St. Patrick Parish in Walkerton has the distinction of being in a town that sits in four counties and two different time zones — but that’s not the only thing that makes it special. According to pastor Father Eric Zimmer, the involvement of parishioners and their willingness to help wherever needed has been inspiring.
St. Patrick Parish was founded in 1856 as St. Henry Parish, in the same year that Walkerton became a town. The first Mass was celebrated in the log cabin home of parishioners, by a Holy Cross priest from Notre Dame. The name was changed sometime before the end of the 19th century, as more Irish Catholics came into the area.
The present church was built in 1870 and will soon celebrate its 150th anniversary. Father Zimmer said the parish had a school that started in 1956, but it was closed nine years ago when there were no longer enough students enrolled to support it.
Bishop John D’Arcy made the decision to close the school in 2005, but at the urging of parishioners, kept it open until 2008. When it closed, many of the students went to St. Michael School in Plymouth.
Father Anthony Letko served the parish for 42 years beginning in the early 1940s. It was under his leadership that the school was built, and a convent was remodeled from four rooms to 11 so that the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis from South Bend could come to teach the students. Father Letko served the parish until 1988.
Father Zimmer said Father Letko’s predecessors also served the parish for many years — one for 20 years, and another for 25 years.
St. Patrick today
Father Zimmer was assigned to the parish Jan. 1, 2016. Prior to his arrival the parish was without a pastor for a while, and several priests pitched in to help serve the parishioners.
St. Patrick is a small parish of about 160 families.
“At one time there were 450 families,” Father Zimmer said. “But we are growing. We’ve had 30 families join since I arrived.”
Father Zimmer said he’s integrated programs that he feels are getting more people involved in the parish. He gave the example of a program held on Wednesdays during Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday. There is a simple supper at 6 p.m., followed by Stations of the Cross at 7 p.m. and Exposition and Benediction. He said attendance at Stations of the Cross has gone from five parishioners to about 30.
Parishioners at St. Patrick are very committed to the Annual Bishop’s Appeal. Father Zimmer said in recent years the parish been among the top five parishes in the diocese for percentage of parishioners donating, and in the top 5 percent of those that are over goal.
“I’m very happy to say that last year 60 percent of the parish gave to the Annual Bishop’s Appeal and we surpassed 203 percent of our goal,” Father Zimmer said.
Although they don’t have this year’s figures yet, Father Zimmer said the trend has continued. The number of people donating has increased, as is the amount of money being donated. Because of surpassing its goal last year, an overage was returned to the parish that is being used to restore the stained glass windows in the church. The windows are original and date back to 1895-96, according to Father Zimmer. That restoration is expected this spring and a donation will cover the amount not met by the appeal.
This year’s overage is earmarked to reopen the parish hall, which flooded in March. Aside from repairing any damage by the flood, plans call for it to be renovated and updated. Father Zimmer said he’d like to triple the usage of the parish hall once it is reopened. Currently, it’s used for parish events like a monthly family movie night, monthly pancake breakfast, the annual St. Patrick’s dinner and a fall dinner for couples.
St. Patrick has a Knights of Columbus Council, No. 5709, that has very been active since the 1960s. Parishioners enjoy singing in the liturgy, which Father Zimmer said has helped to rebuild their choir. He added that, in the last two years, the number of altar servers has increased by seven, and the number of lectors and eucharistic ministers by that same number.
The youth group has been restarted at St. Patrick, and will include high school and college-aged students. Father Zimmer said when students go away to college they are often not seen at church, so it is hoped that by including that age group it will keep them involved. Religious education attendance has increased 35 percent the last two years.
The parish office has increased its hours and is now open 20 hours a week. St. Patrick doesn’t have any full-time staff: Most people who work in the parish are volunteers, and there are a couple of part-time staff members. Parishioners are pitching in to help with a lot of deferred maintenance — new lights, redoing landscaping —and they’ve just installed a new sound system that’s on an audio loop, facilitating the celebration of the Mass for those who are hearing impaired.
There’s a women’s group at St. Patrick, Women in Spiritual Harmony, which includes women from St. Dominick Mission in Koontz Lake of the Diocese of Gary.
Father Zimmer said the church is open 24 hours, seven days a week, and 365 days a year for those who want to come and spend quiet time in prayer. When Mass is not being celebrated, there is some type of inspirational background music, including Gregorian chants, playing in the background.
Among Father Zimmer’s hopes for the future are to have a full-time staff person at the parish. He would also like to engage in more outreach to youth, and it would be nice to have a certain Mass geared toward the youth and to have the parish hall accessible for them to come and watch a movie or something, he said.
The parish’s strong point, according to its pastor, is the willingness of the parishioners to help.
“We have a core of people who are very happy to volunteer their time and talent towards various things, whether it’s updating the facilities, cooking or cleaning up. Their willingness to do that is very helpful. They are very proud of their parish,” he said.
Father Zimmer wants to continue the growth he’s seen since being assigned to St. Patrick. “It’s important for our parish to continue to grow; we need to continue outreach to the groups alienated from the Church who are still within our area,” he said. “We have to provide programs and outreach that refreshes people.”
807 Tyler St.
Walkerton, IN 46574-0118
Saturday — 5 p.m.
Sunday — 8, 10:30 a.m.
Holy Day — See bulletin
Weekday — M-Th 6:30 a.m.
Reconciliation: Saturday 4-4:45 p.m.
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