Immaculate Conception Parish in Kendallville celebrated its 150-year anniversary most appropriately on Friday, Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. As the pastor, Father James Stoyle, had predicted, the imposing church edifice was filled to overflowing with throngs of parishioners, their families, friends and guests who had come to celebrate the special occasion with their bishop.
The evening began with recitation of the rosary and a musical prelude presented by the choir, under the direction of Julie Kessler, choir director and longtime parishioner. A hush fell over the congregation as the Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus, in full regalia, processed up the center aisle and stood in anticipation of the entrance of the celebrant, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, and the beginning of the anniversary Mass. Joining him on the altar were concelebrants Father Stoyle and former pastor Father Jacob Gall.
Bishop Rhoades greeted those in attendance and noted the joyous occasion for their parish. “Today we celebrate all the blessings God has bestowed on you,” he said. As he began his homily he noted the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary by saying, “Today we celebrate the beginning of the world’s redemption. In His desire to save humanity through His Son, God freed Mary from the power of sin at the first moment of her existence. In His plan for the new creation and in view of the merits of His Son Jesus, God kept the Virgin Mary free from every stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. In this way God the Father prepared to give us the gift of His Son as our Redeemer.
“The Immaculate Conception is an awesome truth,” he continued. “Our nation, our diocese and this parish have Mary as our patroness, under the title of the Immaculate Conception.”
Bishop Rhoades offered parishioners a historical perspective. “In the year 1854, Blessed Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Thirteen years later, in the year 1867, this parish began.
“There were Catholics in Kendallville prior to 1867,” he told his listeners. “Priests would visit Kendallville to celebrate the sacraments periodically … (but) Catholics would normally go to Avilla for Mass. Then the pastor at St. Mary’s, Avilla, Father A.B. Oechtering, began to regularly visit Kendallville, celebrating Mass in 1865 in the home of Peter Ringle.” Since the number of Catholics was increasing significantly because of the construction of the Grand Rapids and Indiana railroad, “Father Oechtering bought a Baptist church and converted it to a Catholic church. The church and congregation became a mission of St. Mary’s Parish, Avilla.” After Father Oechtering’s transfer, Father Dominic Duehmig became pastor there.
Both priests had been recruited by the first bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Bishop Luers, to come to the diocese from their native Germany. “Our diocese at that time encompassed the whole northern half of the state of Indiana. There were a lot of new churches being built, as the number of Catholics was growing because of immigration. Many of the churches were mission churches, like here in Kendallville, served by priests from other parishes. … You probably know that the first resident pastor of this parish was Father John Noll, later to become Bishop Noll and Archbishop Noll. Later, in 1923, this present beautiful church was built.
“I mention some of this early history today because it is important to know our roots. We give thanks to God for the devoted priests and faith-filled parishioners who built this parish. They did so not long after the end of the Civil War. They were mostly poor immigrants, but they were rich in faith, strong Catholics who sacrificed much to build this parish. They passed on their faith to their children and grandchildren. The Catholic faith has been passed on here the past 150 years. I imagine there are some parishioners today who can trace their ancestry back to those original pioneer Catholics of Kendallville. I am sure those pioneers had a strong devotion to Our Lady and to her Immaculate Conception, the patroness of this parish.”
The prophecy heard in the book of Genesis was fulfilled at the Immaculate Conception, the bishop said. “God said to the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.’ God established enmity, hostility between the woman and the devil when He preserved Mary from all power of sin. Her offspring, Jesus, would indeed strike at the head of the serpent. Through His death and resurrection, Christ defeated Satan and set us free from the power of sin and death. His Mother received in advance the benefits of her Son’s victory. He granted her the power to resist the devil. He made her ‘full of grace,’ the name the angel used in addressing Mary at the Annunciation.
“Now, it is true that none of us was immaculately conceived like Mary, but God has also blessed us with His grace,” he continued. “He freed us from sin at our baptism. He made us his adopted children. And He calls us to be holy, to live in His grace, to live in friendship with Him. He continues to give us the grace and strength to conquer sin’s influence in our lives after Baptism. He forgives our sins and strengthens us with His grace every time we go to confession. He gives us an increase of grace every time we receive holy Communion. For 150 years, parishioners have received God’s grace in these sacraments here at Immaculate Conception Parish.”
On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the parish named in honor of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Bishop Rhoades asked Our Lady to intercede for the parish community, that it might continue to grow not only in numbers, but in holiness, inspired by its ancestors in the faith in Kendallville.
“May your commitment be strong, like theirs, to the passing on of the faith to your children and grandchildren. May this be an evangelizing community that reaches out to your neighbors with love, especially to the poor, the needy, the sick and the suffering. And may this parish be a beacon of hope here in Kendallville, a parish that radiates the love of Jesus and Mary in all you say and do. May God bless you.”
A celebratory dinner for 200 people hosted by the Rosary Sodality took place in the church hall after Mass. In advance of the evening, reception committee member Ruth Durbin had said that parishioners were eagerly awaiting the celebration, and noted that a 150-year historical account of the parish being compiled was nearing completion and would soon be made available to parishioners. An upcoming church directory will feature that historical information as well. Also available for sale during the evening were painted wooden replicas of the church that commemorated the 150th anniversary.
According to Father Stoyle, the parish had been celebrating its anniversary all year. A German dinner was hosted in October, a Mexican dinner was prepared and served by Hispanic parishioners in November and an Italian dinner is slated for January. Cheryl Barker echoed the joy shared by many parishioners that evening when she said, “It has been a one-year anticipation … Dec. 8 is finally here.” Parishioner Vince Helmkamp called the 150-year milestone “amazing.”
Many improvements to Immaculate Conception Church have been made over time. Stained-glass windows depicting the Eight Beatitudes were created and installed in 1939. A community hall with parish offices, classrooms, kitchen and a spacious meeting and banquet room was built in 1994. A new pipe organ was purchased in 2011, a St. Francis Peace Garden was installed in 2016 and a memorial bell tower is slated to be built in the near future. According to information provided by Jansen, the new organ and synthesizer has allowed Father Stoyle, who was formerly the parish organist and music director, to record a music library of nearly 1,000 instrumental, choral and congregational pieces to enrich church liturgies for many years to come.
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