Brownstown’s nearly 80-year-old Catholic parish will cease to exist come July 1.
The decision to consolidate Our Lady of Providence with St. Ambrose in Seymour was announced Thursday morning by Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin during a news conference at St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus.
Tobin, the head of the Indianapolis Archdiocese, said the merger of the two churches doesn’t necessarily mean the church in Brownstown can’t be become a chapel and used for church services and other activities in the future if the parish council decides to do so.
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A Catholic church official in Indianapolis also left open the possibility Mass can be conducted there on weekends.
“Those are the kind of details that can be worked out in the implementation process,” said Greg Otolski, the archdiocese’s director of communications.
The decision to close the parish has left some church members, including Maureen Pesta of Vallonia and Becca Hattabaugh of Brownstown, disturbed.
“It’s very disappointing,” Pesta said. “I feel the church came from Seymour in 1889 and later started the parish with the idea of building churches and growing membership in rural areas.”
That’s a mission the church apparently started withdrawing from around 1990, said Pesta, who has attended Our Lady of Providence since the early 1970s with her husband, John.
Pesta said if Mass was still available there on weekends, that would ease some of her concerns with the decisions.
Hattabaugh said the decision also has left her disappointed.
“I think it helps having a parish for the people in our community so they don’t have to drive to Seymour,” she said.
Hattabaugh said Our Lady of Providence is a small, quaint church that has been showing some growth of late.
Both women said the closure of the church will have an impact on the community and not just church members, especially those living in outlying areas of the county.
“We do a lot for the schools here,” Hattabaugh said. That work includes the Warm Hearts, Warm Toes program that provides shoes and socks to schoolchildren in need.
The church also is involved in local food pantries and the Brownstown Ministerial Association, Pesta said.
The church has always played a role in the quality of life in the community as a whole, she said.
“The church works to radiate a spirit of generosity and kindness in the community,” Pesta said.
Tobin said the decision to close Our Lady of Providence and four other parishes out of the 31 in the Bloomington, Connersville and Seymour deaneries stems from the recently completed Connected in the Spirit planning process involving all 11 deaneries in the diocese.
Deaneries are geographical territories used to organize parishes, and there are 11 in the archdiocese.
The other parish closings involve St. Rose of Lima in Knightstown, which will merge with St. Anne Parish in New Castle, and the parishes of Holy Family, St. Mary and St. Andrew in Richmond. The three will be part of a new parish, which has yet to be named.
The decisions concerning closures are being made for several reasons, including population shifts, a decline in priests to serve parishes and a decline in church attendance, Tobin said.
Pesta said in Our Lady of Providence’s case, it was a lack of priests.
“We’ve never had our own priest,” she said.
Pesta said the shortage of priests can be blamed in part on the Catholic church’s unwillingness to allow married and female priests.
She said Our Lady of Providence has had a steady attendance of 75 to 80 people a week and always has been able to take care of its financial needs.
Any of the decisions announced Thursday morning by Tobin can be appealed within 10 days.
Linda Jackson of Brownstown said church members are considering the possibility of an appeal.
Jackson was a member of the group that met with pastoral leaders and lay representatives that gathered to consider the future of the Our Lady of Providence and the Seymour Deanery.
She said the decision is disappointing because it will leave the western part of the county without the opportunity for evangelical growth.
Jackson also said she didn’t feel everything was considered, including the distance some church members will have to travel on Sundays to other Catholic churches in Seymour, Salem, Bedford, Scottsburg and Jennings County for Mass. People camping at Starve Hollow State Recreation Area often attend Mass there, too, she said.
For the past 15 months, pastoral leaders and lay representatives from the 31 parishes in the three deaneries have been meeting to discern where God is leading the Catholic church in central and southern Indiana and to discuss how the archdiocese should change its structures in order to carry out its mission today and in the future.
After receiving recommendations from the pastoral and lay representatives of the parishes, Tobin said he also consulted with the Archdiocesan Planning Commission, the Council of Priests and the senior managers of the archdiocese.
The Terre Haute, Batesville and four Indianapolis deaneries have completed the Connected in the Spirit planning process, which resulted in the merging of some parishes, the linking of some parishes by sharing a pastor and other parishes were asked to create joint programs, ministries and committees.
The remaining two deaneries of the archdiocese — New Albany and Tell City — have begun the Connected in Spirit process and are expected to complete it in the next 12 to 16 months.
Our Lady of Providence
1889: A Mass was celebrated in Ewing by Father K. Clement Conrad, who began making the trip from Seymour once a month to celebrate Mass.
1934: Church purchases a two-story wood frame home owned by George Carter at Main and Commerce streets in Brownstown. That home was remodeled for use as a church and could seat 100. The new Our Lady of Providence church was dedicated Oct. 3 of that same year.
Oct. 3, 1948: A new church building, which could accommodate 180, was dedicated. The church was built of St. Meinrad sandstone with mission funds from the archdiocese’s mission organization, St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Seymour, and funds raised by members of the church.
Aug. 12, 1984: Father Joseph B. Sheets conducts a 50th anniversary celebration at the church.
Counties in the Seymour deanery: Bartholomew, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Johnson, Scott, Switzerland and Washington.