November 2, 2007

St. Pius V Parish in Troy celebrates 160 years

Benedictine Archabbot Justin Duvall of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, center, was the principal celebrant at the 160th anniversary Mass for St. Pius V Parish in Troy on Oct. 7. Concelebrating was Benedictine Father Barnabas Gillespie, pastor of St. Pius and a monk of Saint Meinrad.

Benedictine Archabbot Justin Duvall of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, center, was the principal celebrant at the 160th anniversary Mass for St. Pius V Parish in Troy on Oct. 7. Concelebrating was Benedictine Father Barnabas Gillespie, pastor of St. Pius and a monk of Saint Meinrad.

By Patricia Happel Cornwell (Special to The Criterion)

TROY—A block away, the Ohio River flowed quietly past as St. Pius V Parish celebrated its 160th anniversary on Oct. 7, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The festive occasion began with the rosary and hymns dedicated to Mary. Benedictine Archabbot Justin Duvall of Saint Meinrad Archabbey presided at the special Mass, concelebrating with Benedictine Father Barnabas Gillespie, the parish’s pastor.

In his homily, the archabbot said, “The feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is a very fitting one on which to celebrate the founding of this parish. Pope Pius V instituted this feast in the 16th century.

“Praying the rosary is the way we remember the mysteries that we were not there to witness. … The passing of the years will swallow up our memories … but the greatest treasure this generation can leave is the faith.”

The ties between St. Pius V Parish and the monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey are historic. Father Barnabas is one of a long line of Saint Meinrad priests to serve the ­congregation.

One of the most illustrious Benedictines to serve St. Pius was Father Martin Marty, the energetic Swiss priest who would become the first abbot of Saint Meinrad in 1871. From 1863 to 1865, he ministered in Troy and neighboring missions.

There were already German Catholics in Troy by 1835, but they were only occasionally visited by priests from the Diocese of Bardstown, Ky., and, later, the Diocese of Vincennes.

Mass was said in settlers’ homes. The first priest on record as assigned to Troy was Father Julian Benoit, sent by Bishop Simon Bruté, first bishop of Vincennes, in 1837. Father Benoit only visited Troy once a month, however, and was often away for months on other duties.

Father Joseph Kundek, another diocesan priest, assumed responsibility for Troy in 1838. He dreamed of creating a Catholic settlement between Troy and Jasper. Kundek advertised in Cincinnati’s German newspaper, inviting German Catholics to settle in southern Indiana. He founded parishes in Jasper, Ferdinand, Celestine, New Orleans (Ind.), Miller’s Settlement and Lanesville.

Father Kundek wrote in 1844, “The Catholic congregation in Troy is begging for a church.” In 1847, he drew up plans and Troy’s first Catholic church was built that year on the site where the present church stands.

Benedictine Father Bede O’Connor was one of two priests sent by the Benedictine monastery at Einsiedeln, Switzerland, to explore the feasibility of establishing a monastery in Indiana, which would become Saint Meinrad Archabbey. He stayed at Ferdinand while ministering to Catholics in Troy, Fulda and Cannelton.

In 1853, Father Bede wrote, “Up til now Troy has been a wholely [sic] neglected and therefore wholely [sic] degenerate shipping port town, and I, poor fellow, am very much frightened at the thought that I should first have to level all the saloons to the ground before I could lead my poor sheep upon a better pasture.”

Father Bede, nonetheless, went about the business of saving souls. He wrote to his Swiss abbot that [at times] “I am on horseback till midnight and on horseback must eat and drink, pray the breviary, yes—when I can no longer keep my eyes open—even sleep.”

Father Martin Marty, in an 1864 letter to the abbot in Switzerland, related a Civil War episode: “[One] night [at Tell City] my life was in danger because an attack on the part of the Rebels from the Kentucky side was expected. … There came a guard of about 30 men with a cannon that they emplaced alongside the house where I was staying. One could hear other cannons thundering at a distance, and patrols marched in every direction.”

The cannon beside his window was not fired, however, and Father Martin finally slept. Perhaps making light of the danger, he added, “I feared more for my horse and buggy than for my person. The rebels are in need of horses; they would not harm a Catholic priest.”

Of these early days, the parish’s 1947 chronicler, Benedictine Father Albert Kleber, wrote, “It is a matter of wonderment that the faith continued so strong in the parish notwithstanding the lack of a constant pastoral care from a zealous resident priest.”

The little flock of St. Pius did not

have a resident pastor until 1870, when

then-Abbot Martin sent Benedictine Father Conrad Ackerman, a Swiss native and a monk of Saint Meinrad.

In 1881, the cornerstone of the second—and present—church was laid by Saint Meinrad Abbot Fintan Mundwiler.

Church records say that Father Conrad was “architect, contractor, general super­intendent, common laborer, and paymaster.” The industrious priest started a brickyard and helped make the bricks to build the church. The frugal congregation completed the building in 1884, with a remaining debt of only $250.

No records reveal when St. Pius started its grade school, but there was one by 1892. In its first decade, it was at times under the auspices of the Benedictine Sisters of Ferdinand or the School Sisters of St. Francis from Milwaukee. The original frame one-room schoolhouse was torn down in 1899 to make way for a

two-story brick school, where the sisters from Ferdinand then taught for half a century. In 1969, declining enrollment necessitated closing the school.

In the first half of the 20th century, St. Pius pastors hailed from places as near as Evansville and Missouri and as far away as Ireland, Italy and Germany. Father Vincent Dwyer, an Irish immigrant ordained at Saint Meinrad, was its first pastor not to speak German. He served from 1929 to 1934.

In 1973, St. Pius V parish came under the direction of a team of priests living at St. Paul Parish in Tell City, an arrangement which continues today. A parish of the Tell City Deanery, St. Pius has 161 households.

On the 160th anniversary of the parish, the morning sun streamed through the tall stained-glass window behind the altar. Overhead, the steeple’s gold cross shone against the sky as it has for more than a century.

The words of Father Albert’s golden jubilee history are as apt today as they were in 1947:

“Resting securely on the muscular right shoulder of the broad-chested Ohio [River], St. Pius Church, as for all these years it has watched the stream of life flow on to eternity, has with its graceful tower pointed out—and still points out—to all the way to heaven, and with its prayerful bells has invited—and still invites—all to come and join in its praise of God: lift up your hearts to the Lord.” †

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