October 13, 2010 // Local

St. Paul of the Cross celebrates 150th jubilee

The church today.

Compiled by Laurel Steill and Sister Rose Clare, CSA and edited by Mark Weber

COLUMBIA CITY — Franklin Pierce was in the White House and Indiana as a state had 40 years of history on the books. It was 1856 and Columbia City, county seat of Whitley County, was a tiny place where homes had chicken coops, woodsheds, privies and a stable for a horse and perhaps a cow that could be pastured out during the day.

All of the town’s Catholics could fit in the small frame home of Joseph Eich to hear Mass celebrated by Father Edward M. Faller, pastor of St. Mary Church, Fort Wayne. Other priests from Huntington and New Haven also assisted on a time to time basis, and one can only imagine the challenges of communication, transportation and seasonal conditions involved in bringing the faith to this obscure pioneer settlement.
The first Catholic church building in Columbia City was a 30 by 50 foot frame structure on Hanna Street, where Father Henry Schaefer had bought ground, completed in 1860. Two additional frame buildings, a rectory and school for 28 students, were added.

By 1867, the congregation had moved to the northeast corner of South Line and Spencer streets, where Bishop John Henry Luers dedicated the new church in October and placed the parish under the patronage of St. Paul of the Cross.

Interior view.

From the time of Father Schaefer to the present, 25 pastors have led St. Paul’s, with Father A. M. Ellering serving for 23 years until 1909. For a 46-year period ending in 1921, the parish had a school staffed by the Sisters of St. Agnes of Fond du Lac, Wis.

Over the years, there have been various changes and improvements with the buildings and grounds and a significant change in parish activities came about in 1980, when Father James Bartels, pastor, hired sister Ursuline Sister Janet Peterworth, as a pastoral associate. In that position, she introduced such programs as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), sacramental preparation programs on all levels and a more prominent parish council. She also instituted the vacation Bible school. Working as a team with Father Bartels, she trained liturgical ministers, helped to organize the parish, and to empower the laity to assume their rightful roles ministering in the Church.

With the unexpected death of Father Bartels on June 27, 1981, Sister Janet’s responsibilities in the parish were expanded. Father Terry Place was appointed as administrator and came to Columbia City from Fort Wayne on weekends attending to the sacramental needs of the parish. Day-to-day administration was the responsibility of Sister Janet, who with Father Place, worked with the liturgist and director of religious education to continue the work of involving more people in the life of the church. It was during this time that the St. Vincent de Paul food pantry was established.

St. Paul of the Cross Parish in 1960. This church was demolished in 1985.

In the spring of 1984, Sister Janet was recalled by the Ursuline order to serve on their general council. Father Place was appointed rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, and Father William Schooler was named as pastor of St. Paul of the Cross.
Father Schooler continued the plans for fundraising for a new church building begun under the direction of Father Place and Sister Janet. These plans included the demolition of the old church and construction of a new church, administration area, remodeled classroom facilities, a new hall and expanded parking.

After Easter in 1985, the old church was demolished, and the rectory was moved for a third time to a new location two miles south of Columbia City on Highway 9 to be used as a private home. The parish community worshipped every Sunday at Columbia City High School, and celebrated holy days, weddings and funerals at Grace Lutheran Church. RCIA was held at First Presbyterian Church, parish dinners at the United Methodist Church, and meetings and gatherings took place wherever hospitality was provided.

The parishioners moved back to their new home on Palm Sunday and celebrated Holy Week and Easter with the the joy of people returning to their homeland from exile. Then Bishop John M. D’Arcy dedicated the new building on June 8, 1986 and an open house of the church was held for the community on June 15, 1986.

Father Larry Kramer became pastor of St. Paul of the Cross in 2003. He is known as a priest educator and spiritual guide who feels that the spiritual growth of the parish is vital to the church community. One of his first actions was to hire Sister Rose Clare Ehrlich, a Sister of St. Agnes, to be in charge of liturgy and music. He instituted Wednesday Night Live — a discussion group that covers a variety of topics for educational and interest to those in attendance.

Father Kramer also began a Sunday adult discussion group that meets between the 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Masses. He sits in with the youth religious groups and is regularly a participant with the fourth- and fifth-grade Faith Alive group, the sixth, seventh and eighth grades and also the high school youth group. He has developed rapport with this wide range of ages. Father Kramer instituted TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) confessions to give more opportunity to the congregation to receive this sacrament. He is active in prison ministry as well and meets with prisoners at the Whitley County Jail once a week.

At St. Paul of the Cross in Columbia City Father Larry Kramer, 50 years a priest, is a beloved and respected spiritual leader of 464 families.

Pastor Father Lawrence Kramer is shown with Sister Rose Clare Ehrlich, a Sister of St. Agnes who is the director of liturgy.

St. Paul of the Cross ministries welcomes many people
COLUMBIA CITY — Vibrant is the word that comes to mind when speaking with St. Paul of the Cross pastor, Father Larry Kramer, and the parish director of liturgy, Sister Rose Clare Ehrlich, a Sister of St. Agnes.

With almost 500 families — many young families with children — as well as senior parishioners, the parish offers a wide scope of ministries to nourish the faithful.

Father Kramer says there is a blend of farmers and city dwellers that bring a unique work ethic. He once asked a young parishioner if she could take a project, and her reply was, “I’m a farm girl. I can do anything.” And that family work ethic is evident in the parish.

As director of liturgy, Sister Rose Clare has art and environment, parish ministries, choir and musicians under her care. She also handled the preparations for the sesquicentennial celebration. With the art and environment cap, Sister Rose Clare coordinated “sprucing up” the exterior and interior of the parish. The exterior received a landscape makeover. The interior of the church was updated with new paint.
The choir held a spaghetti dinner to raise money to paint the church.

“We had the help of lots of parishioners,” Sister Rose Clare said of the project. She and Father Kramer especially appreciated the help of George Crowe, who handles the maintenance of the parish.

For Sister Rose Clare, St. Paul of the Cross has come full circle with her order. The Sisters of St. Agnes operated a school in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Now she returns as the director of liturgy.

The small town atmosphere allows St. Paul of the Cross Church to be opened 24/7. And the parish has Eucharistic Exposition in the chapel on first Fridays.

For young children, preschool to age 10, the parish has the Blue Knights and the Little Flowers, each with an emphasis on learning about the saints and virtues.

The parish has an active religious-education program for school-age children. During the religious education classes for the children, Father Kramer offers an adult education course that roughly follows the topics of RCIA. And the Wednesday night educational series classes with Father Kramer were very successful.

The high school teens have a small, but diverse Sunday night program. It has a catechetical component but also social and community aspects. During the summer months, the teens often pray outside the abortion facility in Fort Wayne. They also a hold hunger fast once a year to raise funds for Catholic Relief Services, sing Christmas carols at the nursing homes and coordinate a Halloween party for the younger children.

Young adults of the parish can participate in L.I.G.H.T., Living In God’s Holy Truth. And for those 50 and older, there is a Bible study.
“This place is a beehive on Sunday nights,” commented Sister Rose Clare, on the many programs offered on Sunday evenings at the parish.
The parish operates a St. Vincent de Paul Society food pantry, which offers emergency services. Parish Office Manager Jeanne Stefanko takes the pantry under her wing.

While visiting the local jail, where Father Kramer routinely ministers, he was once told, “Your food pantry people treat us like people.”
The plans for the sesquicentennial are coming to a pinnacle on Sunday, Oct. 24. Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Mass. A parish dinner for all the parish will be catered after the Mass.

That culminates a busy year of activities that included a mission with Passionist priest, Father Arthur Carrillo. St. Paul of the Cross is the saint who also founded the Passionist Order. The saint’s feast day is Oct. 20.

In August, Catholic music composer David Kauffman presented a concert and a retreat day for journaling. The parish also held its annual picnic in late September.

Laurel Steill and Sister Rose Clare have been busy compiling and editing a parish history book.

The parish also is involved in a capital campaign to build the Deacon Joseph Zickgraf Community Center. The late Deacon Zickgraf was a three-time mayor of Columbia City and a beloved permanent deacon assigned to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. The community center in his honor would provide gymnasium, kitchen and dining areas, and multipurpose gathering space, as well as room for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The center will have the capacity for teleconferencing services.

The goal is to raise $1.1 million for the center. A poster in the church narthex shows $551,344 in the bank.

Sister Rose Clare said of the jubilee celebration: “It’s a wonderful time to give thanks for all we have here in this parish. That’s what jubilee is all about. It’s a time to give thanks for God’s faithfulness to us during these 150 years and to enjoy the growth and the fellowship that has taken place here.”

Father Kramer added, “And to recognize the contributions made by people of their time, talent and treasure over the 150 years … with the heavenly assembly that we always call to worship with us at Mass.”

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