As Mass was about to begin at Holy Rosary chapel in Seelyville, Barney Conrad pulled on a rope that rang the bell in the steeple.
“This is home,” Conrad said calmly on Monday night, as Father John Hollowell and Father Harold Rightor walked up the main aisle toward the altar to begin the Catholic service.
The small church was full, with about 90 people attending; people smiled and hugged, also happy to return “home” for Mass.
Exactly one year ago — on the Feast of the Holy Rosary — the church was officially closed as part of a strategic plan of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis “to best use the Church’s resources to achieve even more vibrant ministries.”
Three other churches had closed as well: St. Leonard’s in West Terre Haute, St. Joseph in Universal and St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute.
The tight-knit Holy Rosary church community was not resigned to its fate. The Catholic community in Seelyville is in the process of appealing to the Vatican to retain its status as a parish with the hope of continuing the regular celebration of Mass.
The Archdiocese “decided to change us by decree to a chapel,” said Jean Anne Jenkins, who has been an active member of Holy Rosary.
As a chapel, it can have baptisms, weddings and funerals. It also is allowed to have Mass once a year on its anniversary date, the Feast of the Holy Rosary, Jenkins said.
While Holy Rosary has lost the first step of its appeal with the Vatican, there is another step — an appeal to the Signatura. “We have hired a Vatican lawyer to represent us,” Jenkins said. Friends of Holy Rosary have collected money to conduct the appeal.
The next step of the appeal may be heard within the next few months, she said.
“It’s not just about our little church here, but many smaller churches across the U.S. are being closed,” she said.
At the time Holy Rosary was closed, it had about 80 to 90 registered members, she said. Parishioners still have high hopes. Many have not joined other churches, with the hopes theirs will reopen.
It’s a small, welcoming church. “So many people have said when they walk in, they feel at home in our small church,” Jenkins said. “This is where our families are married and buried, this is our home, this is our faith.”
On Monday, those attending said the Rosary, celebrated Mass and then shared dinner at nearby Schelley Hall.
Among those attending Mass was Robertine Hoffman, who will be 91 later this month. Her daughter, Milli Hoffman-Patrick, accompanied her.
“We have a new pope who has an open mind. If we could get it up to him, I believe he’d open our church,” Hoffman said.
She lives down the road from Holy Rosary, and said it’s difficult for her to get to other churches. Her daughter must take her.
Hoffman-Patrick participated in a lot of activities when Holy Rosary was open. “The community of this church is so beautiful. The people are so close and they take care of each other. That’s what a church should be about,” she said. “A lot of it’s the religion, but a lot of it’s the caring people.”
“It’s family,” her 90-year-old mother added.
As they spoke, someone brought in flower arrangements for the Mass. Upstairs, a choir practiced. Burning votive candles lined the sidewalk and steps leading up to the church.
Hoffman said she prays every day the church will reopen.
Another person who attended, Pat Armstrong, said, “It’s home. It’s a small, friendly parish. Our kids all grew up here.” They received their sacraments there, and her youngest daughter got married there.
Father Hollowell, who celebrated the Mass, suggested a lot of churches facing closure pursue an appeal.
“The Church understands that,” he said. “It’s not meant to be an adversarial relationship. It’s an opportunity to take a second look at the decision, which is always difficult.”
Conrad, who rang the bell at the start of Mass, was just glad to be back at a church he had attended for many years. “This is family,” he said.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.