The foundation of most communities is built upon the development of churches. The longer a church lasts through the pressures of life it becomes a stronger meeting place as families come to town.
Covington’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church celebrated 160 years of existence on Sept. 22, and the history of the church is well documented.
Parishioners Jenny Goeppner, Henry Schmitt, and Larry Brockway shared some of the interesting photos and histories of their church as they prepared for the celebration. Schmitt and his family have been attending St. Joseph’s since 1971. Brockway has been attending since 1943. Goeppner shared that she and her family have grown up in the area.
St. Joseph’s Church came about from the construction of the Wabash railroad line which was the beginning of the end of the Wabash and Erie Canal transportation system.
In the Catholic church, the churches were often started by missionaries or as the railroad expansion moved into an area. Prior to 1859, there was evidence that the priest would travel to wherever there was room enough to have the sacraments of the faith to the Irishmen and the faithful, according to information from the church tour Goeppner provided.
The church began construction with the laying of the cornerstone in 1861, but with the start of the U.S. Civil War and the number of men who joined the Union forces, construction was halted until the men were back and that also meant a resumed flow of money to the area after the war as the industrial age became a part of the expansion of railroad services for businesses and traveling families, according to the book “A History of the Diocese of Lafayette”.
Schmitt and Goeppner then mentioned there used to be a steeple on the church, and it had to be taken down, the facts are a tad conflicted, as one version said it was for utility line concerns and another version suggests that it was not structurally sound.
There was a school attached to the church at one time, but it burned down in 1875 and was never rebuilt. There also used to be a rectory where the church’s Vernon Hall currently stands, they said.
Goeppner shared during a tour of the grounds that the rectory is a cracker box home, prefabricated walls, built from a kit 1946, some parishioners were not happy about it, predicting it wouldn’t last 10 years, and it’s still standing.
In 1964, the parishioners met briefly at the Fountain County Courthouse while a new floor was installed, the priest at the time was quoted as saying “We will be finding ourselves in the basement during mass.”
The cost of building the church was $6,000 in the 1860s, that would be $162,162.61 in today’s money values; a newborn parishioner Louis Frazer was born in the rectory, Oct. 8, 1949, delivered by Dr. T.T. Suzuki. Dr. Suzuki was not allowed to practice in local hospitals because of the post World Ward II prejudices.
While the Irish immigrants who were often the primary nationality of railroad workers of the 1860s, once they arrived to America they often had it worse than slaves; fleeing the famine, they were starving. “Slaves were treated as property and were taken care of, but the Irishmen had no value and they didn’t require a shack be provided for them; if they died there were others who would be willing to work,” according to a history written by Methodist Rev. Grover Williams.
“Thanks to all the faithful who came before us and endured the hardships of establishing this church,” Goeppner noted.