By Ron Busch
A few miles west of Fort Wayne, one finds the small village of Arcola. Although Arcola is only home to around 100 homes, the small community boasts a church with a rich history that dates back over 150 years. Today St. Patrick Parish lists 425 households, totaling 1,247 persons from both in and beyond the town’s borders, according to the most recent diocesan directory.
The parish began in 1845, when church services were held in the home of Victor Munier. In 1862 the parish was officially established and overseen by its first pastor, Father P.J. Jadden. In 1868 the first church and priest’s residence were built on church grounds; Calvary Cemetery was established that same year. Just 12 years later Father Bartholomew Hartman helped to establish the parish’s first school building. The dedication of the current church took place in 1899, a building that was constructed for a total cost of $10,934.
In the 1920s the church and rectory were wired for electricity. Other improvements included a paved parking lot in 1936, an organ in 1939 and in 1941, one year before the church’s diamond jubilee, the church underwent redecorating.
Construction of a new school building began in 1951. The school thrived for years, but in 1969 the doors were closed. The teaching nuns from the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ discontinued their role at St. Patrick at that time.
The next renovation of the church occurred in the 1990s, overseen by Father Eugene Koers. During the next decade, the westward movement of the Fort Wayne-area population burgeoned the parish to almost 400 families. To accommodate the expansion a new rectory was built and a parish hall constructed, both of which were dedicated by Bishop John M. D’Arcy in 2007. The hall includes parish offices and religious education classrooms: The space has also enabled conference rooms, library space, an infant cry room and new restrooms to complement the historic church.
St. Patrick Parish has celebrated 150-plus years of existence, and the faith community is looking forward to years ahead. Current staff members include pastor Father Thadeus Balinda, religious education Director Roberta Davis, parish Secretary Patricia Denihan and youth group Director Cathy Diamente.
The parish is fortunate to have a large number of groups and activities contribute to its mission. Members of the faith community held their annual drive-through fish fry on Friday, March 24; Hard work and organization by many, along with homemade potato salad and coleslaw, made it a big hit. On the first Saturday after Easter St. Patrick conducts its annual bike blessing, which attracts motorcyclists from near and far. Summer evenings are often filled with softball games on a softball diamond constructed on parish grounds, thanks to the organizational and physical efforts of parishioner Gus Trahin.
The Knights of Columbus council puts on a monthly breakfast, sponsors the youth group and altar servers, offers bingo, oversees the mowing of the cemetery, offers financial support for seminarians and contributes to many other causes. The confirmation class puts out a Giving Tree at Christmas to help the Women Care Center with items for needy mothers and their babies. The Rosary Society provides fruit baskets to “live-alones” in the parish at Christmas and they also serve funeral dinners for families and sponsor families in need during the holidays. The pro-life group continues to promote and sponsor special events, and a young mom’s group meets regularly to spiritually reflect on their families and to support one another.
The religious education program for pre-K through high school has over 150 students. Young people in the parish volunteer for youth group events and spiritual pilgrimage trips. Vacation Bible School gathers the children together in the summer to continue their learning and love of Jesus.
Denihan, a lifetime member of the parish, expressed her personal love of St. Patrick. “The hearts of the people of St. Patrick’s express the love of their faith and love of their parish. I have met so many wonderful and caring people working at the parish,” she said.
Father Balinda feels a special privilege to be pastor at St. Patrick, he said. “The members are warm, they love me as their pastor, they are concerned about my life and how things are going back at my home in Uganda. I have had a few misfortunes back at home in Uganda, and every time they get to know, my misfortunes become their misfortunes and they are with me from the beginning to the end. Likewise, my joys are their joys. It’s as if I have lived among them for decades. I am so happy that the silver jubilee of my priestly ordination is coming when I am in this community.”
The pastor also appreciates the efforts of the various groups in the flock that he shepherds, and extended recognition to his staff as well. “I appreciate every one of our members and visitors who come to pray with us on weekends and weekdays.”
And what of the future for St. Patrick Church, Arcola?
“I would like to see all the parish ministries continue to grow with the same zeal and dedication,” said Father Balinda. “I would like to see our faith community grow in numbers and in our faith. I would like to see our parish young men and women join the seminary and become priests and religious, respectively. Lastly, I would like that we all meet one time in heaven.”
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