June 12, 2015

Decatur County parish comes together as one at outdoor Mass

Father William Ehalt elevates the Eucharist during a May 31 Mass on the St. John the Evangelist campus of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Decatur County. More than 300 members of the Batesville Deanery faith community took part in the Mass. Father Ehalt is St. Catherine’s pastor. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father William Ehalt elevates the Eucharist during a May 31 Mass on the St. John the Evangelist campus of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Decatur County. More than 300 members of the Batesville Deanery faith community took part in the Mass. Father Ehalt is St. Catherine’s pastor. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

ENOCHSBURG—May 31 was an unusually chilly day for being so close to the beginning of summer.

In rural Decatur County, dark clouds covered the sky and a brisk breeze led many residents of the area to don windbreakers.

The unseasonable weather didn’t keep more than 300 members of St. Catherine of Siena Parish from taking part in an outdoor Mass and luncheon on the faith community’s St. John the Evangelist campus.

It was the parish’s second annual outdoor Mass that brings together members of the former St. John the Evangelist and St. Maurice parishes, which were closed and came together as St. Catherine of Siena Parish on Dec. 1, 2013.

In establishing the new parish, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin also announced that worship would continue in the churches of both former parishes, subject to periodic review.

The decision to close both parishes and establish a new one was the result of a two-year involvement of the Batesville Deanery’s pastoral leaders and representatives of its lay members in the Connected in the Spirit planning process.

Jim Muckerheide was a longtime member of St. John Parish, and serves as chairperson of St. Catherine’s stewardship committee. He was glad to see so many of his fellow parishioners come together for the celebration.

“We wanted to have one Mass so we could all be together,” he said. “Neither of the churches would hold everybody, so this way everybody could come together for one Mass and the lunch to celebrate.”

Father William Ehalt, St. Catherine’s pastor, has seen members of the 306 households of both the former faith communities going to both campuses for Mass.

“The two campuses are only five miles apart,” he said. “Initially, people were a little bit reluctant to leave their normal place of worship. But now I see, more and more, that people from Enochsburg are going to Mass at St. Maurice, and people from St. Maurice are going to Enochsburg.”

The unity among the faith communities has been fostered by having lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion serve in both churches.

It’s also been nurtured in St. Catherine’s religious education program, in which nearly 200 children and youths are enrolled.

“We have a mixture of teachers from both [campuses],” said Vicki Schwering, St. Catherine’s director of religious education. “We’re blended together really well. I’m really pleased with how it has all turned out.”

Dave Gehrich, St. Catherine’s coordinator of youth ministry, sees the youths of the Decatur County parish leading the way in bringing the two former parishes together as one.

Many of them, he said, are already fellow students at North Decatur High School.

“Going forward, the young people get it,” Gehrich said. “They’re already merged together and don’t see any dividing line.”

Although Gary Nobbe joined the former St. Maurice Parish in 1972, the establishing of the new St. Catherine of Siena Parish has helped him share in the perspective of the faith community’s youths.

“We’re a new parish,” Nobbe said. “We can do a lot of things. We can put St. Catherine on the map with some of the things that we’re doing.”

Some of the new things include reaching out to the broader Decatur County community by being present at its county fair, and sharing information about the Catholic faith with visitors to the parish picnics on both parish campuses.

“We’re following the archbishop’s emphasis on evangelization,” said Father Ehalt. “I think it’s very good for us Catholics to start thinking that way. We’ll have a little bit more of a presence in the local area.”

St. Catherine is also giving support to the Agape Center in Greensburg, an ecumenical effort to help people in need in Decatur County. It is located in an office building on the campus of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg.

“I think we’ll be doing more of that in the future,” said Muckerheide.

As St. Catherine of Siena grows stronger as a unified parish and in its outreach, Gehrich thinks it will attract the attention of the broader community.

“Everybody has started to realize that, if we come together, we rival any parish around,” Gehrich said. “They see now that, together, we’re going to be a formidable parish that people will want to belong to. It’s really been nice to watch that come together.” †

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