October 20, 2017

Faith of Lawrenceburg parish endures through 175 years

Frank Savage sits on Sept. 28 in St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceburg. The 96-year-old is a lifelong member of St. Lawrence Parish, which is celebrating the 175th anniversary of its founding. He lived through a massive flood in 1937 that ravaged the parish and Lawrenceburg, and joined parishioners in the following decades to help it grow. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Frank Savage sits on Sept. 28 in St. Lawrence Church in Lawrenceburg. The 96-year-old is a lifelong member of St. Lawrence Parish, which is celebrating the 175th anniversary of its founding. He lived through a massive flood in 1937 that ravaged the parish and Lawrenceburg, and joined parishioners in the following decades to help it grow. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

LAWRENCEBURG—A deep and abiding faith is necessary for any parish to persevere through 175 years.

The faith of many generations of believers of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg, which was founded in 1842, was celebrated in a festive anniversary Mass in the Batesville Deanery faith community during an Aug. 13 liturgy. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, the principal celebrant of the liturgy, was joined in it by Father J. Peter Gallagher, St. Lawrence pastor s since 2009.

The faith of the parish which stands along the Ohio River in southeastern Indiana has been dramatically tested by four severe floods throughout the history of St. Lawrence Parish, which was founded by German Catholic immigrants to the area.

Despite the disasters they experienced, the parishioners refused to let the mighty waters of the Ohio deter them from their service of God and the broader community in their parish.

St. Lawrence parishioner Frank Savage, 96, was a 16-year-old high school sophomore when the worst of the floods to hit Lawrenceburg occurred in January 1937, with waters rising some 20 feet above flood stage.

He and his family escaped to the home of relatives who lived on high ground outside the town. When the water started to recede a month later, he and his father took a boat to their flooded house.

“There were about six inches of water on the second floor at the time,” Savage recalled. “We started to scrub the mud off of the walls by using the water we were standing in.”

They could see a hay barn in their backyard through a window in the room in which they were working.

“While we were in the house cleaning, it [the barn] popped up like a cork and floated off,” Savage said. “Dad and I watched it. We were afraid that it was going to hit the house. We’d have been gone. But it floated between us and the next house and down the river.”

St. Lawrence was severely affected by the flood, as it had been as a result of the three previous ones to ravage the town.

“It ruined a lot of the altar which was quite ornate,” Savage said. “It was built in pieces of wood that all fit into place. And, of course, it all fell apart.”

Yet the parishioners saw to the restoration of their beloved church, which was built in 1867. They were directed in their efforts by their longtime pastor Father William Kreis, who led the faith community from 1917-54.

Savage recalled him as “a strict priest, very strict,” but also “a gentle man.” He was often an altar server at Masses the pastor celebrated.

“If we did a good job serving at Mass, we had to stand in the back while he was de-robing,” Savage said. “If he reached into his trousers through his cassock to pull out his little snap button wallet, we knew that we were going to get a nickel. He would pick out two nickels, hand them to us and say, ‘You did a good job today.’ ”

Savage went on to serve in the

U.S. Army during World War II and returned to Lawrenceburg after the conflict to raise a family there during the Baby Boom generation like many other veterans.

He and his wife Magdalene raised five sons. She died in 2007 a few months shy of their 60th wedding anniversary.

The faith that had been instilled in Savage at St. Lawrence helped him when one of his sons faced a serious medical condition.

“There were times when I went into the church when no one else was in there,” he said. “I would step into the last pew and would sit down. It would clear out my head as quick as could be. It was good for me to talk to Christ. I seemed to have a personal conversation with him on several occasions.”

Although Savage witnessed his fellow parishioners work hard to restore their faith community 80 years ago and to help it grow in the following decades, he is impressed by its ministry today, which includes its longstanding school, serving meals to people in need and ministering to inmates in Dearborn County’s jail.

“There’s always a lot of activity,” Savage said. “They [parishioners] always participate in that willingly. It appears to me that it’s even more so now than it’s ever been. There’s a lot of people right in there digging in and providing assistance.”

Many parishioners pitched in to celebrate the 175th anniversary of its founding during the past year in a series of events that culminated with the anniversary Mass.

The faith of the parish that has endured is being carried on by young members such as 18-year-old Grant Bagshaw, a freshman at Indiana University in Bloomington. His family has worshipped at St. Lawrence for four generations.

“If I didn’t have that community, I wouldn’t even have a faith,” Bagshaw said. “I know everybody there. They know me and have seen me grow up. I think the positive influence of having those people in my life, seeing how they carry themselves, inspired me. That’s how I grew up and the values and morals that I grew up with.”

Bagshaw has high hopes for St. Lawrence’s future.

“I hope that we’re able to bring more people in,” he said, “a younger generation that will start their families in Lawrenceburg so that it can keep going generation after generation like it already has for 175 years.” †

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