St. John Parish History
ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH HISTORY
The story of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church begins 150 years ago, just before the start of the Civil War. A group of 15 families formed the parish in Newburgh when it was the oldest town in Warrick County and was considered the "metropolis of Southern Indiana". In its earliest years St. John Church was known as the "little church on the Ohio".
Holy Mass was offered for the first time in 1862 in Newburgh by Rev. F. X. Kutassi, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Evansville, Indiana. The small congregation met at the home of Henry Weiss, located at the southeast corner of Market and West Jennings Street.
The Catholics of Red Brush, north of Yankeetown, occasionally visited Newburgh to attend services with the thought of combining the two groups into one parish, but no agreement could be reached as to the location.
The first baptism recorded was that of Charles Louis Meyer, the son of Henry F. and Pauline Meyer, who was born September 15, 1869. That first baptism was administered by Rev. B. H. Kintrup on November 6, 1869. There were two baptisms on that day. The second was of Catherine Hedge, the daughter of J.B. Hedge and his wife, Elizabeth McGuire. The little girl was born on May 5, 1865. The next baptisms were in 1871 when there were eight.
The site finally chosen in Newburgh by Rev. Kutassi was across the street from the Weiss residence. Construction of the brick structure, including firing of the brick, was handled in great part by the church members. The cornerstone was laid by Rev. Henry Hug, O.S.B. on Friday after the third Sunday in September 1865. The Church was dedicated in August 1866. Reverend B. H. Kintrup served St. John 1867-1869.
When completed, St. John Church measured 45x20 feet and provided seating for 125 worshippers. The bell which rose majestically above the roof, was blessed by Rt. Rev. Maurice De St. Palais, Bishop of Vincennes, with Father O'Connor preaching. The parish at that time numbered around thirty families. Rev. Fred Mueller served St. John 1869-1874.
In 1874, Father Joseph Merckle began his pastorate at St. John and immediately began purchasing an organ, chalice and vestments. When Father Edward J. Schmitt took over in 1890, more vestments were ordered and floral ornaments were added. The church was roofed in tin, and the steeple was renovated and painted. During Father Schmitt's pastorate, a cemetery was acquired and graded. The ground for the cemetery was donated by Mr. George Kuehnlein and Mrs. Andreas Keller.
Rev. Edward Schmitt served at St. John 1890-1893.
In 1893, the then considerable sum of $150 was willed to the church for use in erecting a sacristy. Using these monies, along with voluntary contributions of the congregation, the church was enlarged on the north end by a total of thirty-two feet. This provided a beautiful arched sanctuary and sacristy. This addition took place under the supervision of then pastor, Father Charles Wagner. Reverend Charles Wagner served 1893-1904. From 1904 through 1937, a succession of pastors led St. John to greater and greater heights. But with the arrival of Rev. Francis Mellen in February 1938, St. John grew from a small congregation to an established community listed among the parishes of Evansville. Until 1939 St. John had been a mission, but with the arrival of Rev. Francis Mellen, St. John had its first full time pastor in a brand new rectory. As a result of Father Mellen's administrative success, the Most Reverend Bishop Joseph Ritter, D.D., recommended that Father Mellen initiate plans for a rectory in Newburgh and become St. John's first resident pastor. The parish progressed rapidly after that and a school was opened in September 1940 with a total enrollment of seventy-one children. Six children graduated that year.
An expansion program was instituted in 1952 with the appointment of Rev. James H. Rogers. An 11-acre parish site was chosen on Frame Road and a new school was built there in 1954. A new convent was erected in 1956 and the completion of a new church followed in 1958.
The church was blessed on Sunday, April 12, 1959, with a Pontifical High Mass offered by Bishop Henry J. Grimmelsman.
Rev. LeRoy Dilger became the first official assistant pastor of St. John Church with Rev. Kenneth Graehler coming in to assist in 1966. From 1968 to 1970, Rev. James Keethers served in the parish. Msgr. Herman Mootz became temporary administrator in 1969 when Father Rogers left to volunteer for missionary work in South America. Rev. Leo Kiesel and Rev. Francis Schroering were appointed co-pastors in 1970.
Father Kiesel served at St. John until the spring of 1976, when he was replaced by Rev. Earl Rohleder. At that time, Deacon Robert Nemergut joined our family. His stay at St. John was short-lived, however, as he was ordained a priest in April of that year and was subsequently reassigned to another parish. Rev. Dick Wildeman assumed the former deacon's place shortly thereafter. Then in 1977, Joe Seibert was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate.
The parish grew by leaps and bounds during the mid-to-late 1970's and this was evident from the large influx of students in our school and in our Religious Education Program. Both the school and the Religious Ed Program were expanded considerably to meet our students' needs.
In the spring of 1976, the Parish Council organized a Building and Expansion Committee and in January of 1979, their efforts, resulted in the completion and dedication of a new parish center adjoining the school and a new addition to the rectory. A short time prior to that dedication, Sister Elizabeth Rose Wiesenback, S.P., became St. John's first pastoral associate and Don Lahay was ordained to the Permanent Diaconate.
More changes were brought about in July 1982, when Rev. William Schwenk replaced Father Kissel as pastor of St. John's and Father Kirsch was reassigned to St. Joseph Parish in Jasper, Indiana.
Father Schwenk remained pastor until 1987 when he transferred to Poseyville. Reverend Joseph Ziliak replaced him and retired in 2012. He was succeeded by Reverend Thomas Kessler. Father Boeglin left in 1987 and was succeeded by Reverend Robert Nemergut in January, 1988. Fr. Nemergut left the parish in July, 1988 and was replaced by Reverend Henry Kuykendall that same month. Fr. Kuykendall left in July, 1990 and was succeeded by Associate Pastor Wilfred Englert.
In the fall of 1987, the Parish Council with Jim Wilsbacher serving as president established a Steering Committee to co-ordinate a parish-wide assessment of the current and future needs of the parish. The committee first formulated a planning process that included a review of the parish organizational structure and guidelines for evaluating the information gathered.
The Steering Committee's final report was presented in the spring of 1989. Future growth was a basic premise of the report. Using the 1980 U.S. Federal Census report, diocesan census figures 1982 through 1988, and the Business Research Center of Indiana University, Warrick County growth was projected at 46% from 1980 to 2020. Extrapolating Ohio Township data, the committee projected St. John parish numbers to increase from 3,576 in 1980 to 5,236 in 2020. At the end of 1992 the parish numbered over 4,100 persons.
By the time the committee findings were published, a number of their recommendations were already being implemented or were fulfilled; namely, the church was air-conditioned, uniform job descriptions written by Administrative Review Committee, Order of Catechumens established, liturgy planning group formed, improvements carried out at parish cemetery, plans were begun for purchasing additional acreage, mature adults program began, DeSales Bible study program underway, and the Nudge program (which included receiving inactive Catholics back into the church, enlivening the faith life of current membership and an outreach effort to evangelize beyond the parish) was initiated. The need for additional facilities for the various groups to meet regularly and carry out their stated purposes was noted. A second major need for expanded facilities was in the area of worship space for the growing parish family. In addition to the population growth of members, figures indicated fewer clergy to meet those needs, thus the conclusion to prepare for larger numbers with fewer times for gathering.
A financial alternatives committee was formed to investigate methods of financing expansion needs. A design committee was formed to identify spatial needs. An architectural search committee was formed to seek professional design guidance in the project.
Bishop Francis Shea had encouraged the parish planning. Due to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75, Bishop Shea tendered his resignation Dec.4, 1988. On April 11, 1989, Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger of Indianapolis was ordained as the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Evansville. He approved the continuance of the expansion program at St. John.
The firm of Knapp, Given, Veazey, Shoulders and Associates, Inc., of Evansville was chosen in 1989 to lead the architectural design for a new church with auxiliary space for meeting areas. John V. McCarthy and Associates of Southfield, Michigan, was chosen to provide expertise for the parish fund drive. The drive took place in an eight-week period of February-March, 1990. In the spring of 1991 three open forums for parish reaction to building designs were held.
The scope of the total project included:
• Purchase of the Bradley property, which included a house on 3/10ths of an acre located at the southeast edge of parish property.
• Construction of a two-room addition to the school. This would extend a wing parallel to Frame Road. The rooms would be a science/art lab and a kindergarten room.
• The rectory would be removed to position the new church in a central position on the property.
• A new residence for the priests would be constructed at the southeast corner of the property.
• A new church was to be constructed. This was to have seating for 818 with a possibility of expansion by 400 seats. Meeting rooms, a Blessed Sacrament Chapel, reconciliation and vesting room, a nursery, a sacristy and workroom were to surround the worship space. The structure was to have 15,500 square feet of space at the ground level and 7,500 square feet of space in the lower level.
• The existing church was to be renovated on the ground level for school related spaces. A second floor was to be added for a permanent space for the parish offices. In the meantime, the newly acquired home on the former Bradley property was to serve as the parish office building.
The approval of the project was received from Bishop Gettelfinger on Nov. 27, 1991, at a meeting at the Catholic Center. Pews purchased from Good Shepherd Church, Evansville, were sent to Dale Construction firm of Huntingburg, Indiana, to be refinished along with pews from St. John Church. New ends were made for the newly purchased pews to match those of St. John. Good Shepherd had purchased new pews for their new church and thus had some 46 surplus pews. We purchased the 20-foot pews for $200 each.
Work began December 19, 1991, on the new priests' residence. Ken Ubelhor coordinated construction of the home. Joanne Haas oversaw design. The work was accomplished by parishioners skilled in the various trades. The parish offices were ready for business in their new quarters at the first of the year. General Contractor for the school/church project was Arc Construction Company, Evansville. Other major contractors were H.A. Grant Plumbing, W.R. Sheet Metal, and Premier Electric. Contractors had access to parish property January 23, 1992. The former rectory was taken down and salvaged, so that many fixtures and appliances could be used in other buildings on the premises.
A blessing of the new church site was held Sunday, January 26, 1992. On the following day, a blessing of the school addition was held.
The very next week the Chrism Mass was hosted by St. John Parish. People from throughout the diocese gathered for the annual blessing of the holy oils. By the conclusion of that week, we had experienced the Holy Week rituals including the total immersion of adults who were baptized during the vigil of Easter ceremonies. Overflow Easter crowds helped us to feel that we were quickly at home in our new place of worship.
One of our parishioners, Bernard Etienne, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Evansville in our new place of worship on June 5, 1993. Sister Bernice Kuper, S.P., resigned her position as pastoral associate at the end of June 1993 after serving the people of St. John for 13-years. She returned to the Motherhouse at St. Mary-of-the-Woods to take up work in formation of new members to her community until she passed away in 2013.
One month later Sister Jeanne Voges, O.S.B., joined the parish staff as pastoral associate and served here until her retirement in 2012.
In October 1993, Father Fred Englert was named by Bishop Gettelfinger as pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Evansville. Father Fred had served the parish for almost three and a half years. His primary work in addition to priestly duties for the whole parish was with the young people.
In November 1993, Father J. Kenneth Walker was named to take up residence at St. John. His major work was to continue with the Tribunal Office of the Diocese of Evansville. He serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar. He provides weekend assistance, morning Mass Monday through Wednesday, and other sacramental aid as time permits.
In 1993, the parish purchased a home that had belonged to Al and Mary Combs adjoining parish property on Frame Road. A new wing was added and the rest totally renovated for parish purposes. The total renovation was completed July 1995 and contains 11 staff offices and a conference room. The former temporary office building, which stood directly in front of the priests' residence, was taken down gradually and finally disappeared in July 1996.
Deacon Joe Seibert had moved from the parish boundaries to those of St. Rupert Parish, Red Brush, where he gave diaconal service. Following early retirement from Alcoa, he joined the parish staff full-time January 1, 1994.
In the summer of 1995 and 1996, two portions of a prayer garden were constructed behind the church. These were Eagle projects for scouts Keith Scheessele and Dan Rice. Keith's project centers around a fountain; Dan's around a rosary. Another Eagle Scout project was adding cabinetry to the parish offices by Andy Schweiss. A fourth Eagle project was the completion of the landscaping around the priests' residence by Andy Witmeier.
Joe Seibert retired from his full-time parish involvement January 1, 1997 to devote more time to his family and wife, Ginny.
November 1997 saw a number of changes around the parish. Voice mail became available for each of the faculty and staff members by November 10. A newly expanded storage building was available at the same time. Some 4,500 square feet of storage on two levels was built on parish grounds just east of the Center. The structure is of concrete block and vinyl siding.
On Sunday, November 23, 1997, the lower level was blessed and dedicated by Fr. Joe to the glory of God. There are some 7,500 square feet of space for three meeting rooms — Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Joseph. In addition are a kitchen, office, storage room, mechanical room, and restrooms. An elevator allows easy access for all. Two rose windows and two units of shadow boxes containing art glass from Munich, Germany, provide decorative touches. The antique art glass of some 150 years came from St. Henry Church, Caseyville, Illinois. Larry Loveall and Lillian Sasse Loveall helped obtain the beautiful art glass windows. The windows were cleaned, re-leaded and designed for the lower level space by Sunburst Glass of Newburgh.
On Monday, June 8, 1998, Arc Construction Company began work on four new classrooms thus fulfilling the vision of two rooms per grade, K-8. The project included doubling the size of the kitchen, dressing rooms for boys and girls, a faculty workroom and handicapped accessible restrooms. In addition, the space of the former church (1958-1993) was renovated to house a library/media center, computer lab, and choral music room. A new corridor linking the front and east wings of the school was carved from the same space. A new, larger and more efficient boiler for hot water heating replaced an older boiler in the front boiler room, thus allowing for the removal of a smaller boiler in the north wing. The whole building is air conditioned as well. The teachers, staff and students cooperated well and made do with crowded conditions until the new spaces were available in February 1999. The newly expanded areas were blessed and dedicated by Fr. Joe on Sunday, February 21, 1999.
In 2001, St. John the Baptist Parish to purchase two adjoining parcels of land. A bit over an acre was property owned by Lou and Kathy Watkins along Hwy. 662 and Frame Road. Scot Farms grocery store, a storage building and a rental house were located on that property. The closing took place September 28, 2000. Another 1.9 acres along Hwy. 662 and the drainage gully to the east were owned by Michael Clayton. The closing took place on March 26, 2001.
The Scot Farms Store was converted into a food pantry and thrift shop. The Newburgh Area Food Pantry had been located at the Epworth United Methodist Church and supported by several area congregations. This new location gave the food pantry much more room for food display and storage. Sue Dawson, pantry director, served the first families on March 5, 2001. The following day, March 6, 2001, was the opening day for the Mother Teresa Treasure store.
Mother Teresa Treasures is a thrift shop containing a variety of goods for consumers: clothing, glassware, books, kitchenware, decorative items and some furniture. The goods are gifted to the store by parishioners and community members. The well-stocked shelves serve anyone looking for bargains. The needy are supplied special needs. Those who are victims of home fires are likewise given to meet their needs.
Both operations are managed and staffed by volunteers. Margaret and Bill Wallace were given special recognition on dedication day March 17 for their work in establishing this new enterprise. The income from Mother Teresa Treasure pays for utilities and needs for the food pantry, and allows for special gifts to needy organizations in addition to returning funds to the parish.
Educational and formational needs were met with the addition of 26,508 square feet to the building that houses academic, athletic and community resources. Bids were opened on March 20, 2001. The new addition made that building's total space 68,263 square feet. Dedication events were held in the Spring of 2002. Empire Contractors served as the General Contractor for the project. Veazey, Parrot, Durkin and Shoulders served as architects for the third major addition at St. John Parish since 1992.
The school year 2001-2002 completes a long held vision of two rooms per grade for the K-8 school for some 400 students.
The facility is used for religious education on Sundays and Wednesdays. Many public events for the parish and the community are held here also.
Included in the expansion in the west wing were two Kindergarten classrooms, an art room, a religious education resource room, a teacher's resource and conference room, a new entrance with lobby, new offices for the principal and secretary, a nurse's office, a workroom and renovated restrooms for boys and girls.
Additions to the east wing were a choral and a band room, storage rooms, a maintenance office and workroom, an athletic director's office and storage, a new gym, locker rooms, restrooms and a concession stand. A fitness and wrestling room and space for air handlers are in a mezzanine area between the two gyms.
The parish convent was converted into a pre-school facility during the summer of 2001. The building was blessed for its new purpose August 26, 2001 with classes beginning September 4 for some 100 three, four and five-year-olds. Owner/director Mary Jo Huff brought Epworth Kinder Kountry Pre-School to St. John's facility. It is now part of the parish ministry and known as St. John Kinder Kountry Pre-School.
The Pre-School was again renovated and modernized in 2021 and, prior to this, expanded to include All Day Enrichment.
The principals, faculty, staff and parents planned in great detail to continue their work while construction was underway. Safety was first and foremost in people's minds.
The parish spread further with the gift of a two-level 2,300 square foot building for scouting. On July 5, 2000, papers were finalized to transfer title from Algoscots to the Diocese of Evansville for a scout building on an acre of ground at 948 Outer Gray Street. Jan Jordan, Jack Martin, Jerry Brown, Bill Higgins and Tom Neeley transferred the land and building to Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger. Present also were Dr. Tony Schapker, Bob Smith, Bob Brown, Father Joseph Ziliak and legal counsel Dennis Dewey.
Algoscots, Inc. was formed in 1973 to provide a place for Troop 325, at that time a new scout troop in Newburgh. The troop had disbanded by 2000. The owners wished to make the building and land a gift to scouting as it continues with Troop 330 sponsored by St. John Parish.
An additional 3.8 acres along Bell Road abutting on the east with Rose Hill Cemetery were purchased to increase the land available for burial in St. John Cemetery. At the present rate of burial, the available land should handle needs for some 50 years. The land was purchased from Frieda L. Reed.
This social outreach portion of the parish's ministry stepped up to a higher level with the opening of Mother Teresa Treasures March 17, 2004. The land and former grocery store, with 3,600 square feet of space, located along Hwy 662 was purchased by the parish to provide expansion area, and a buffer from commercial build-up along the highway entering Newburgh from the West. Mother Teresa Treasures, named after the beloved and saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta, carries clothing, houseware, glass items, jewelry and some furniture. Some 80-90 volunteers operate the store, and dedicated people are usually present sorting items brought in to the store or dropped off in the box provided for that purpose. The amount of material given to MTT by parishioners and community members forced a 60' by 20' expansion for storage and separation space for the items. The store was opened on a trial basis, but the growth and community response has been overwhelming, thus making MTT a solid presence in the area serving those seeking nominally priced previously owned items. The Newburgh Food Pantry, previously housed at Epworth United Methodist Church in a small room, was given a new home in this same building and given 800 square feet to display food and personal items to be provided for needy families. Display space allows the families to shop for needed items.
Several hand carved wooden statues were added to the church in 2005 and 2006. St. Peter, donated by Patricia and Ed Spahn; St. Paul, donated by Jane Eberlin; St. Joseph, donated by Susan Memmer and Diane Wells; and St. Michael the Archangel, donated by Joseph and Antoinette Hirsch, now grace the interior. The statues come from Moroder Studio in Ortisei, Italy. This is the same village where the 125-year old hand carved wooden statue of Mary and child was sculpted. A new altar and ambo graced the church sanctuary by April 2002 to mark holy week and Easter Services and the 40th anniversary celebration of Father Joseph L. Ziliak's ordination to the priesthood. The altar and ambo were the handiwork of Fehrenbacher Cabinets of Evansville. The altar has a handcarved wooden Last Supper scene from Moroder Studio of Ortisei, Italy. The same studio produced the statues of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that grace the ambo. New carpeting was placed in the church and surrounding rooms at the same time. Later, SJB participated in a Diocesan-wide capital campaign and raised funds for a total renovation of the church in 2019. The statues were implemented into the design of the church, but a new altar and ambo were created and the former altar was moved to the Mausoleum so Masses could be held there.
Some four acres of land was purchased at 5020 Bell Road for expanding burial availability for the St. John Cemetery. The Board determined to construct a mausoleum providing for 520 burial crypts and 260 cremation niches, thus giving our people the option for in-ground or above-ground burial, along with interment for cremated remains. The project was approved by Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger and arrangements were seriously underway with McCleskey Mausoleum Associates, Atlanta, Georgia, for construction. This process began in 2002.
A house at 700 Frame Road, just across from the entrance to St. John School, was purchased in late 2004 as a place for the youth and young adults, Girl Scouts and other special uses. Religious ed programming, outings and gatherings for these groups take place on a regular basis. The youth center was dedicated St. Maria Goretti Youth Center and dedicated on her feast day, July 6, 2005.
Providing for the long-term financial health of the parish and its ministries is an ever-present reality. Major efforts were underway to look to future needs by endorsing and encouraging endowments. An endowment is an investment that will not be touched, but only the interest or income from the investment can be used for the purpose stated. At this time St. John has an endowed portfolio of $269,611. The funds are invested with the Catholic Foundation of Southwest Indiana, a diocesan-wide venture investing funds for all the parishes in the Diocese of Evansville.
A Living Legacy Society was established June 24, 2005, with 50 charter members. An annual Mass and dinner marks the occasion for members. Membership is obtained by naming the parish in a will or estate planning, or a gift of at least $1,000 for an endowment. Some 15 ministries, such as, scholarships for St. John School, for higher education, for technology needs, the parish at large, have been established as beneficiaries of endowments. The plan is to provide for many on-going parish needs with this extra support of funding.
After a fact-gathering of other similar programs, a Fit Over 50 program was begun in the Fall of 2005. Each group meets twice weekly. The participants also help in tutoring the little ones at school.
At the end of 2006, the parish numbered 1,677 families, or some 5,328 individuals. Father J. Kenneth Walker was in residence at St. John, July 1993 - July 2001; Father Attila Frohlich, associate pastor, July 2001 - July 2003; Father John Breidenbach, associate pastor, July 2003 - June 2004; Father Jason Gries, associate pastor, June 2004 - July 2006; Father John Silva, associate pastor, July 2006; Father Ron Kreilein, aasociate pastor, June 2007 - November 2008; Father David Martin, associate pastor, January 2009 - October 2010; In July of 2012, Rev. Thomas Kessler was appointed as pastor, with Father Atilla Frohlich serving as associate pastor. Frs. Anthony Govind, Tyler Tenbarge, John Pfister and Ambrose Wanyonyi all served as associates under Fr. Kessler.
Four members of the parish were ordained permanent deacons July 11, 2005: Vince Bernardin, David Rice, David Seibert and Michael Seibert. Deacons Rice and the two Seiberts are assigned respectively to St. Mary Parish, Evansville; Holy Rosary Parish, Evansville and St. Celestine Parish, Celestine, Indiana; and Bernardin to St. John Parish, Newburgh. In 2012, parishioner Dan DeCastra was ordained deacon and assigned shortly after to Good Shepherd Parish in Evansville. Deacon Tony Schapker serves the parish as well.
In 2017, Jay VanHoosier was ordained Deacon and served at SJB Parish until 2022. Fr. Tom Kessler retired in June 2020 and Fr. Claude "Dusty" Burns joined the parish. He was officially installed by Bishop Joseph Siegel on August 2, 2020. Fr. Srinivaska Malaka joined the parish as associate in 2021. In 2022, Mark Thieman was ordinated a Deacon and also assigned to the parish.
St. John the Baptist Parish has been and is blessed by God. Let us continue to be present as a sign of God's blessing and goodness in our community. We serve the Lord in prayer and worship, in forming ourselves and others in His likeness, and in reaching out to others in our community.