TERRE HAUTE —
The purpose of any parish is for mission, and since 1876, the community of St. Ann Parish has fulfilled its mission by taking care of those in need.
In days long gone, the parish operated an orphanage as well as a school for grades 1 to 8. These days, a clinic in the former school provides medical and dental care to those without insurance or financial means to pay for needed treatments.
But probably the biggest healing that the parish will begin comes next month, when the doors of St. Ann Catholic Church are closed, not because of low attendance or falling community support, but because the need to heal is greater elsewhere.
“We’re privileged to be part of a mission for a time,” said Sister Connie Kramer, parish life coordinator. “That’s just how it is. The broader church has to be taken care of.”
Kramer shared the future direction of the parish on Sunday during a homecoming service that brought more than 200 people to worship, fellowship and tour the former school and current clinic.
“We are going to be organ donors, and offer a transplant to others of the life we have here,” Kramer told the congregation. “Everything we have here is pure gift from a loving God.”
The gift will be shared with the congregation of St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Salyersville, Ky., which lost its church, parish hall, rectory and outreach center on March 2 in a series of storms and tornados that also devastated southern Indiana.
St. Ann’s altar, baptismal font, pews, tabernacle, some candles, vestments and robes will be loaded onto a semi arriving May 22 to take those items to the Appalachia Ministry Center to be stored during the rebuilding of St. Luke’s.
Some physical parts of St. Ann’s will remain at other parishes in Terre Haute. St. Patrick’s soup kitchen will receive a handstitched blessing prayer that hangs near the St. Ann kitchen in the fellowship hall. Sacred Heart, the daughter parish of St. Ann, will receive some candlesticks and a diorama of the Last Supper. St. Benedict’s will receive the Old Rugged Cross that stands at the front of the church during Lent, as well as a lectern for its small chapel. And St. Margaret Mary Hispanic Ministry will receive the Stations of the Cross.
The local congregation has known for about a year that the St. Ann Parish would be closed, and for many it has been hard to accept.
“Many in the parish are confused as to why the church is being closed,” said Ted Brentlinger, head usher during Sunday’s homecoming service.
Most Sundays, attendance is around 130 to 150, he said, and on Easter Sunday attendance reached 212.
But Kramer explained later that archdiocese leaders looked at the number of members and parishes in the Terre Haute area and saw that parishes could be merged, saving resources.
While many see it as a tragedy to close the parish, she said, “What I believe of our community is that it is of one mind and one heart. Our gift to each other is faith.”
While the St. Ann Parish has a 136-year history, the St. Luke’s congregation in Kentucky is only 21 years old. The St. Luke parish lost everything in five minutes of tornadic weather.
“They will worship at our table, and we will transplant the faith of this community into this other church,” Kramer said. “Is this not what the Disciples did?”
Kramer recognized Dottye Crippen, director of Bethany House, and John Etling, director of Catholic Charities of Terre Haute, as she announced that they will be moving offices for their organizations into the church building. That will free up space in the homeless shelter and the food bank to provide more care for the needy.
The church sanctuary will be recycled as the new Christmas Store to provide new gifts during the holiday. Last year, 900 vouchers were provided to poor families, who made appointments and were able to visit to select gifts for each family member. About 3,600 people were served.
The stained glass windows of the sanctuary will remain, Kramer said, because the messages in each window is also a gift to the poor needing encouragement on their journey.
Other changes are coming for the former school building, lovingly known as a “fortress” because of its 23-inch-thick walls.
Clinic to remain
St. Ann Clinic will remain, as it has since 1997 when it opened as a program of Providence Self-Sufficiency Ministries to serve the poor and sick while providing teaching and educational opportunities for healthcare professionals.
But some interior changes will be made. The church fellowship hall in the basement will become home to the physical therapy offered at the clinic. And a new area for exercise equipment will be included.
In fact, the lower level of the clinic building will have a construction “blitz” on June 2 as changes are made during a relocation of services on the two floors above.
The pharmacy has been moved from a narrow storage closet-space into an open room where registered pharmacist Barbara Wilson volunteers to provide medication and refills to qualified clients. Handily, the medication assistance office will be relocated next to the pharmacy, much to the satisfaction of registered nurse Penny Schafer. Her assistance office had been on another floor of the clinic, which was not always convenient for clients.
Dr. Paul Maierle, a psychologist, said he was pleased that the whole mental health component of the clinic also would be moved into one contiguous area, with separate counseling rooms for the clients.
Back for a visit
The clinic saw several former students passing through the building Sunday, some remarking how the classrooms had always seemed larger years ago.
Debi Sullivan McCammon said she still lives in Terre Haute, and she graduated from the St. Ann School in 1972 to go on to Terre Haute North High School. She smiled as she recalled her youth in the school, where the students attended mass every day.
“It molded us and shaped us,” she said. “When you’re 14, this was important. I credit this place for instilling stuff in me.”
She received agreement from fellow graduate Theresia Paauwe, who continued her Catholic education at the former Schulte High School.
“It was so sad in Mass today,” Paauwee said. “It didn’t think it was going to affect me.”
She drove over from Indianapolis to attend the homecoming, while her older sister drove up from Kentucky for the day’s events.
Many former students gathered on the front steps of the clinic for a group photo and a mini-reunion of sorts.
Sister Lawrence Ann Liston, who also attended the school from grades 5 to 8, greeted many of the former students. The classrooms contained two grades each — first and second together, third and fourth together, fifth and sixth together, and seventh and eighth together. Most classes had about 50 students, with one teacher to instruct them all.
One year in the 1950s the school had 72 first-graders, Liston said, so that group was moved to a room on another floor.
The school was opened in 1906. After the school closed in the 1970s, it became a Montesorri School offering education enrichment to its students. That school closed in 1991, and the building was converted over time to a medical clinic.
Dental services were first offered at the clinic at the urging of Kramer, after she and others became upset when a 26-year-old mother of two died at a local hospital. The woman had an abscessed tooth that created critical health problems that could have been avoided if she had been able to afford dental care.
The clinic also offers services such as testing for communicable disease, such as HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. Staff offer nutrition education, podiatry, dermatology, neurology, and a volunteer assists people who want to apply for Medicaid assistance.
The clinic has many regular and special services that require appointments, but also offers an open clinic from 1-4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Kramer said that while she felt the pain of the school closing when it did, that pain was healed by the clinic.
And so too will the pain of the church closing be healed in many ways by the transplant to the Kentucky parish. She shared that transplant story and others with many attending the reception in the church fellowship hall, where visitors received cookies made in the shape of the school. Parish member Ruth Lamb made the cookie cutter, as well as 35 dozen cookies. Her daughter Kathleen Culp baked and decorated a large gingerbread replica of the school.
Kramer shared a positive outlook on the future of St. Ann, especially as it becomes connected to St. Luke.
“This is the first opportunity for one of our parishes to give a public example that ‘recycling’ is sacred and good,” she said, adding: “I want to take a pilgrimage to St. Luke’s when it’s done.”
Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or email@example.com.