Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer
May 10, 2017 // Special

Serving God’s people for 150 years

Jennifer Miller
Freelance Writer

What began as a small gathering of immigrant German and Irish Catholics in the Indiana frontier in the 1840s has grown and remained faithful to God’s call, developing into a close-knit parish. St. Joseph Catholic Parish of Roanoke celebrated its 150th anniversary on Monday, May 1.

“Our parish is vibrant. For the 4 p.m. vigil Mass on Saturday, they show up at 3 p.m. for a seat! It is nice and full,” said pastor Father Dale Bauman. He describes his parish as a “small, country parish, with a good, active population.”

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades speaks to parishioners at a vesper service held on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker at St. Joseph Church in Roanoke.

A highlight of the parish for Father Bauman is the faith community that has formed at St. Joseph. Although parishioners are of a variety of cultural backgrounds — German, Polish, Irish and African-American — they are all one body in their Catholic home.

Click here for more photos from the event.

Some of the active lay groups in the parish are a Right to Life group; Meals for Seniors; a Men’s Club and Ladies Club; as well as liturgical groups serving at Mass, such as the lectors. Ministers at St. Joseph offer a variety of church music, on organ and piano. They follow the liturgical seasons and, during Lent, include Latin hymns in the celebration of the Mass.

The parish initially grew out of necessity, as German and Irish immigrants moved west following development in the 1830s of the Wabash-Erie Canal and St. Louis Railroad. Missionary priests who traveled between Fort Wayne and Lafayette first met their spirituals needs. Father Julian Benoit was one of the priests who would celebrate Mass in private homes.

Mary stands on the cornerstone of the original St. Joseph Church, amid flowers planted in her honor.

The need to pastor the faithful grew, and by the 1850s a small frame church was built on the southeast corner of 4th and Main streets in Roanoke, with the help of Father Fuchs. Fire later destroyed the building. It was rebuilt but in 1867, a few years after the end of the Civil War. The young diocese then bought a brick building at the corner of 6th and Main streets that had been built by the Presbyterian Church. It was in this building that the parish was formally established. Father William Woeste became the first resident pastor of Roanoke in 1870; in 1873, a parish cemetery was purchased.

In 1882 and for the next 40 years, the parish was a mission parish of St. Catherine’s. In 1907, Bishop Herman Aldering rededicated the church after a choir loft and new stained glass windows were added.

Slowly but surely, it grew. A brick rectory was added in 1924 so that a priest could live in Roanoke, with St. Catherine’s as his mission. During the Depression years, the Sunday collection basket would yield as little as 18 cents.

Major church repairs took place in the early 1940s, including the church tower, which had been struck by lightning. In May of 1944, Bishop John F. Noll celebrated the parish’s diamond jubilee.

Ground was broken in May of 1969 for a new brick church, located behind the old one. The first Mass was held on Palm Sunday of 1970. Bishop Leo A. Pursley later consecrated it, on June 21, 1970. At the time, there were 132 families in the parish.

Additional property was purchased, and the old rectory converted for parish and office use. As of 1986, 380 families called St. Joseph their parish home. In 1992, Bishop John D’Arcy celebrated the church’s 125th anniversary at the top of the hill in Roanoke. The parish then had about 240 families, a decrease from 1986 attributed to the establishment of nearby St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish.

To mark the occasion of its 150th anniversary, on the May 1 feast day of St. Joseph the Worker, members of the parish and Father Bauman prayed the Divine Office and Evening Vespers with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades. There was a light supper following. The Franciscan Friars Minor, of the St. Felix Friary in Huntington, also joined the faithful in giving thanks to God for their dear parish.

During remarks given that evening, Bishop Rhoades reflected: “It is a day to remember the humble carpenter of Nazareth, your patron saint, the earthly father of Our Lord. St. Joseph not only cared for and watched over Jesus, he also taught him his trade of carpentry. We can contemplate in our imagination St. Joseph in his workshop at Nazareth, teaching Jesus, sharing with him his craftsmanship, and also his faith in God.

“Today is (also) the first day of the month of May, the month of Mary. So today, as we celebrate St. Joseph the Worker, we also think of his beloved wife, the holy Mother of God. St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary shared a single common center of attention: Jesus. With commitment and tenderness, they watched over Jesus.

“As good and holy parents, they taught him and they nurtured his growth. It’s amazing to consider their vocation: to accompany and nurture the growth of the Son of God made man,” the bishop continued. “They did so with deep faith and profound love. They prayed with him. Imagine that! They prayed the psalms with Jesus, like we prayed the psalms this evening. Prayer together is such an important and precious task of the Christian family. It strengthens families and family life. How important it is that parents teach their children to pray, to start and end the day with a prayer. Imitating Mary and Joseph, parents teach their children to know and to feel the friendship and the love of God.

“One hundred and fifty years ago, the first parishioners of St. Joseph Parish, with deep faith in Jesus and with devotion to St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, gathered in prayer,” he recounted. “They worked hard to build this parish here in Roanoke. It was then, in 1867 that this parish, St. Joseph in Roanoke, was established. The 1860s were a time of incredible growth all over the diocese, new parishes and churches throughout the whole diocese. Religious communities also came from Germany to serve here, joining the French Congregation of Holy Cross that had come here in the 1840s. It’s also important to remember that the 1860s were the years of the Civil War and many men entered military service from Indiana. It was in this pioneer period of our diocese’s history that St. Joseph Parish began.

“As we remember the past with gratitude, we also look to the present and the future. The words of St. Paul to the Colossians in our reading this evening give us good advice. St. Paul writes: “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well you will receive and inheritance from him as your reward. Be slaves of Christ the Lord.” As you look to the future, may you be inspired by these words, words that were lived by the pioneers of this parish: to work with you whole being for the Lord, believing in the promise of an inheritance from him.”

“When we think of work, we can think of St. Joseph the Worker. With St. Joseph as your example and guide, I pray that you will indeed work hard for the good of this parish, especially in your mission of evangelization, spreading the faith, and reaching out to this community with works of mercy. May St. Joseph, along with our Blessed Mother, inspire you to walk in the way of holiness, to serve the Lord with all your strength, and to generously support this parish with your stewardship. May all you do be for the glory of God!”


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