March 30, 2018

Student play brings Shelbyville parish’s history to life

Students of St. Joseph School in Shelbyville act on March 19 in a scene from the St. Joe Show at the Strand Theater in Shelbyville, a play about the founding of St. Joseph Parish written by its administrator, Father Michael Keucher. The students playing Franciscan sisters are Macey Robbins, left, Leah Smothers and Molly Johnson. Taylor Abell and Tyler Gwinnup, center, act as the mayor of Shelbyville and his wife, and Charlie Fischer, at right, plays Father Francis Rudolf, founder of St. Joseph School and the parish’s first resident pastor. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Students of St. Joseph School in Shelbyville act on March 19 in a scene from the St. Joe Show at the Strand Theater in Shelbyville, a play about the founding of St. Joseph Parish written by its administrator, Father Michael Keucher. The students playing Franciscan sisters are Macey Robbins, left, Leah Smothers and Molly Johnson. Taylor Abell and Tyler Gwinnup, center, act as the mayor of Shelbyville and his wife, and Charlie Fischer, at right, plays Father Francis Rudolf, founder of St. Joseph School and the parish’s first resident pastor. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

SHELBYVILLE—The founding of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville 150 years ago might seem confined to history books.

But the students of the Batesville Deanery faith community’s school made it come alive in the St. Joe Show, a play performed on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, at the sold-out Strand Theater in Shelbyville.

The play was written by Father Michael Keucher, St. Joseph’s administrator, as one of many ways that St. Joseph will celebrate in 2018 the 150th anniversary of its founding.

He was especially excited about having some of the youngest members of the parish bring its history to life.

“We were thinking about all the different ways that we can celebrate our parish’s heritage,” Father Keucher said. “At the same time, we want to open up people’s eyes and get them excited for the future. I thought that this was a perfect way to do both of those things.”

The St. Joe Show told the story of how, by the late 1860s, St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County a few miles outside of Shelbyville, and the school it operated at the time, were filled to overflowing.

Bishop Maurice de Saint Palais, shepherd at the time of the Diocese of Vincennes, Ind., which later became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, authorized Father John Gillig, pastor of St. Vincent, to seek out land in Shelbyville on which a new parish could be started.

Some townspeople in Shelbyville, including its mayor at the time, had reservations about starting a Catholic parish there. But other Christians and a Jewish town leader reached out to Father Gillig to help make the founding of St. Joseph a reality.

Catholics of the area are portrayed supporting the starting of a new parish through their prayers and their physical efforts to build its original church and school.

The play also recounts how St. Joseph School was founded in 1873, and how the parish’s current church was constructed in the early 20th century.

Father Keucher was determined to open up participation in the play to all school students. So its pre-school and kindergarten students who couldn’t be expected to memorize lines showed up on stage at one point as farm animals on a farm adjacent to St. Vincent Parish.

“I’m very proud of our kids,” Father Keucher said. “They have worked very hard. And it’s been exciting to see them become more passionate about their parish.”

“It was fun. I’m glad to tell everybody the story of St. Joseph,” said Madeline Huntsman, a third-grade student at St. Joseph who played Sister James in the play, one of the Oldenburg Franciscan sisters who staffed St. Vincent School, the same community that later staffed St. Joseph School.

Third-grader Charlie Fischer played Father Francis Rudolf, St. Joseph’s first resident pastor and the founder of its school.

“It wasn’t hard,” Charlie said. “It was like we were in the past, in history. I was nervous at first, but then I wasn’t after I got used to it.”

St. Joseph fourth-grader Naomi Garringer played Mother Edna in the play, the superior of the Oldenburg Franciscan sisters who staffed St. Vincent School.

“It was very exciting,” Naomi said. “It was very nice to have all these people come to see our show. We’re so lucky to have a whole play just about our school.”

Kelly Connolly was one of nearly 370 people who attended the play. She was excited to see her son Eli, a third‑grade student at St. Joseph, play an early parishioner in the production.

“I think it was a great experience for the kids,” said Connolly. “One, they get to learn about the history of the parish. I really appreciate Father Mike taking the time to research it. It was an educational thing for all of us.”

Many adult parishioners volunteered their time to construct the intricate sets for the play and make its costumes.

“Everybody has been stepping forward to help out in whatever ways that they possibly can,” Father Keucher said. “Thanks be to God that we have all this talent, generosity and heart here in our parish.

“The kids have learned a lot through this. What’s really exciting to see is how excited they are to be on stage. They’re growing in confidence by being on stage. That excitement is evidence of the Holy Spirit.”†

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