Historic parish in St. Mary, Ky., will hold celebration Oct. 16
By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
ST. MARY, Ky. — St. Charles Church sits on a hill surrounded by a rambling parish cemetery in the Marion County countryside near Loretto, Ky., just a field away from the original site of the first Sisters of Loretto community.
It’s the second-oldest parish West of the Allegheny Mountains and will celebrate its 225th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 16. St. Charles was established in St. Mary a year after Holy Cross Church was formed in 1785 at Holy Cross, Ky.
Parishioners will mark the anniversary with the help of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who will preside at the celebration. It will begin with a musical prelude and a presentation of church history at 10:15 a.m. The liturgy will begin at 10:45 a.m. and will be followed by a luncheon on the parish grounds.
St. Charles is old, to be sure, but it’s not an aging parish. It has an active parish council, well-kept buildings and grounds and an active congregation — 254 families strong — that’s deeply connected to the parish’s roots.
On Sept. 30, when a handful of parishioners gathered to discuss the parish’s anniversary, the parish grounds buzzed with activity. First, there was a funeral and bereavement meal for a long-time parishioner. The parish’s parking lot was nearly full on a Friday afternoon.
A couple of hours later, the parish’s idyllic grounds were enlivened again, this time by a bridegroom, Chris Thomas, and his attendants, who followed a photographer around the property posing for pre-wedding pictures. His bride, Kim Riley, was busy dressing in the parish office building. The couple are members of the parish.
These are the moments that wed a parish to its members, according to Lisa Sandusky, president of the parish council.
The parish “means everything to me,” Sandusky said in an interview. Like a lot of St. Charles members, her grandparents and parents were parishioners before her.
“St. Charles is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone,” she said. “It has a small, country atmosphere.
“You’re baptized there; you make your First Communion, confirmation and marry there. And you bury your loved ones there,” she said. “The parish is a part of all that.”
Because the parish’s roots are so deep and because so many of the nearby Catholic churches were carved out of St. Charles parish, the church is expecting a large crowd for the anniversary — up to 1,200 people.
St. Charles Church figures prominently in Kentucky’s Catholic history. When the Sisters of Loretto formed in 1812, they lived in a small cabin a field away from St. Charles. They trudged across the field to attend Mass at the parish.
The parish also lies just up the road from the now-closed but once auspicious St. Mary’s College and Seminary. A host of priests for the Archdiocese of Louisville — and for dioceses around the nation — were educated there. So were several Kentucky governors and some U.S. congressman and senators, said Father Clyde Crews, historian for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
The college was a testament to the high value St. Charles parishioners — and other area Catholics — placed on education, he noted. The parish, he said, is a “treasured place in Kentucky history.”
“Two-hundred twenty-five years for that part of the country — before George Washington was president — that’s serious roots,” said Father Crews. At the time, “There was one bishop in the United States. We’re talking about a very old tradition. It’s got roots and it’s got reach. And it continues to flourish and make an impact in that area” of Kentucky.
The history of St. Charles was chronicled by parishioner Joseph Mudd in a book about the parish published for its 200th anniversary, titled “Humble Beginnings.”
And today, the history is being retold on video and in photos. The parish is recording interviews with older parishioners and those familiar with its history for a DVD to be sold.
“This is going to be perhaps the most documented celebration the parish has had,” said Michael Cecil, a member of the parish council and of the anniversary committee. “We’re going to have a DVD and a pictorial history. And we may plan a historic memorial garden to memorialize the people buried there.
“We have to remember our ancestors,” he noted. “You tend to forget about them. And we’ve got to preserve (the history of the parish) for the future generations.”