St Mary Catholic Church-Evansville, IN
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Payneboys
N 37° 58.168 W 087° 33.951
16S E 450299 N 4202578
Quick Description: St. Mary Catholic Church is located in the heart of downtown Evansville, IN. Located at 613 Cherry Street it takes up the whole block between SE 6th and SE 7th streets.
Location: Indiana, United States
Date Posted: 1/23/2011 11:24:49 AM
Waymark Code: WMAK15
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member scrambler390
Views: 4

Long Description:
Like a number of communities along the Ohio River, Evansville was growing. The decade between 1860 and 1870 saw the population of the city double from a little over 11,000 people to almost 22,000 people. Of these 22,000, four fifths were either direct German immigrants or had German ancestry. Some belonged to the Evangelical tradition, but most were either Lutheran or Roman Catholic. Between 1834 and 1857, Evansville had only one Catholic Church, Assumption, to serve all Catholics regardless of nationality. It was an “English speaking” church, generally. In 1857, Holy Trinity became the second Catholic Parish in Evansville, and it was “German speaking”. While the Mass, most sacraments, and even Benediction were conducted in Latin, certain other aspects of spiritual life were conducted in the language of the people. Preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, wedding vows and most popular devotional activities were conducted in the vernacular. Holy Trinity was the only German speaking church between St. Philip in Posey County on the west, and Rockport in Spencer County on the east. Soon Trinity too was bulging at the seams. In 1866, James Maurice de St. Palais, bishop of the Vincennes Diocese, recognized the need for another “German speaking” Catholic church in Evansville, and appointed the Reverend Johannes (John) Viefhaus, assistant pastor at Holy Trinity, to found it and serve as pastor.

Fr. Viefhaus purchased five lots in the old eastern subdivision which had been platted by Robert Evans and John Shanklin in 1839 and erected a brick school building at the corner of Upper 6th and Cherry Streets. This two-story brick building cost $5,000.00 The siting of the parish facilities was important, because the new parish boundaries would stretch from Main Street in Evansville all the way to the Warrick County line on the east. The immediate area surrounding the new church ground was already densely residential on the standard average 25 foot wide lots. There were lots of people to take care of.

Plans began immediately for the erection of a large brick church. Ludwig Reidinger of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, was the architect and Bishop St. Palais laid the cornerstone on 28 October 1866. The church was placed under the patronage of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Holy Eucharist was first celebrated in the church on 23 December 1867 and the building was dedicated on 1 January 1868. The cost of the building and its furnishings, including altars, pews, bells and organ, was $60,000.00. In use daily, this worship space remains now as the oldest standing Catholic church within the city of Evansville.

In 1871, the Franciscan sisters of Oldenburg, Indiana erected a second brick school building on the property. This three-story facility provided school rooms for female students and housed the sisters’ residence. The older school building, in true Germanic custom, was allocated for the education of the male students. By 1880, there were approximately 400 students at St. Mary School taught by four Franciscan sisters and one lay teacher, Professor Steinhauser, who did double duty as principal.

The Parish House, a two story edifice, also of brick, was erected adjacent to the church in 1881, to house the pastor and new assistant.

After 26 years as pastor, Father Viefhaus resigned in 1892. He retired to a Carthusian monastery in Germany where he died in 1916.

Over the next 50 years, many changes and upgrades were added to the parish plant. The facades of the buildings received a faux stone veneer called “sham-rock” about 1900, and the other exterior walls were coated with a stucco. The chancel of the church received its initial marble floor around 1916 and a new Estey Pipe Organ was installed in the loft in 1918. This instrument cost $9,300.00. During this era also, a steam heat boiler and electricity were introduced.

A fire in 1937, probably the result of faulty wiring, caused significant smoke and water damage, but overall structural damage was minimal. The cost to repair and renovate the church in that depression time was $33,000.00. Records from that period tell us that the Chancel was expanded somewhat and more marble flooring added, that the choir loft was cut back some 20 feet, and that decorative capitals were added to the ribbed columns that form the nave. The stained glass window in the ceiling of the apse is thought by some to have been added at the same time. The 1937 flood did not reach into the buildings, but did puddle on Cherry Street directly in front of the facilities. New windows, by Frei Studios of St. Louis, were installed in 1941, and a new Wicks pipe organ the following year.

In 1940, a new suite of rooms, including the “tower” corner were added to the Parish House, and in 1944, the boys school building was remodeled into a facility with a large dining room, kitchen, club rooms and auditorium. The old boys’ school is now named Rager Hall after Reverend John C. Rager who served the parish for 26 years as pastor.

The 1950s saw the installation of the Terrazzo floor in the church and the Bedford stone vestibule additions to the front church. The church became the first Catholic church within the city of Evansville to be air-conditioned in 1962, with the AC units placed in the choir loft.

Because of substantially declining enrollments, the grade school closed in 1973. The building was remodeled in 1996 to provide administrative offices, meeting rooms, Christian education space, a chapel, a library and a food pantry. It is now called the Ministry Center.

By the 1980s, Evansville’s downtown area had seen residential flight to the suburbs. The fabric of the church building was showing its age with crumbling plaster and peeling paint; the steeple was leaning; there were no immediate rest room facilities; wiring posed a huge risk; and the changes in Catholic liturgy demanded more than a stop-gap fix. A capital campaign to remedy all these conditions was undertaken, both within the parish itself and significantly, within the community at large. Rather than stripping the church, as so many had done, the interior décor was lovingly preserved and adapted for reuse. The cream/gold/beige color scheme dates from this time. This period also saw the development of Our Lady’s Chapel in a former sacristy and the creation of a large baptistry. This newly refurbished space was dedicated in 1990.

2006 was the next major step in the ongoing evolution of parish life at St. Mary. A strategic plan was developed that allowed for endowments to be established to fund ministries of Christian Education, Parish Life, and Outreach. In addition, items that could not be completed during the 1990 refurbishing likewise received attention, including replacing the 45 year old air-conditioning, making building structural improvements and realigning of some interior spaces. Included is the eventual purchase of a replacement pipe organ for liturgy and related uses.

St. Mary’s has been served by 11 resident pastors since its inception, including both Frs. John F. Viefhaus and John C. Rager, who each served 26 years. Fr. Stephen P. Lintzenich, the current pastor, has been at St. Mary since 1983.
Type of Church: Church

Status of Building: Actively in use for worship

Date of building construction: 10/28/1866

Diocese: Evansville

13 Cherry Street
Evansville, IN USA

Relvant Web Site: [Web Link]

Date of organization: Not listed

Dominant Architectural Style: Not listed

Associated Shrines, Art, etc.: Not listed

Archdiocese: Not listed

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