December 19, 2014

Bedford parish celebrates 150 years, reaches out to community

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin celebrates Mass on Oct. 26 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Bedford during a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Bloomington Deanery faith community. Assisting at the Mass are Deacon David Reising, left, and Laral Tansy, master of ceremonies. Concelebrating at the Mass are Father Rick Eldred, pastor of the parish, Jesuit Father Jack Heims and Msgr. Frederick Easton. (Submitted photo)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin celebrates Mass on Oct. 26 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Bedford during a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Bloomington Deanery faith community. Assisting at the Mass are Deacon David Reising, left, and Laral Tansy, master of ceremonies. Concelebrating at the Mass are Father Rick Eldred, pastor of the parish, Jesuit Father Jack Heims and Msgr. Frederick Easton. (Submitted photo)

By Sean Gallagher

The Catholic population has never been dominant in Lawrence County.

To this day, Catholics make up only approximately 4 percent of the southern Indiana county’s population.

But throughout much of the 150-year history of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford, Catholics in Lawrence County have been prominent in the broader community from the pride they’ve taken in their beautiful limestone church to their outreach to all people in need.

“Their desire and hope and their love for God and the Church—plus their sacrifice of time, talent and treasure—has been a rich foundation,” said Father Richard Eldred, St. Vincent’s pastor since 2005. “It shows in the church building … and, more importantly, in the family of God here.”

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin gathered on Oct. 26 with Father Eldred, other priests who have served in the parish and many of its members to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding by celebrating a festive Mass and sharing a catered meal afterward.

The Mass was celebrated in the parish’s church building, which was built in 1893 with limestone quarried in the local area. Known at the time as the “Cathedral of Southern Indiana,” it was designed by its then-pastor, Father John Bogemann, and featured stained-glass windows made in Belgium and purchased at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago.

Many members of the parish at the time worked in the local limestone industry and sculpted the church’s altars and Communion rail.

At 83 and a member of the parish for most of his life, Bob Drehobl has experienced more than half its history. He attended the anniversary Mass and dinner.

“It was a good celebration,” said Drehobl. “There were memories. And we were looking forward to the future.”

In an interview with The Criterion, he recalled Father William Boland, pastor of the parish from 1935-47.

“Father Boland was a soft-hearted, easygoing priest,” Drehobl said. “But he looked like he was going to tear you apart when you came up to him. He was very stern looking, but very soft.”

He said a later pastor, Father Lawrence Weinzapfel, was an effective leader who helped the parish build a new school building in the early 1960s when an older facility had been condemned.

“He seemed to be able to get things done without any problems,” Drehobl said. “He raised the funds for the new school before we even broke ground for it. It just happened so easily.”

The people at the parish also made an impression on Drehobl when he was a teenager. At the time, his mother was suffering from tuberculosis, and he had a brother who was also hospitalized. His father was frequently away from home taking care of the sick members of the family, so his Catholic neighbors pitched in to help.

“The families who lived around us were primarily Catholic,” he said. “[They] were always looking after us, taking care of us, making sure we had plenty to eat and [going] to school.”

The faith that has been instilled in the members of St. Vincent de Paul served as a support for longtime parishioner Linda Fitzpatrick when her husband died 31 years ago when she was 43.

“I got more involved in the parish after he passed away,” said Fitzpatrick, 74. “I joined the choir and became the youth minister, in fact. I worked very hard [in that] for eight years. … I got a lot of support from the parish.”

The foundation of Fitzpatrick’s faith had been laid when she was educated by Franciscan sisters in the parish’s school.

The Catholic population of Lawrence County was small then, much like it is now. The parish served as the setting for much of the social life of the faithful of the area.

“Back in the 1940s and ‘50s, the parish was your social life,” she said. “We had a little drum and bugle corps and a little orchestra [in the school]. The ladies [of the parish] would have bazaars and dinners in the upstairs auditorium in the old school. That’s just where your social life was.”

Even though the Catholic population of Lawrence County has always been relatively small, Drehobl said that they’ve always reached out to help others.

Today, members of the parish are active in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which operates a successful thrift store on land leased from the parish.

It also helped start Becky’s House, a homeless shelter in Bedford for women and children that is operated by archdiocesan Catholic Charities.

Father Eldred noted that much of this outreach involves Catholics of Lawrence County collaborating with members of other Christian congregations in the area.

“At times, you can’t tell who belongs to what congregation,” Father Eldred said. “We’re just there doing God’s work. And yet, we brought in close to 20 people into the Church last year in the [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults]. We’re still welcoming and inviting … .”

Father Eldred credits much of the parish’s outreach to help people in need and in evangelization to the prayers offered up 24 hours a day in the parish’s perpetual adoration chapel, which was established shortly before he became pastor.

“It has to be the people’s prayers,” he said. “The enrollment in our school is up. The attitude of unity and excitement is positive.” †

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