August 3, 2018

St. Rose of Lima Parish marks 150 years—and future—of ‘legacy’

In this undated photo, children of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin receive their first Communion in the parish’s second church. (Submitted photo)

In this undated photo, children of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin receive their first Communion in the parish’s second church. (Submitted photo)

By Natalie Hoefer

FRANKLIN—In 1868, the town of Franklin, about 20 miles south of Indianapolis, teemed with Baptists and members of other Protestant congregations.

Yet enough Catholics lived in the area to form a parish. So Bishop Jacques M. de St. Palais, shepherd of the Diocese of Vincennes, purchased a small former Presbyterian church building on the outskirts of Franklin for $625. The church was dedicated in August of 1868. The parish took the name of a saint whose feast day falls in the same month: St. Rose of Lima.

A century and a half later, St. Rose of Lima Parish is still thriving and growing. The Franklin faith community will mark its 150th anniversary on Aug. 26 with a special Mass celebrated by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

“This is a time for everyone to reflect on who we are, what we’re about, our history and to plan for the future,” says Father Steven Schaftlein, pastor of the parish and Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh since 2014. “To stand on the shoulders of people of faith who went before you is always a positive thing. It’s a privilege.”

‘The Ku Klux Klan marched through’

Four events stand as major points in the parish’s history: two moves, discrimination against Catholics, and the creation of a parish school.

A history of the parish written in 1993 notes that after 30 years the parish’s congregation—comprised then primarily of farmers and country folk—had outgrown the first church building.

Thus in 1905, Bishop Francis S. Chatard purchased the former Tabernacle Christian Church building, relocating St. Rose to downtown Franklin.

St. Rose parishioner John DeHart, 75, recalls going to Mass in the brick church.

“We were usually running a little late because of milking the cows,” he admits.

Some of his best memories of the downtown location were the social events and baseball games.

“Churches were very social and usually had a baseball league,” he says. “We had a good team. I remember there were times the priest came out [to the farm] and picked up [my brother] and I to play on the baseball team.”

The 1993 parish history also notes the discrimination the congregation faced from the turn of the century through the 1930s and ‘40s in its more prominent location.

“Both blacks and Catholics suffered as the Ku Klux Klan marched through Franklin,” it states. “Both groups were tiny minorities in Franklin and already subject to small town insularity and prejudice.” Crosses were burned, threats were made, and two Catholic teachers were fired from the local public school system.

Such discrimination eventually dissipated, particularly during and after World War II as Catholics serving in the military at Camp Atterbury in nearby Edinburgh settled with their families in Franklin. The parish grew in acceptance by the community as well as in numbers. Soon it was time to move again.

The current church was dedicated in 1965 on property purchased about a mile outside of Franklin. With more land, the parish was set for future growth. Much of that growth occurred as result of the parish’s next milestone—the opening of St. Rose of Lima School in 1994.

‘A turning point’

“The school was a turning point,” says 78-year-old Carol Chappel, a member of the parish for 48 years who still helps teach Sunday religious education classes.

Two pre-school classes and a kindergarten were opened that first year, with a new grade level added each year, ending with eighth grade.

Because of the school, Chappel says, the parish now has “a thriving bunch of young families with young children. I’m pleased as I see going up to Communion a mom carrying a baby, dad behind her holding a little one, and two or three more children lined up behind them with their arms crossed across their chest.”

Father Schaftlein says the school has proven to be one of the parish’s greatest evangelization tools.

“When I got here, 40 percent [of the students] were not Catholic,” he says. “It’s even higher now. Other people are looking for our values and education. By word of mouth, it’s spreading to the non-Catholics in the area. That says something for the quality of the school. And every now and then, one of those families becomes Catholic.”

Such was the case for the husband of Megan Henry.

“My youngest son has a tight-knit class,” she says of her 13-year-old boy, now in seventh grade at St. Rose’s school. “My husband and four parents [two couples] in that same class all went through RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults] together, and several other parents were their sponsors.”

The five were received into the full communion of the Church during the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Rose three years ago.

‘I have to gallop to keep up with them’

Tim Janis, a retired university professor who has been a member of St. Rose since 1974, notes that the school “has helped bring energy from parents into the parish.”

Such energy has served the parish well, says Chappel.

“[Father Schaftlein] will say to a group what’s needed, and someone or a lot of someones will step up,” says Chappel. “Parishioners often do the work and supply the parts.”

Father Schaftlein confirmed her comments.

“The people take responsibility for getting things done,” he says. “I don’t have to be the task master. Sometimes I have to gallop to keep up with them.”

He says such “cooperation and generosity of the folks here” has led to “slow but sure growth. … Incrementally, each year there have been small changes to the physical facilities that people have come through and paid for out of their own pocket.” Recent additions include a picnic shelter, a cross-shaped layout of memorial bricks, remodeled parish offices, more meeting space and new landscaping.

Several of these efforts came about through the parish’s Legacy Project. Janis, who chairs the project, describes it as a “pseudo parish council.”

“It started as a debt reduction effort,” he says. “It transformed from that to really a program of how we should look at our legacy and build on that which came before us.”

A video, Wheaties … and what are these?

Part of the Legacy Project’s efforts have involved organizing the yearlong celebration of the parish’s 150th anniversary. A special parish prayer and song were created to use throughout the year. School children have made posters, and items for a time capsule are being gathered to add to the time capsule buried 25 years ago, which was opened during the anniversary year.

“There was a Wheaties [cereal] box, photos, newspaper clippings and a video of religious ed[ucation] kids answering two or three questions,” says Don Burgener, 49, co-chair of the committee coordinating the anniversary events. “Those kids are now adults and have kids of their own, and some are still in the parish.”

He also notes items in the time capsule that did not survive, including a cassette tape and a floppy disc.

“Someone even asked, ‘What are these?’ ” Burgener says with a laugh.

Another part of the year’s celebration included inviting leaders from other Franklin faith communities to speak at the parish.

“One of the things Father Steve noticed is that no one in town knew St. Rose was there,” says Burgener. “So hosting the faith talks served a two-fold purpose: to have other people know that our parish was there, because we invited their parishioners to come to the talks, too; and to become more involved in the community.”

Therein lies the future of St. Rose, says Father Schaftlein.

‘Parishes that serve … grow’

“This past year has been a refocus on the mission of the Church through Scripture,” says the priest. “We’re using the celebration as a kickoff to developing a strategic planning process for next year, particularly in how we are serving the community. Parishes that serve others are ones that grow.”

Burgener looks forward to the outward-looking efforts.

“We have something to strive for now instead of just going to Mass,” he says. “We’ll be leaving our legacy in the community.”

Janis, too, is excited about the future of the parish.

“Should we focus on ministry at [nearby] Franklin College? There’s a prison in Franklin, so should we focus on prison ministry? What kind of role should the parish play in the community at large?” he says. “It’s a perfect time to say, ‘How do we kick off the next 150 years for those who will follow?’ It really is an exciting time at St. Rose.”

And the parish is poised for such outreach, says Father Schaftlein.

Parishioners are “always looking for ways to serve others better,” he says. “They’re open to change, and that’s reflected in the environment here of slow but steady growth, both physically and spiritually.”

‘Just the beginning’

The words Chappel, Henry, Janis and Burgener use to describe the parish paint a positive picture: welcoming, family‑oriented, growing and vibrant.

“You go to church and you know a good number of people, and they know you,” says Janis. “They’re concerned about you, and vice versa.”

“What I’m most grateful for is how [the parish] has helped my family,” Henry comments. “I believe God sent us to St. Rose. The fact that my kids are growing in faith and my husband has converted—it’s such an amazing gift.”

That the parish is family-oriented comes as no surprise to DeHart. He is the member of a family that has belonged to the parish for four generations. His great-grandparents, Peter and Phoebe Gallagher, are listed among the early families of St. Rose.

When asked what Peter and Phoebe might think of their family still belonging to the parish, DeHart dismisses thoughts of pride.

“It wouldn’t shock me instead if they said, ‘Well, they oughta be! We took our kids to church, they took their kids. That’s the way it should be.’ ”

Families of other faith communities might not be able to say as much, says Henry.

“It’s important to note that our community has endured for so long,” she says. “So many other denominations have come and gone, but our church has been here for 150 years. And that’s just the beginning.”

(All are invited to St. Rose of Lima Parish’s 150th anniversary Mass, to be celebrated by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson at the parish church, 114 Lancelot Dr., in Franklin, at 2 p.m. on Aug. 26.)

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