By CHRIS MORRIS
FLOYDS KNOBS —
That may be the best way to describe St. Mary of the Knobs’ new home. It’s a word St. Mary’s priest, the Rev. Mike Hilderbrand, expects to hear a lot in the next few months about the under-construction church.
“It’s a term I think people will use for a long time,” he said while glancing at the interior of the structure.
Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on the new church, which will be dedicated at 2 p.m., March 25, with a Mass which will include the bishop and several visiting priests. The new church will replace the one built in 1907, which seats 350 people. The new church seats 964 and helps accommodate the tremendous growth the parish has experienced in recent years.
“This is for future generations, just like that church was built for that generation,” Hilderbrand said.
HOW THEY GOT HERE
It’s taken a lot of work and effort to get to this point, according to both Hilderbrand and J. Patrick Byrne, a member of the church’s executive committee. The idea of building a new church or activities center was first brought up in 2005 when a parishioner donated 33 acres of land adjacent to the current church off St. Mary’s Road. In 2006, under the leadership of the Rev. John Geis, who has since retired, a fundraising effort began.
“In April of 2006 we met with Father John and the archbishop [Daniel Buechlein]. The archbishop shared with us that it was his vision to build a new church and activities center on the property,” Byrne said. “We put together a feasibility study and it was about 50/50 among members ... some members said we needed a new church and others wanted an activities center. We decided to do it all together instead of two stages.”
A capital campaign got under way in 2007. To date, the church has received $11 million in pledges with $7 million already collected. The church borrowed money from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to build the two structures and Byrne hopes to have the loan and all of the pledges collected by 2018.
Two Floyd County construction companies — Koetter Construction and AML Inc. — teamed up on the project. Koetter is constructing the church while AML Inc. built the Geis Activities Center, named after the church’s former priest. It opened last year and includes a basketball court and walking track. Owners of both companies are members of the church.
“Everyone has worked together and within the budget,” Byrne said. “We are really blessed, both the Bob Libs family [AML] and Koetter family are very involved and active in the parish.”
Byrne said the two facilities were built with the “vision of the parish” in mind.
“We were very careful, and documented everyone’s concerns. We wanted the parish members to take ownership in this project,” he said.
WHAT GOES WHERE
Marilyn Merkel, coordinator of liturgy and music, said the church was built using guidelines established by U.S. Catholic Bishops as far as where items are to be placed inside the structure.
“I think we were able to educate the parishioners with what the bishops’ directed us to do,” she said.
One feature of the new church is the high ceiling — 65 feet from floor to ceiling, and the semi-circular position of the pews.
Byrne said the church received pledges from more than 500 families in the parish as well as from people who do not have ties to the church. Hilderbrand, who has been pastor at St. Mary of the Knobs for less than two years, says there are about 1,000 families who belong to the church.
St. Mary of the Knobs is the oldest church in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and was founded in 1823. The church has had four structures and the new church sits less than a mile from where the original log cabin church sat.
The church was founded by German and French settlers who wanted to avoid malaria and other illnesses in New Albany and migrated up the hill. Byrne’s great-great grandfather, Thomas Piers, donated the land for the first church.
There is also a connector building being built between the church and activities center which will be a shell until it’s completed in the future. It will be used as a fellowship hall as well as house some church offices.
Along with the two new buildings, a softball and baseball field have been built on the property along with a football/soccer field with goal posts and a scoreboard. St. Mary of the Knobs Catholic School has students from pre-kindergarten to grade six, but there is hopes of adding a junior high one day. The entire complex, church, school, activities center and athletic fields sit on 92 acres.
“This is a multigenerational complex, not only for the present but also for future generations,” Hilderbrand said. “This is built on the shoulders of so many people. It’s exciting ... I inherited it. So many hours of work has gone into this project.”
Byrne said the Geis Activities Center has been a hit with parishioners.
“It’s been phenomenal,” he said. “We had to look at our long-term needs. Our old [school] gym had no seating capacity, and now the Geis center has so much going on. You can walk in there and see kids playing basketball and people on the walking track at the same time. Different age groups are enjoying the center.”
The current church will continue to be used after the new structure is open for weddings or other events.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Byrne said of the cooperation and entire scope of the project. “From the beginning, there is no doubt the Holy Spirit is directing us. This has gone way beyond my expectations. We visited other churches in 2006 to get ideas but this has turned out to be so much more.”