St. Michael - History - 1860 – 2010
The history of St. Michael Church is closely linked with the development of St. Francis Xavier Church, Henryville and of the now suppressed Mother of God Church, Lexington. The formation of these three mission stations was due in large part to the railroads which had its terminal at Jeffersonville and they would emerge as prominent and more or less permanent Catholic centers among a large number of others where churches were constructed. Parishes and missions were being established throughout South Central Indiana which was part of the diocese of Vincennes established in May 1834.
On the threshold of the Civil War in the fall of 1860, three miles north of Charlestown, St. Michael’s Mission was founded by Father James Andrew Michael. He was the first resident pastor of nearby St. Joseph Hill when he founded the mission church and shortly thereafter had the first church---made of logs---constructed on five acres of land donated by the Gellhaus brothers, John and Joseph, who lived near Charlestown.
The log church was 30 feet long and 15 feet wide and the Schaefer family and other Catholic families living near Charlestown provided money and labor for the construction of the church. However, a major share of the credit for building the new church must be given to the Irish immigrants who were working around Charlestown on the right-of-way for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
St. Michael’s was named after its founder Father James Andrew Michael and because the patron saint of the Irish Laborers who helped build the church was St. Michael the Archangel. Today, the land serves as the St. Michael Parish Cemetery where a plaque to mark the site was placed during the Church’s Centennial in 1960.
In July 1864, Father Michael was assigned as pastor of St. Augustine Church in Jeffersonville and St. Michael Mission was served by his successors: Father Herman Panzer (1865-1873) and Father Joseph Dickman (1872-1886). The mission was only visited once a month until Father John Henry Hillebrand took charge of St. Francis Xavier Henryville and the care of St. Michael and Lexington. In 1891, Father Hillebrand was transferred from Henryville to Rockport and St. Francis was reduced to the status of a mission and was attached to St. Augustine, Jeffersonville, while St. Michael’s was attached to St. Mary’s New Albany in the charge of assistant Father Frank A. Roell.
On July 1, 1899, Father James Shea was appointed to Henryville and during his pastorate a new frame church was constructed on Morrow Street in Charlestown. The reason for moving the church from three miles north of Charlestown to the town itself was because of the more central location of the town for the parishioners. On Sunday, April 15, 1928, fire destroyed the second church on Morrow Street and immediately work was begun on a new brick church at the same location by Monsignor William A. Jochum, pastor of St. Mary’s. The third church was solemnly dedicated on November 29, 1928, by the Most Rev. Joseph Chartrand, Sixth Bishop of Indianapolis.
From 1910 until 1943, St. Michael’s was cared for by many different priests from St. Mary’s New Albany. The little mission of St. Michael’s experience a substantial boom in Catholic population during World War II as a result of the government installation the Army Ammunition Plant located south of Charlestown. In June 1943, St. Michael’s was constituted a distinct parish and Father Raymond George Seibert was appointed administrator. He established residence in Charlestown until 1948 and due to an illness had to resign and was succeeded by Father Carl Joseph Sahm. He purchased a large two story frame house on Thompson and Level Streets which became the rectory for many years before the present one was built by Father John H. Luerman in the 1970s.
Father Sahm was replaced by Father Joseph P. Casey in 1950. The remarkable rapid growth continued with the outbreak of the Korean War and Father Casey saw the need for replacing the church and rectory, but the need of a school became more evident to him. He undertook the latter project and began work on a one story modern building. However, he could not stay to direct its completion because he was recalled to active duty in the armed services. During his absence Father Anthony Hillman served as administrator, later being appointed pastor. Under his able management the work of constructing the school proceeded and was completed in 1951.
On October 5, 1952, the Most Reverend Paul C. Schulte, Archbishop of Indianapolis, blessed the new building with the assistance of Father Henry P. Brown, first associate pastor of St. Michael Church. The Sisters of St. Francis of Oldenburg opened the new school officially on February 11, 1953. Later, due to the lack of room in the church on Morrow Street, worship services were moved to the cafeteria of the new school which could accommodate about 250 persons. This became the fourth St. Michael Church in 1953 until 1982 when the present church was dedicated. The church on Morrow Street was used as a parish hall for several years until it was sold in the 1970’s by Father John H. Luerman. The present, and fifth church, was joyfully dedicated on December 12, 1982, by the Most Reverend Edward T. O’Meara, Archbishop of Indianapolis.
The parish happily celebrated its 125th Anniversary on September 29, 1985, the Feast day of St. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels.
There followed a series of seven pastors at St. Michaels: Father Morand Widolff, 1955-1969; Father John H. Luerman, 1969-1978; Father Patrick Commons, 1978-1980; Father Paul Evard, 1980-81; Father-Archabbot Bonaventure Knaebel, O.S.B., 1981-1985; Father Gerald Renn, 1985-1990; Father Steve Donahue, 1991-2003; until Father Steven Schaftlein became pastor in 2004-present.
St. Michael Church will celebrate its 150th Anniversary on September 12, 2010.