April 15, 2016

‘Celebrating 15 Decades of God’s Mercy’—Annunciation Parish turns 150

Annunciation Parish members and others from the Brazil faith community fill the church for the parish’s 150th anniversary Mass on April 4. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was the principal celebrant of the Mass. He was joined by concelebrants and former pastors Fathers Harold Rightor, Stephen Jarrell, Robert Hausladen, and current pastor Father John Hollowell. Also concelebrating were Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Day, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute, and Father Michael Fritsch, previously an Annunciation parishioner. Loral Tansy, to the right of the archbishop, served as master of ceremonies. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Annunciation Parish members and others from the Brazil faith community fill the church for the parish’s 150th anniversary Mass on April 4. Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was the principal celebrant of the Mass. He was joined by concelebrants and former pastors Fathers Harold Rightor, Stephen Jarrell, Robert Hausladen, and current pastor Father John Hollowell. Also concelebrating were Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Day, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Terre Haute, and Father Michael Fritsch, previously an Annunciation parishioner. Loral Tansy, to the right of the archbishop, served as master of ceremonies. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

BRAZIL—On April 4, this year’s Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, a very special Mass was celebrated at Annunciation Parish in Brazil, marking the parish’s 150th anniversary on the feast for which it was named.

From the ambo of the 136-year-old sanctuary—built 14 years after the parish was founded—Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin called to mind the feast that was being celebrated, and another church of the Annunciation he visited more than a year ago.

“Tradition places the feast of your parish on March 25th, which is nine months before Christmas, when Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel and conceived Jesus in her womb,” he explained, noting that this year’s feast was moved because it fell on Good Friday.

“Last year in February, I was blessed to visit with a group of Hoosiers another Church of the Annunciation, this one in a place called Nazareth.

“If you go beneath it to the lower church, there’s a small room that tradition has preserved. Many archaeologists believe that perhaps that place was revered … even before the Gospels were written in final form.

“At the little shrine there are five words in Latin: ‘Verbum caro hic factum est.’ ‘The word was made flesh here.’ ”

Looking at the congregation of the full church, Archbishop Tobin continued: “Here the Word of God continues to take flesh. For 150 years, the Word of God has taken flesh in your mothers and fathers who built and sustained this community. And that Word still looks to take flesh in you.”

While the parish celebrates with the theme “Celebrating 15 Decades of Mercy,” the origins of the parish go back even further than 150 years. A parish history compiled in 1928 by then-pastor Father A. G. Wicke cites 1855 as the year the first Catholic family settled in Clay County.

By 1863, the Civil War was two years underway. Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, and Confederate General John Hunt Morgan initiated the only Civil War battle fought in Indiana near Corydon.

Meanwhile that same year, enough Catholics had settled in Clay County about 60 miles southwest of Indianapolis to warrant the need for a church building.

A small former Protestant church was purchased by Benedictine Father Meinrad McCarty in 1865. The next year—the same year that the town of Brazil was established—the structure was moved to the current campus. Father McCarty became the first resident pastor.

Although the date of the official founding of the parish is not certain, current pastor Father John Hollowell noted that the parish’s 100th anniversary was celebrated in 1966, coinciding with the centennial anniversary of the town of Brazil.

“While the real founding date isn’t known, we figured it’d be best to base our celebration off of the date of the 100th anniversary,” he said.

More than parishioners turned out for the April 4 liturgy. At the beginning of the Mass, Father Hollowell welcomed the town mayor Brian Wyndham, as well as the ministers from the local Methodist, Baptist and First Christian churches.

In addition to Father Hollowell, several former pastors of Annunciation Parish concelebrated the Mass with the archbishop, including Fathers Robert Hausladen, Stephen Jarrell and Harold Rightor. Also concelebrating were Conventual Franciscan Father Martin Day, pastor of St. Benedict Parish in nearby Terre Haute, and “native son” Father Michael Fritsch, who grew up in Annunciation Parish.

It is the people of the parish that make it such a special place, said David Bussing, co-chair of the faith community’s sesquicentennial planning committee and a member of the pastoral council.

“It’s quite diverse now,” said the 73-year-old lifelong member. “For years, it was mainly people who lived there all their life like me. Now we have a lot of new parishioners. The way the old and the new have come together has been special.”

Parishioners James and Jennifer Bailey also like the parish’s sense of community.

“I like that it’s a small community, and we all know each other,” said James.

Jennifer agreed, adding that the parish’s size makes it “easy to be a part of things. Our family has gotten to be a part of the St. Vincent de Paul Society [during] the past few years, including the kids,” she said of their five children.

James said he is also excited about the parish’s new evangelization efforts.

“It’s exciting that our priest has given us the challenge to go out and evangelize this year,” he said of the door-to-door effort led by the parish’s Legion of Mary group that is soon to be underway after training is completed. “Even the kids—we’ve all made it a goal to reach out to others this year. Once you take that first step, it’s not that bad. Look at the Apostles—they ended up changing the world.”

Archbishop Tobin noted this effort during his homily.

“Statistics show in our state that 20 percent of Hoosiers belong to no faith,” he said. “How will the word of God reach them except through you? I was delighted that you’re going to have a Legion of Mary door-to-door training. … You’re not trying to maintain, but proactively to build up the body of Christ here in Clay County.

“The temptation is to sit back, and let [the priest] do all the work. He’s not the only one in whom the Lord wants to take flesh. The Word of God wants to take flesh in you.”

Joseph Holechko, 87, plans on participating in the effort. He was baptized in the parish in 1929, graduated from Annunciation School (which closed in May of 2006, although the parish still offers a preschool program), and lived in the community most of his life. Still working in the barber shop he opened in 1960, he said he sees many Catholics who have lost their way that he would like to bring back home.

And home is just what Annunciation Parish is to Holechko.

“My grandpa and grandma on my mom’s side, they moved here about 1905,” he said. “One of my sons goes to this parish. We had four generations go to school here: my mom, all us six kids, my two sons, and I had one granddaughter go there. My aunt played the pipe organ for 40 years.

“We have a good, vibrant parish here, and I’m so happy to be part of it. We have so many people who help out physically and spiritually.”

Father Hollowell also recognizes the tremendous involvement of the parish members.

“I think everyone did something at some point to make this Mass and [following dinner] reception happen,” he said.

That participation in sesquicentennial events won’t end with the Mass, said Bussing.

“We’re planning a large dinner just for the congregation,” he said. “We wanted to have the parish put on something for the parishioners, a no-charge dinner, not carry in, not a pitch in. It will be at an event center with some entertainment. It will really be a big extravaganza for all the parishioners who have supported us for so many years.”

The parish is also organizing a large reunion. Bussing said they’re busy trying to track down former parishioners and priests, as well as graduates and teachers from the former Annunciation School.

Rather than taking place this year, the reunion will coincide with another big effort the parish is undertaking—the restoration of their church building, constructed in 1880.

“Our church is not very large, but it is absolutely beautiful,” he said. “We’ve had an ongoing problem of moisture in the walls, making it difficult to keep paint on for any period of time. We’ve solved the structural, bones part. Now we’re waiting to put in a ventilation system to dry out the walls of the church then go back and re-plaster, repaint, and also restore the old, beautiful pipe organ.”

The renovations are scheduled to be completed in 2017, with the reunion serving as a celebration of the restored structure.

Evangelization and building issues—these are challenges Father Hollowell could see the parish founders relating to.

“I told the parishioners in my welcome letter for today, every Catholic parish has physical plant stories, much like early priests and parishioners building the churches,” he said. “We’re not building buildings by hand, but we’re busy maintaining them.

“And you also have the need to evangelize. It was a very small minority back then who were Catholic, and in the same way, there are a lot of non-Catholics in the area [now]. So there’s a call to reach out to them.”

Along those themes, Archbishop Tobin closed his celebration of the 150th anniversary Mass with a message from St. Teresa of Avila.

“If you’re tempted not to get involved, to let this celebration be a one-time thing, listen to a prayer that she wrote,” he said. “ ‘Christ has no body but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassionately on the world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world. …’

“May that risen Lord find hands and feet here at the Parish of Annunciation.”
 

(Former members of Annunciation Parish and graduates and teachers of its former school who wish to attend the parish reunion may contact the parish office at 812-448-1901 or annunciationchurch@msn.com.)

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