St. Mary of the Assumption
History of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish, Mitchell IN
Early Catholic Masses held in Mitchell, Indiana, in about 1864, were celebrated in Johnson’s Hall over the City Drug Store on Main Street. In 1869, as the last soldiers were still straggling home from the War Between the States, nine Catholic families wanted to establish a church with the presence of a priest. One of those families had the first infant to baptized into Assumption Catholic Church. Her name was Margaret Anna Keane. She was born and baptized on the same day, March 2, 1869, to parents Michael Keane and Bridget Gaines.
The original church was erected in 1871 on a parcel of land donated to Bishop Maurice de St. Palais of the Catholic Diocese of Vincennes by Protestant Colonel John Sheeks. The total cost to build the church, a brick and frame structure, was $3,500. The church on Frank Street measured 60 feet in length, 32 feet in width, and “towered” at 36 feet. It had a seating capacity of 120. It was roofed with wooden shingles, and the heighth of the steeple, also covered with wooden shingles was 96 feet. The building was lighted with electricity.
After the coming of the railroad and the cement mills in 1906, Mitchell began to experience population growth. Many persons seeking employment migrated to the newly established work sites. This growth warranted a resident priest. The church was soon enlarged and improved by the addition of a frame sacristy and sanctuary, but it was not until 1907 that a two story cement block rectory was constructed at a cost of $4,500. Upon completion of the rectory, Father August Sprigler moved from Shoals to Mitchell. With this move, the parish became the mother church for the missions of Shoals and willow Valley, and the church continued to grow. By 1914, the parish boasted a roster of two hundred persons.
The next pastor was Father James L. Bolin, who seems to have been rector for only a little over one year (1913-1914). However, God had a special work for him to peform, for during his pastorate the church building was remodeled and enlarged. Stained glass windows bore the names of Thomas Welsh, William Gorman, John O’Donnell, William Keane, John Murphy, Miss Nellie Buillet (a resident of Louisville, KY, associated with Spring Mill Park), George Volker and Miss Nell Keane. Father W. J. Cronin, former pastor (1890), must have had a special place in his heart for St. Mary’s, for he donated a new altar. New pews were purchased and installed.
It is not known when Assumption Church was began to be called St. Mary’s, but in 1994, it was recommended that all correspondence carry both titles and is now known as St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church.
By 1915, the cement mills did not prove to be the boom they were expecting. One mill was torn down and many Catholics moved away. In 1915, St. Mary’s again became a mission church. The parish, along with Shoals, was placed under the care of St. Vincent’s in Bedford where Rev. G. J. Lannert was pastor. For the next 16 years the eight-year-old rectory stood empty.
World War I came, and priests were scarce, but during this time Father Omer Eisenman, assistant at St. Vincent’s, was charged with the care of Mitchell and Shoals. We have very little information from 1914 until the arrival of Father Arthur Mooney in 1940. We do know that Father Eisenman was tasked with the very challenging chore of gathering the necessary information for the recording of all sacraments that had been administered by his predecessor, Father D. J. Manning. It is not known why Father Manning did not record the sacraments he administered into the registry but many of Father Eiseman’s entries are signed with a notation, “as told to me by his father”. While we do a have a record of the Pastoral Succession, very little history was recorded during those years other than the signatures of the priests in the sacramental registries.
There was a plentitude of information on the mother parish, but a proportionately scarce body of knowledge about the mission. With the exception of what can be culled from Altar Society minutes beginning in 1939, existing information about St. Mary’s during this period is sketchy at best. When World War II broke out, the Altar Society was particularly cognizant of its obligation to help in whatever way it could. Quilts were made and donated to the American Red Cross for its emergency closet. Father Mooney asked that each member attend a weekday mass one day each week “for the duration.” The Altar Society also collected clothing and blankets for Catholic Charities to send to war-torn Europe. Later at the request of Archbishop Ritter, canned food was collected to provide for children in war-stricken Europe. Patriotism ran high, and prayer was common.
Father Meinrad Rouck arrived in 1950.