Joshua Schipper
Video/Digital Content/Graphic Design Producer
March 21, 2023 // Diocese

Celebration of 150 Years for Historic Irish Church in Lagro

Joshua Schipper
Video/Digital Content/Graphic Design Producer

When local employers rejected Irish laborers in the mid-1800s, many earned their wage by constructing the Wabash-Erie Canal which once cut through part of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

After finishing the canal, some of the Irish settled in communities along its route, including the town of Lagro, Indiana. It was 150 years ago when the Irish of this community dedicated their newest Catholic church, St. Patrick, the second building in their parish history. Although no longer a parish, on Friday, March 17, Bishop Rhoades celebrated Mass in commemoration of the anniversary of the dedication of the building.

Photos by Joshua Schipper
Bishop Rhoades celebrates Mass at St. Patrick Oratory in Lagro on Friday, March 17, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the dedication of the church building.

Thomas Fitzgibbon, a contractor for the Wabash-Erie Canal, donated the property on which the Irish built their first church. In 1870, Bishop Henry Luers laid the cornerstone of the present church. As Bishop Rhoades greeted the congregation, he noted his curiosity of how long it must have taken Bishop Luers to reach Lagro in the 19th century, saying that it took 50 minutes to arrive by car that evening.

Father Jay Horning, Administrator of St. Patrick Oratory, assisted with Mass, as did Father Tony Steinacker, whose nearby parish of SS. Peter and Paul in Huntington provided a choir for the celebration.

During his homily, Bishop Rhoades recounted the story of St. Patrick: both the bishop and the parish, starting by unpacking the saint’s historic writings in the “Confession.”

He recounted that, in the “Confession,” St. Patrick wrote that it was “most necessary to spread our nets” so that a great multitude would be brought to God. St. Patrick noted that the people of Ireland had once not known God, but that “now they had been made a people of the Lord, and are called sons and daughters of God.”

Bishop Rhoades then mentioned that his Irish ancestry influenced his life in a major way. His father’s family was Lutheran, and his maternal grandfather was Greek Orthodox. But it was his Irish maternal grandmother who connected his family to the Church.

Speaking about the Irish who constructed the building, he said, “They came here as immigrants who helped to build the Catholic Church in our diocese and nation.”

Bishop Rhoades said that when Bishop Joseph G. Dwenger dedicated the present building on March 17, 1873, the church served approximately 300 families.

Eventually, though, parish membership and attendance declined to unsustainable levels. The last resident pastor, Father James Rose, left in 1980. Many in the parish had, at that point, joined neighboring parishes. Then, in 1997, Bishop John M. D’Arcy officially suppressed the parish — a canonical mechanism by which a bishop declares a parish has closed. Bishop D’Arcy, however, allowed for the church building to remain an oratory under control of the neighboring St. Bernard Parish in Wabash.

The Code of Canon Law defines an oratory as “a place for divine worship designated by permission of the ordinary for the benefit of some community or group of the faithful who gather in it and to which other members of the faithful can also come with the consent of the competent superior.” This means that an oratory is not a parish church, like one that people would attend every Sunday to fulfill their weekly obligation.

A few years after the suppression of the parish, a group called the Friends of Saint Patrick formed to maintain and care for the oratory. In addition to maintaining this historic building, the Friends of Saint Patrick also promote a monthly Mass which is celebrated at the oratory.

At the end of the anniversary Mass, Bishop Rhoades thanked the group for their support and continued dedication to ensuring that the building stays in shape for continued worship.

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