|From a presentation by Rev. H. Alerding, in "A History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes...", published in 1883.|
| The early Catholics in and around Brookville had no church. Though now the county seat of Franklin county, Brookville in 1838 was visited only occasionally by a priest named Rev. Joseph FERNEDING of New Alsace, and services were held in private homes or in the shanties of laborers who were working on the Whitewater Canal up and down the Whitewater River. The home of Michael SCHRANK, south of Brookville, was one of the houses often used as a place of worship.|
By about 1849, the congregation which was to become St. Michael's was visited about once a month by Rev. William ENGELN, the resident pastor of St. Peter's, Blue Creek, in Franklin county. Father ENGELN was succeeded in his pastoral charge of St. Peter's, Brookville, St. Joseph's and St. Mary of the Rock by Rev. H. KOERING in 1854. Although Rev. KOERING found only 15 families in the Brookville congregation, he was very active in working toward providing a church for this small Brookville congregation. Money was raised by small donations from both Catholic and non-Catholic contributors, and the group was finally able to purchase a lot "with a small brick dwelling, situated on the southeast ridge of the town" for six hundred dollars. This building became the first Catholic church in Brookville.
In the spring of 1857, Father KOERING was succeeded by Rev. Januarius WEISSENBERGER who took charge of St. Michael's in Brookville, and St. Mary of the Rock. Rev. ALERDING described Father WEISSENBERGER as a priest "of a strong bodily frame, a still stronger mind and energy of will, fired by indomitable zeal for religion."
When he arrived in Brookville, Rev. WEISSENBERGER found the congregation to have grown to about 40 families, and that it was steadily increasing in numbers. He realized they needed a new church for their growing congregation, and he had the foresight to want to build a church that would serve them for the future, as well as the present. The large brick church which he envisioned would cost about $10,000, which was a sizeable amount for this congregation of modest means. It was remarked that "Anybody can easily understand that a church adapted to probable future wants would entail over taxation of the present members." Several families were willing to make any sacrifice to build this church, but others were undecided.
At the forefront of those willing to sacrifice was a Mr. Melchior WITT, who came to Brookville in 1840. Though he died in 1867, his reported actions during this controversy give us a glimpse into his character: "Whilst the congregation was yet undecided, Mr. WITT began to haul an immense pile of stone, to the greatest surprise of all who were going to church, following Sunday. One asked the other, 'What does this mean?' Mr. WITT's answer was: 'The church will now be built, even though I have to build it myself.' All took courage. The work was commenced and successfully finished."
The new church appears to have been completed by 1859. In 1959, St. Michael's was attended to by Rev. Leo OSREDKAR, who was residing at St. Peter's. Father OSREDKAR pastored the congregation until the arrival of Rev. G. H. OSTLANGENBERG in 1863. In that year, Rev. OSTLANGENBERG became the first resident pastor at St. Michael's. He remained at St. Michael's for 5 years, and also made visits to St. Philomena's Church at Wolf Creek.
In 1868, Rev. Meinrad FLEISCHMANN became the pastor of St. Michael's. Father FLEISCHMANN was born at Lachen, Switzerland, 16 June 1844. His parents had emigrated and settled in Spencer county in 1847. Meinrad FLEISCHMANN studied at the school which shared his namesake, St. Meinrad, in Spencer county. He was ordained there by Bishop de ST PALAIS: Tonsure and Minor Orders, May 25, 1866; Subdeacon, June 17, 1867; Deacon, June 18, 1867; and Priest, June 21, 1867. He labored a short time in New Albany and Jeffersonville prior to his arrival at St. Michael's.
The year after his arrival, he purchased 3 acres, at the north end of town, to use for a cemetery. Sadly, the first burial at the cemetery was an infant, reported to be the child of Billy HART.
In the fall of the same year, Rev. FLEISCHMANN bought two lots near the church. An imposing school-house was erected on these in 1873. The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis took charge of the parochial schools, and also purchased a beautifully situated lot and house for their residence as well. At that time, there were about 120 children in attendance.
Father Meinrad FLEISCHMANN was joined by his younger brother, Rev. Joseph FLEISCHMANN, in the fall of 1874. Father Joseph had just been ordained to the priesthood and came to assist his brother at St. Michael's. Father Joseph FLEISCHMANN was born 14 September 1846, and he too studied at St. Meinrad and was ordained by Bishop de ST PALAIS: Tonsure and Minor Orders, September 17, 1872; Subdeacon, September 18, 1872; Deacon, November 1, 1873; and Priest, September 6, 1874.
The need for an assistant gives evidence for the growth of St. Michael's parish. The town had grown as well. Brookville, the county seat of Franklin county, had reached a population of nearly 2,000 at the time of the 1880 census, and was described as "a flourishing, bright town, with fine scenery." By 1883, with the building of a fine parsonage, which cost $4,000, the value of the church property reached about $30,000. St. Michael's large brick church, fine parsonage, school and convent, certainly contributed to this scenery. The pioneer Catholics of the early years, the priests and few scattered families, who had labored and sacrificed, had grown to number 130 families by 1883.
From its beginnings, St. Michael's was within the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Vincennes. In 1898, the Archdiocese of Vincennes title was transferred to Indianapolis, and St. Michael's remains within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis' web site reports the 1999 membership of St. Michael's parish to be 753 households.
2012 Contact information for St. Michael's Parish:
145 St. Michael Blvd.
Brookville, IN 47012-2414
1-Alerding, Rev. H. (Author). A History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Vincennes, in Four Parts, I. Tradition and History, II. The Bishops of Vincennes, III. The Priests and Congregations, Iv. Institutions of the Diocese. Indianapolis, Indiana : Carlon & Hollenbeck. 1883.
2-Blanchard, Charles. (Author). A History of the Catholic Church in Indiana, Volumes 1 and 2. Logansport, Indiana : A. W. Bowen & Co., 1898. (Picture of St. Michael's was scanned from this book.)
3-Pagani, Humbert Peter (1878- ). 200 years of Catholicism in Indiana : An Authentic History of the Diocese of Indianapolis, Formerly the Diocese of Vincennes. Indianapolis, Indiana : H. P. Pagani, ca. 1934.
4-The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis: The Church in Central and Southern Indiana.
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