about our friends and neighbors in Seelyville, Terre Haute and throughout [Vigo] County.”

King said Holy Rosary parishioners are “eager to respond to any need that arises, whether it be in our area or in the state.”

Parishioners have enthusiastically supported an outreach program, she said, to help people in need through donations to Catholic Charities in Terre Haute.

“For the past 20 years, we have collected jeans, shirts, underwear and socks for the local Catholic Charities Christmas Store,” King said. “Parishioners have volunteered to work the two weeks that the store is open in December and throughout the year getting ready to open the store.

“We have supplied Thanksgiving food baskets, Christmas food baskets, and Christmas toys and clothes for Ryves Hall, which is a part of Catholic Charities,” she said. “Also, we are the only Catholic Church in Seelyville so we are an active presence in our little town.”

During 69 years as a member of the parish, King coordinated religious education classes for 40 years, and also served on the parish council and several deanery committees.

“I have many memories of parish life,” she said. “I most especially enjoyed when I taught the high school religious education group.

“The year I made my first Communion,” King recalled, “we were transported to St. Margaret Mary Parish in Terre Haute for our instruction from the nuns—the Sisters of Providence—every day during summer vacation.”

On Oct. 7, 1908, Father John Walsh, associate pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and founder of the parish in Seelyville, celebrated the first Mass at the partly completed church so the parish was blessed and dedicated under the title of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.

During the parish’s 104-year history, the faith community founded by Czech and Lithuanian immigrants remained small.

In 1919, when surface mining depleted the supply of coal in the area, the miners and their families moved further south to Bicknell in search of more underground coal reserves.

Like a Mustard Seed Growing, the history of the archdiocese, noted that Seelyville’s declining population led to the parish being changed to a mission church served by priests from the Gibault Home for Boys, which was founded by the Knights of Columbus in Terre Haute.

Later, diocesan priests from several Terre Haute parishes provided sacramental assistance to Catholics in Seelyville.

In 1946, Father Leo Schellenberger was appointed pastor, and he arranged for buses to transport children to Catholic grade schools and the former Bishop Schulte High School in Terre Haute.

To ensure that the parish children received a Catholic education, the pastor even drove the school bus if the regular driver was sick.

Father Schellenberger retired in 1973, and several priests assigned to area parishes helped provide sacramental assistance for Holy Rosary parishioners, who pray the rosary together before Mass every Sunday during May and October.

Parishioner Richard Frank, chair of the parish council, and his wife, Betsy, moved to the Terre Haute area in 1994.

“Holy Rosary is a real family,” he said. “It’s a friendly little country church community. … The parish has always been very good at helping others in the community. … Some of the parish families have been here since they started building the church. Everyone is really sad to see the parish close.” †

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