Up in the woods north of Seelyville prays a parish that thinks it can.
The last of four local Roman Catholic parishes bound for closure by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, members of the historic Holy Rosary church are raising funds for a fight. Saturday night, members hosted a bluegrass concert and bake sale as they prepare to challenge the closure set for Oct. 7, the building’s 104th birthday.
Parishioner Brent King said members feel they have a case based on “canon law,” or the rules of the church, that could prevent closure by the Archdiocese. The parish hopes to raise about $15,000 to pay the expenses involved in an appeal to the Vatican. Only a few reasons exist for the shuttering of a church, he noted.
“And our understanding is that none of those apply to us,” he said.
Last summer the Archdiocese of Indianapolis announced its decision to close St. Ann Parish on North Locust Street, St. Leonard of Port Maurice in West Terre Haute, and St. Joseph Church at Universal, in addition to Holy Rosary in Seelyville. Of the four, only Holy Rosary remains.
Jeananne Popejoy, a 27-year member, had her bass ready Saturday evening as musicians prepared to play for donations at Schelley Hall on U.S. 40, just down the road from the church at 2501 N. Main St.
“Because it’s a place worth saving. It’s our community. It’s our family,” she said, adding her four sons all grew up in that church. “All of them have gone through the same parish.”
King said the parish numbers just under 200, comprised of 84 families. And many of those families have ties back to the congregation’s origins in the early 20th century.
According to historical information maintained by the church, the congregation began celebrating Mass in the Nickelodeon Movie Theatre at U.S. 40 and Main Street in the early 1900s. About 300 Roman Catholics, mostly Lithuanian and Slovakian immigrants, worshipped in that building under the direction of Rev. John Walsh until it burned in 1907. The lots a few miles north on Main Street, which contain the existing building, were purchased in 1907, with the building dedicated Oct. 7, 1908.
Church records also state that local businessman Tony Hulman Sr., himself a German-American Roman Catholic, donated the pews still used there today.
Dorothy and Mary Ellen Buck, sisters and lifelong members, said their grandparents immigrated to America from Slovakia in 1910, following family which came before them. Those grandparents, John and Anna Butwin, immediately joined Anna’s brothers at Holy Rosary, raising nine children amid its pews. Many of those children went on to raise their own families within its shelter as well.
“So Holy Rosary has been our life,” Dorothy said. “We are such a family and everyone who goes there watches out for one another.”
The history of Terre Haute’s Eastern European immigrants is interwoven throughout that of the parish, Mary Ellen said, remarking at how they all chose to live near one another after settling around Seelyville.
“And they all came together to build this church,” she remarked.
Janet King, no relation to Brent, said she has been a member all the 68 years of her life. Her mother was born Margaret Kehoe in Seelyville in 1910, attended the church as a child, and raised her own family there. King and her three siblings received their first communion there.
“It’s vital to the community,” she said. “It’s a vibrant church and it’s financially solvent. We are a community and we’re warm and welcoming.”
Brent King said the parish has established “Friends of the Holy Rosary” as a vehicle through which to raise funds. More events are planned as the group hopes to stave off the closure by working within the system.
Gently contrasting the small rural parish to the larger congregations found in metropolitan areas, he emphasized that Holy Rosary is financially solvent and self-sustainable, requiring little by way of support. If left alive, the parish simply hopes to continue on as it has for more than 100 years, he said.
Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or email@example.com.
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