By LEANN BURKE
© The Dubois County Herald
Reprinted with permission
IRELAND — Construction Manager Pat Gress has about 500 photos on his phone chronicling the construction of St. Mary Church in Ireland.
“I want to keep a pictorial record of this thing being built,” he said.
Gress is a member of St. Mary Parish and one of two parishioners — Patrick Mendel is the other — managing the roughly $6 million project, which is being funded through donations. It’s a major project, as the new church will replace the current church, which was built in 1904, and is the first new church the Diocese of Evansville has built in a decade. The new church is also a few times larger than the current one.
“You can take the current church, turn it sideways and set it down three times in the new one,” Gress said.
In other words, the new church is as wide as the current church is long, and the length of the new church is three times the width of the current church. The larger size is necessary, as the current church seats about 380, but the congregation has more than 2,000 members. Even with the three Mass times, it gets crowded.
Among the features of the new church are a seating capacity of 700 and much more restroom space. The new church will also have a choir room, a lower level that will house the parish offices and a large gathering area at the entrance, called a narthex.
Mendel is excited for the narthex.
“Right now, people have to gather on the sidewalks to catch up, decide where they’re going to go for lunch, stuff like that,” he said. “Now we’ll have a nice interior place for that.”
The project also includes building an additional parking lot on the north side of the new church, and some new interior decor. All of the church’s current stained glass windows are being refurbished by Mominee Studios in Evansville, and the congregation also commissioned nine new windows.
The new church will have six stained glass windows on its north side and six on the south side. The interior will also include the altar from St. Patrick Church in Corning, Indiana, and a new wood crucifix that is being made and donated by a local furniture company.
Gress estimated the construction is 60% completed.
Driving by the parish on County Road 500W, you can see the new church standing behind the current one — which will eventually be razed — on the west side of the property with construction crews led by Streicher Construction of Jasper hard at work around it. Most of the exterior is complete. Crews are currently working on the beginnings of the utility systems inside.
The new church is scheduled to open in March 2020.
St. Mary Pastor Father Joseph “Effie” Erbacher feels very blessed to part of the project and to be the one to oversee the church as the project that’s nearly 50 years in the making comes to completion. He remembers hearing that a new church was planned for Ireland when he was ordained 47 years ago.
After lots of hard work and donations from many dedicated parishioners, he said, that plan is becoming a reality. Not only that, but the congregation expects to be debt-free at the end of the project. They’ve raised $5.6 million of the $6 million fundraising goal set for the capital campaign that kicked off in 2017, and the church has been saving for the project for about 20 years.
“We’re very pleased that we can pull that off,” Father Erbacher said. “It’s because of the good will of the people in the community and the parishioners.”
Despite being involved daily with building the church, Gress makes himself take a pause every so often to consider the gravity of the project. In those moments, he reminds himself that he’s part of something meant to last generations.
“I have to stop and think sometimes, ‘Wow, I’m a part of something that’s supposed to be around 150 years,’” he said. “It does make you take a pause.”