BY JIM SCHROEDER
St. Mary Church, Huntingburg
The rain pounded against the mountainside as the brigades from Indiana and Ohio struggled to fight back the Confederate tide in Randolph County, Virginia. It would later become known as the Battle of Rich Mountain. The War Between the States had only been a few months old, and already thousands had lost their lives. After an intense two hours of fighting, the Union withstood the onslaught and the Blue Coats hastened in retreat. Before the battle would commence, over four hundred casualties would be counted in what would become the bloodiest war this country has ever known. Two days later, in pursuit of the Confederate soldiers, General Garnett would be killed, the first general to die during the Civil War. It would be only a brief prequel to four years that would leave the United States changed forever.
That same day on Thursday, July 11, 1861, almost five hundred miles away in the little town of Huntingburg, Indiana, comrades of those Hoosiers fallen in battle were unveiling history in a much different way. Tucked into the southwestern corner of the state, a few ardent Catholics had come together to formally establish the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, later to be known as St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Eight years later, four years after the Civil War had officially ended, they would welcome their first resident
priest. As the country defined those years by unbelievable heartache and division, this little parish began to grow, and became a new light during an otherwise dark era. It would eventually welcome the Benedictine monks from St. Meinrad for most of its tenure. New families emigrated to the area, and the church became a gathering place for so many who came to reside in this Catholic bastion.
One hundred and fifty-two years later, we awoke to the sound of that same pouring rain. It was a dismal morning, and the promise of a picnic was much in question. But as we pulled up to the church and saw our friends, the steeple climbed to the heavens like a rippling flag on a battlefield. The majestic brick exterior enveloped the three massive stained-glass windows that faced Washington Avenue. The clock showed ten ‘til ten local time. Inside, the soft yellow interior was framed by the pale greens that had painted the early spring outside. Mahogany wood carvings of the Stations of the Cross bisected the interior walls while the wooden statues of
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph framed both sides of the altar. That day, the Gospel spoke of death, and what comes when complacency emerges. As Father (Ryan) Hilderbrand told the congregation, we must seek to not let evil come to us, but to assert ourselves regularly so that evil understands we are not victims to be had. And so, just as the Romans had done, he prescribed a statios, a weekly attempt to make a special effort to seek out divine intervention.
Outside, the rain continued, even as the Herbstfest parade was scheduled to start in less than a few hours. A few faithful had put their chairs out on the sidewalks in hesitant anticipation for the festivities. The food booths were operating as we drove by in search of a dry shelter from across the famed baseball field. It remained chilly and wet. But midst the gloomy day, our children did not seem to get the message. They clambered over the wet playground equipment and sheepishly slid through the grass. They snuck out of the shelter as the droplets continued their journey from above. Somewhere, on a mountainside, a sacrifice had occurred — just as a few hours earlier, we had celebrated the sacrifice that gives us all life. Lives would be lost, one would remain.
This reflection is from Jim Schroeder’s book “The Evansville Diocese Historical Tour: Footprints of Our Catholic Brethren.” Jim, his wife, Amy, and their 8 kids live in Evansville. They are parishioners at Holy Redeemer Parish. Jim is a pediatric psychologist and Vice President of the psychology department at Easterseals Rehabilitation Center. “The full story, including illustrations, is available on Amazon or with his other books and articles at www.james-schroeder.com.”