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The Message
Evansville, Indiana
July 11, 1997     The Message
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July 11, 1997

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2 The Message .-- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana Petersburg parish celebrates 150 ye Following is the text of a homily delivered by Father Ray- mond Reising, June 29, at the celebration of the Sesquicenten- nial of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Petersburg. I am honored to have been asked to speak for this special occasion. Yet, I am at a loss as to what I might say and be brief enough for you to appreciate some thoughts that might add to this unusual celebration. So many of the historical inci- dents and stories of Sts. Peter and Paul parish are lost, and, of course, there is no one who can give us a personal account. Some historical facts have been carried down through its 150 years. When the centennial was observed in 1947 there were still a few who could recall early events from old-timers. My tenure here was for only 43 months in 1951 through 1954, two percent of the history of the parish, a mere ripple in its long history. The number of priests whose mihistry touched the parish is quite lage. We can be very grateful to Msgr. Michael Wolf, the first resident pastor, 1946- 1951, who compiled a short his- tory at the time of the centenni- al. We have no record of missionary priests who may have visited before the parish founding in 1846. We do have the names of 43 priests who served here. The parish was under the care of St. Mary, Huntingburg; Jasper College (some of the staff there); St. John, Warrick County; St. Bernard, Fort Branch; St. Simon, Washington; St. Fran- cis Xavier Cathedral, Vin- cennes; St. Meinrad, and St. Philip Neri, Bicknell. To number those who served as pastors in residence: Father Michael Wolf, myself, Father Raymond Reising, Father Thomas Mindrup, Father For- rest Strange, Father Larry Vieck, Father William Schwenk, Father John Emge, Father John Lefler, Father David Fleck, Father Leo Kiesel, Father William Dietsch, and now Father Edward Schneider. Father Clemens Hut is still liv- ing and served the parish from Bicknell. In 1846 Sts. Peter and Paul was established as a mission from the cathedral in Vincennes and in 1847 the first church was built near the White River and the Erie Canal. In 1847, that same year Bishop de La Hai- landiere resigned as Bishop of Vincennes and was succeeded by Bishop Bazin who lived only a short time. It needs to be noted that "Canal Fever" raged through the country and among canals being built was the Wabash and Erie Canal which was 468 miles long from Lake Erie to Evansville and touched Petersburg. High- way signs in southern Indiana mark its crossing. At the time of the founding of the parish, the canal was under construction. The canal was first opened from Lake Erie to Lafayette, Indiana in 1843 and continued south to Evansville in 1853. It was at first intended to be an economic bonanza for settlements but it was doomed by the railroads before it was completed. It oper- ated until 1862 and when it was sold in 1876, the stockholders received only 40 percent of their investment. Thousands of Irish immi- grants were imported and set to backbreaking labor digging the canal by shovel and wheel bar- row. Along with small wages and a ration of liquor daily, home- steading was included. It can be assumed that the Irish laborers were at least nom- inally Catholic and at some time were cared for by the tiny church on the canal. These would be cared for by the first church built in 1847 Today's celebration of the founding of this parish should be an important point in reminding us that being Catholic is founded on the con- cept of parish membership. The Lord made it clear that his fol- lowers would be like a family with each knowing, helping, and loving all the others. Being a Christian never was meant to be a do-it-yourself, go-it-alone proposition. We are to be a fam- ily in Christ and our family home in Christ is the parish. Before there can be a parish there must be Catholics. The faithful always come before there can be a pastor. Often in the past groups of Catholics would organize and approach River If he appeared, there would be Mass; if not, they had the Rosary. In 1924, this present church was built at a cost of $17,000. The church was blessed by Father Gregorie, pastor of the Old Cathedral. Father Albert Wicke preached the first sermon -- on tolerance -- at the height of much anti-Catholicism. The preacher's famous comparison of Catholic and non-Catholic was that during WW I the blood of both was red. Due to the small number of Catholics in the early years and difficult transportation spiritu- al care must have been limited. Living in Pike County meant that Catholics were in a very unfriendly environment and alien culture. In 1951 while I was here, Mr. Adams in his drug store, a Catholic, said to me: "The people here do not agree with you, but they try to be friendly. And they were friendly and my time here was enjoyable and I feel, fruitful. We must admire the faith that Catholics had through the years. Parish families were quite mixed in those days, made up of Catholics from outside and many converts. While I was here there were only two fami- lies where both were cradle eing a Christian never was meant to be a do-it-yourself, go-it-alone proposition. We are to be a family in Christ and our family home in Christ is the parish. the bishop for a pastor. The parish is not a set of buildings. Aparish is defined as a definite community of Christ- ian faithful established on a sta- ble basis within a particular Church. The pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of a diocesan bishop. (Canon 515) As a general rule a parish is territorial; that is, it embraces the Christian faithful within a certain territory. You really don't join a parish; you live in a parish by reason of your residence. You don't join your county, state or city. You should feel your fideli- ty to Sts. Peter and Paul. Now in inner cities we have nearly empty churches; the people have moved to the suburbs. Buildings we have indicated do not constitute a parish. Devout Catholics do. The percentage of Catholics in Pike County has always been small. When we see this beauti- ful church, the ample rectory and recent parish hall, we rec- ognize that there has been great interest, sacrifice and hard work over 150 years. In 1886 a second church was built m a small frame building near the railroad station and Seventh Street at a cost of $800 and at the time was assigned as a mission to St. John, Warrick County. Old-timers said that water came up in the church during flooding and the priest's alb often was coated at the bot- tom with mud. Somewhere in that time span priests who served from across the river took a rowboat to cross the White Catholics. A fully Catholic cul- ture in line with well estab- lished ethnic parishes was diffi- cult; there was no economic development other than the mines and later the power plants. In developed Catholic Communities there is a tradi- tion that is handed on from one generation to another. A Catholic parish cemetery found an historical backdrop with more than one generation rest- ing there. Unfortunately I fear that some of these communities might be losing their roots. To practice an active faith in Pike County requires faith and it is alive. The shortage of priests is a concern of us all and in smaller parishes this is a major anxiety. It will effect not only the small parishes but all parishes. Parishes where two or even three priests once served now are served by only one and some will share with other parishes. We trust that a renewed life of prayer and exem- plary virtuous living will strengthen our youth to answer the call God must cer- tainly be giving to the priesthood and religious life. May the materialism and pleasure seeking of our times not deter them from answer- ing the call with courage. As Catholics we have to make a choice. Whether we live with Christian values, or we live with no values. If we wish to have a Christian civilization, we must be Christian in a Catholic way. We must stand on Christian prin- ciple. Anything worth- while depends on princi- ple. This does not mean we force others to sub- scribe to them nor does it mean that we must yield to principles contrary to our belief. We simply have the right to be what we are Catholic and to serve the Lord as the Lprd expects to do. With God's grace we can all live in a culture alien to Christian princi- ples. You have the build- ings and as I have said, build- ings do not make a parish. With high standards, make your parish grow in Christ. Respond to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. We all have work to do. Build up your parish commu- nity where more will be expect- ed of the lay Catholic. Use your talents; make the parish stronger by your presence. There are so many needs, not merely financial and materi- al but devotional and spiritu- al. Don't be an anonymous Catholic, fleeing responsibili- ty to your parish family. What is needed is a parish of strong dedicated men and women of faith who will carry the parish across the Thresh- old of Hope into the Third , Millennium, onward. May the faith which over- came many obstacles and called for sacrifice and hard work of the past 150 years continue to bless you and generate a parish spirit that will be a reflection on the pioneers who built your parish from a tiny church on the canal to grow into parish of outstanding faith. We invoke the intercession of Sts. Peter and Paul on this, their Feast Day, and in the parish whose patron they are. "This day has been made holy by the martyrdom of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul," said '!);ii July11, FATHER RAY Father Ray ordained Feb. 2, the first priests established Diocese ville. He served Evansville, Wash burg, Elberfeld, land and Red BJ retiring in 1984. St. Augustine fame has and their image has h" ends of the eart., They were selected  himself, as leaders tolic band of were outstanding in courage and daring kind of faith that ers once they had supreme test of their faith. ferent envire Galilee as a as a brilliant scholar among Jews, Romans as a Let us pray to be true faith which has phrough the Apostles aul: Lord, our God, us through the apostles who faith of the infant upon this parish. and Paul Parish to fully that faith taught and for w Amen. . : = STS. PETER AND PAUL, PETERSBURG