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Dearborn County – What Goes Around, Comes Around

On July 7th, all of the parishes located in Dearborn County will come under the care of two priests. This arrangement made possible by the Church’s Code of Canon Law in Canon 517 §1, which reads as follows:

“œWhen circumstances require it, the pastoral care of a parish or of different parishes together can be entrusted to several priests in solidum with the requirement, however, that in exercising pastoral care one of them must be the moderator, namely the one who is to direct the joint action and to answer for it to the bishop.” (( The Criterion-May 21, 2021 ))

This is not what was in mind, in 2013, when it was announced that there would be a consolidation: the decision was made to close a number of parishes in the county, (and all over the Archdiocese) but rather than close any particular church building, the decision was made to combine the four churches into one parish, called “All Saints”. This included St. Paul’s, New Alsace, St. Martin, Yorkville, St. John in Dover and St. Joseph in St. Leon.

Two of the parishes are some of the oldest in the Archdiocese. St. John in Dover built their first church in 1824 and St. Paul, New Alsace was founded in 1837, during the episcopate of Servant of God, Simon Bruté.

The instruction read:

St. John the Baptist Parish in Dover, St. Joseph Parish in St. Leon, St. Martin Parish in Yorkville and St. Paul Parish in New Alsace will merge effective December 1, 2013 to form a new parish. The new parish will have four worship sites during its first year of existence to be reduced to two worship sites no later than the First Sunday of Advent of 2014 and one site no later than the First Sunday of Advent of 2015.

Of course, the final part of that — the closing of “worship sites” — never happened and “All Saints” parish continues to have four worship sites, known as campuses. The Archbishop at the time, Joseph Tobin approved the continued use of four sites, which, of course, remains today under Archbishop Charles Thompson and the current pastor of All Saints, Fr. Jonathan Meyer.

Beginning July 7th the entire Catholic presence in Dearborn County will be under the leadership of two priests who will be serving 7 different worship sites. The campuses of All Saints and the addition of St. Lawrence in Lawrenceburg, St. Mary’s in Aurora and St. Benedicta of the Cross in Bright.

So, enough of the “present day” history. We’re here to look at the older history and perhaps how that history compares. At one time, 6 of the 7 sites each had a priest of their own (St. Benedicta was not founded until the year 2000).

In his “History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes”, Herman Alerding wrote:

  • DOVER, DEARBORN COUNTY. The records of St. John’s church at Dover date back to 1810. Though by no means satisfactory, they establish the fact that Dover, or “Cross Roads – McKenzie’s Settlement,” is one of the oldest Catholic settlements in our Diocese. Who the priests were, who attended the settlement in its first growth, is not easy to determine. Rev. Joseph Ferneding had it on his list of numerous missions. He says in his statement, “Cross Roads, McKenzie Settlement, St. John’s-about 90 families-deed not ready, about 1825.” It is of record that the first, a log church, was erected in 1825. This church existed until 1845. The Catholic Directories of 1844, 1845 and 1846 tell us that Rev. Michael O’Rourke was the pastor, very probably the first resident pastor. He had been ordained by Bishop de la Hailandiere in 1841, August 15; and, perhaps, Dover was his first mission. To our regret, the set of Directories before us is too incomplete to determine the facts in the case. In 1854, a. brick church was built, to replace the old log church.Rev. H. J. Seibertz, who, in the spring of 1874, began the erection of the present (the third) handsome church, and had it under roof before the winter set in. His successor, the present pastor. Rev. B. Briiggemann, finished the building. He arrived in 1877. The church measures 110 by 50 feet, and cost $14,000. On the 19th of October, 1879, Bishop Chatard blessed the church, assisted by the pastor, and the Revs. Arsenius Fahle, O.S.F., John J. Gabriel, P. Siebmann and A. Dannenhofer. … Dover has now about 60 families. The Sisters of St. Francis teach a school of 60 children.
  • YORKVILLE, DEARBORN COUNTY — This congregation was organized in 1850. The church has St. Martin for its patron saint. Yorkville is a mission regularly attended from Dover. It has 100 families.
  • NEW ALSACE, DEARBORN COUNTY — Father Ferneding’s report, given at the opening of this chapter, has New Alsace the first on his list of missions. It says, ” 1837-New Alsace, St. Paul, about 150 families. 20 acres of land. Deed was made 1832 to Bishop of Cincinnati, who returned it to Bishop Brute.”
  • ST. JOSEPH’S, DEARBORN COUNTY — In 1841 the Rev. Joseph Ferneding, of New Alsace, built a log church, placing. it under the patronage of St. Joseph. After his departure from the vast missionary district of which he had charge, we find the church and young congregation were attended successively by Rev. Michael O’Rourke, of Dover; Rev. William Engeln, of St. Peter’s; Rev. Martin Stahl, of New Alsace, and Rev. Andrew Bennett, of Dover, until 1853
  • AURORA, DEARBORN COUNTY — Aurora was first visited by priests from Cincinnati, of whom are remembered the Rev. P. Tscieher, S.J., the Very Rev. P. Unterthiener, O.S.F., and the Rev. Anselm Koch, O.S.F. After that the Rev. P. Kreusch, residing at St. Nicholas, from December. 1853, till the spring of 1858, attended Aurora.. In the fall of 1859 the Rev. Ign. Klein became the resident pastor at St. Nicholas, and from there attended Aurora and Lawrenceburgh. In 1864 or 1865 Father Klein became the
    first resident pastor. The Church of the Immaculate Conception owes its development and prosperity
    to the zeal of its first resident priest, who remained until the fall of 1877, succeeded by the Rev. Ferdinand Eberhardt Hundt.
  • LAWRENCEBURGH, DEARBORN COUNTY — The census of 1880 says Lawrenceburgh has 4,654 inhabitants. It is a promising and stirring city. The Catholic congregation was organized in 1840, consisting at the time of 15 families, among which George Huschart, Peter Werst, John Kinmel, Jacob Meier, Louis Crus art , Anthony Schwartz and Michael Lang were prominent. Divine services were held at first in a house in Newton (a part of Lawrenceburgh), then, in the following year, in the house of George Huschart, and at times also in that of Michael Lang. The corner-stone of the first church was laid in 1841, on Walnut street, one square south of the present church. It was built of stone, 60 by 40
    feet, but was not completed until 1847, when it was blessed. The present beautiful St. Lawrence’s
    Church was erected in 1866 on Walnut street, one square north of the old church.

Father Robert Gorman, former Archivist of the Archdiocese, in his unpublished History of the Catholic Church in Indiana wrote:

About. 1810 the first. Catholic settlers, of Anglo-American lineage, from Maryland or Pennsylvania. , began to locate in the northern part of the present Dearborn County. They had followed the usual route from Cincinnati and had crossed from Harrison, Ohio. they settled in the vicinity of the village called McKenzie’s Crossroads. It is possible that as early as 1812, John Muller, a native Pennsylvania German settled not far from the river in Harrison County. Muller, a pious Catholic, erected a.log chapel on his farm not many years after his arrival. But there were a number of Catholic settlements in Kentucky, formed by the people who had come chiefly from Maryland during the first great wave of western migration. Many of these people were to come to Indiana during the second and third decades of the century and the priests who administered to them came even during this early period.

The earliest and, for a time, the most important German settlement was located a few miles west of McKenzie’s Crossroads [Dover]. A few families had moved here at an early date, Peter Buchert in 1827, Francis A. Walliser in 1828 and John Heimburger in 1831, but the real settlement did not begin until 1832.

Probably these immigrants were directed by the missionaries of Cincinnati who visited St. John church, but they soon organized a congregation which may be ca1led a filial national parish of St. John’s. In September, 1832 twenty acres of land were purchased for a church which was erected within two years. The church became the nucleus of a village: Anton Walliser made a plat of his part of the town in 1836 and Joseph Smith laid out a number of lots in 1837. It was called New Alsace. Catholics were scattered throughout northern Dearborn County but larger groups were congregated on York Ridge and in Kelso Townnship, south and north of McKenzie’s respectively.

During his stay in Cincinnati Fr. Joseph Ferneding probably heard of the Catholic settlement in Dearborn County. It cannot be proved that he visited there during the fall circuit in 1833 but it is most probable that he did go there then, or even earlier, reaching Dearborn County by way of Cincinnati. Aside from other reasons, it must have been about this time that he discovered that they had purchased land for a church and, in fact, had taken some steps to clear the property and erect the building. Also about this time he, with the consent of Bishop Flaget, must have agreed to become their pastor if they would complete the church and build a rectory. It is certain, however, that he was in this district in the spring of 1834. On the feast of the Ascension, May 8, 1834, he said mass in the cabin of John G. Heimburger on York Ridge. Shortly after, he went to Dover and from there to Neuvallstadt where he found ten German Catholic families and said mass in one of the cabins. Ferneding estimated that there were about 100 Catholic families in the county and reported that 200 persons had received the sacraments.

By August, 1834 the church in New Alsace, dedicated under the title of St. Paul, and the rectory had been completed and Ferneding had been joined by his sister. New Alsace rather than Dover thus became the ecclesiastical center of the Whitewater, chiefly because the Germans, who outnumbered the English speaking Catholics, were located there.

[Bishop] Brute left Vincennes on Saturday, June 30, 1838. ((Bruté was making another tour of the diocese after his return from France.)) He went to Illinois, then part of the diocese and from there he then went by way of the Ohio to Madison Indiana where he was joined by Father [Michael] Shawe and the two went on to Lawrenceburg enroute to New Alsace .. The dedication of St. Paul and St. Peter [Franklin County] churches which Ferneding had just completed was attended by unusual ceremony. A cavalcade was collected to meet the bishop on the road and a mile and a half from the rectory another large group assembled to conduct him in procession. Brute and Shawe arrived in New Alsace on Saturday morning, July 7, 1838 .In the afternoon they visited the church in Dover where Shawe preached. On the following day, July 8, 1838 Brute blessed St. Paul church and celebrated a solemn pontifical mass.

Another good source are the Catholic Directories, as Fr. Alerding mentioned above. Here is a sampling of some of them:

    1836:

  • Dover, Dearborn Co. St. John’s, every other Sunday, Rev. Jos. Ferneding
  • New Alsace, Dearborn Co. St. Paul’s, a large German congregation, attended every other Sunday by Rev. Joseph Ferneding.
    1876:

  • Dover, Dearborn Co., St. John’s, Rev. H. J. Seiberlz
  • New Alsace. Dearborn Co., St, Paul’s, Rev. P. Siebmann.
  • Yorkville,. Dearborn Co., St. Martin, attended from Dover.
  • St. Joseph, Dearborn Co. (St. Leon’s P.O.), Rev. J. Gabriel.
  • Aurora, Dearborn Co., Immaculate Conception, Rev. Fr. Ign. Klein.
  • Lawrenceburg, Dearborn Co., St. Lawrence, Rev. J. F. Sondermann.
    1908:

  • Aurora, Dearborn Co., Inimaculate Conception, Rev. John J. Macke
    School”” 6 Sisters oi Si. Francis. Pupils. 128.
  • Dover (Kelso P. 0.), Dearborn Co.. St. John the Baptist, Rev. B. Bruggemaun.
    School”” 3 Sisters of St. Francis. Pupils. 70.
  • New Alsace Dearborn Co., (P.O. Gullford. RFD. No. 1). St. Paul’s, Rev. .los. Merkl.
    School – 3 Sisters oi St. Francis. Pupils. 1l8.
  • St. Joseph’s, Dearborn Co. (St. Leon P. 0.), Rev. Martin Andres.
    School-“” 3 Sisters oi St. Francis. 1 lay teacher. Pupils. 80.
  • Yorkville. Dearborn Co.. St. Martins. Rev. C.P. Baron.
    School – 3 Sisters of St. Francis. Pupils. 70.
  • Levnenceburgh. Dearborn Co. St. Lawrence s. Rev. J. F. Sondermann. R.D.. and Rev William Kries. Mission”” Milan. Ripley Co. School “” 7 Sisters oi st. Francis Pupils, 132

So, this all reflects what we said at the beginning, what goes around, comes around. The parishes of Dearborn County began as “mission territory”, grew into individual parishes with their own resident pastors, and now they have, in a sense, once again become “mission territory”.

Throughout their history, the faith and the determination of the People of God has kept the presence of the Church strong in these places.

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