Tradition of faith or Religious roots run deep

What Andrea Davis struggled to say with mere words about the impact of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church quickly got overshadowed by her eyes.

She talked of her son’s first Communion and her voice began to crack. Then she recalled a moving farewell blessing that the Rev. Clem Davis — who is not related to her — imparted to the St. Bartholomew Catholic School students a few months ago and her voice completely faltered.

“This church (parish) has been my life,” she said as tears finally began streaming down her face.

Such is true for her and thousands of other area Roman Catholics. The 50-year-old Andrea Davis, leader of the church’s just-launched, year-long 175th anniversary celebration culminating in the actual founding salute in August 2016, tried to summarize her feelings.

“Some of the most meaningful and emotional parts of my life have happened with this church,” Davis said. “And I want people 175 years from now to have that same experience.”

More than 4,000 people attend services weekly, making St. Bartholomew by far Bartholomew County’s largest faith body. The congregation has been a voice for sanctity of life and social justice issues such as opposing the death penalty. But outreach to Haiti also has marked its recent mission, wherein members have helped the poverty-stricken nation with earthquake recovery and even restored a Catholic parish hall several years ago.

Differences today

Amid discussing the church’s impact, liturgy coordinator and anniversary committee member Millie Harmon considered how someone from the original St. Bartholomew’s congregation in 1841 would react walking into a current service inside the 2002 sanctuary with a sweeping ceiling that was part of a $10 million project.Noticing the modern surroundings and other cultural details is a given, she said.“I think they might be a little shocked at how little clothing we wear (compared to their layers),” Harmon said.

“But I think they’d also see a lot of similarities,” Andrea Davis said. “They could find that in some of the liturgy and the prayers.”

“And, of course,” Harmon said, “a big difference for them is that they would be able to understand it all in their language.”

The Catholic church, until the 1960s, held Mass in Latin, with the priest’s back to the people during the service. Yet, in the mid-19th century, Catholics faced far more than grappling with elements of faith. Simply facing life posed challenges.

St. Bartholomew’s first priest, the Rev. Vincent Bacquelin, died in 1846 when he fell from a horse while riding to visit the sick, according to the church’s history. Today’s adversities to faith sometimes can include busyness that can hamper time for spiritual quiet, Andrea Davis said.

“There are so many other things going on and competing for our attention today,” she said. “There’s sports, kids’ activities and so many other things.”

She pointed out that records show that most early members of St. Bartholomew spent their Sundays after Mass resting at home. This unfolded, of course, well before modern technology or today’s entertainment or shopping, especially with stores open on Sunday.

Anniversary events

Bogdan Minut, the church’s director of music, said St. Bartholomew’s annual concert series will be a tie-in to the anniversary.San Francisco-based Catholic worship singer-songwriter Dan Schutte is part of the lineup, with a performance May 14 at the church. Members sing many of his songs during local Masses, Minut said.“It’s such a nice thing for us to have such a well-known Catholic composer who has dedicated his life to liturgical music,” Minut said.

Also, the music series includes an April 9 concert with the church’s own contemporary praise group, Giggin’ For God — popular enough that some parishioners select the service they will attend by checking to see which one will include the group.

The anniversary celebration symbolically will reach into the future. One of the banners that will hang in the church for some of the services is one featuring multi-colored hand prints from summertime Vacation Bible School students.

Harmon mentioned that parish members will continue to aim to be Christ’s hands to others in the coming years.

“St. Bartholomew has always looked inward for faith,” Harmon said, “and looked outward to be Christ to the world.”

St. Bartholomew early historical tidbits
  • Mrs. Basil Owens is the first Catholic recorded to live in Bartholomew County in 1820.
  • The first church building, 50 feet by 30 feet, was built in 1841 on a lot purchased for $188 on what was then the outer limits of town—just north of Sixth Street on Washington Street. Construction cost: $830, which was paid immediately.
  • The congregation grew to 50 families by 1860 and to 75 by 1875.
  • Between 1853 and 1863, Mother Theodore Guerin (now Saint Theodora Guerin) and the Sisters of Providence established a Catholic School at St. Bartholomew.

Modern local Catholic historical tidbits
  • 1963: St. Columba Parish forms at 27th and Home Avenue near the site of today’s St. Bartholomew Catholic Church.
  • 1987: The two local Catholic parishes become one with two separate worship structures or “oratories.”
  • 1992: St. Bartholomew launches its outreach and support with its sister parish, St. Anne’s Catholic Church, in Limonade, Haiti.
  • 2001: St. Columba Oratory is razed.
  • 2002: The new St. Bartholomew Catholic Church is built and dedicated.
Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.