On August 14, 2022, Bishop William F. Medley celebrated Mass for the 200th anniversary of St. Lawrence Parish, the oldest Catholic church in Daviess County, Ky. Seen in this picture taken at the festivities afterward are Bishop Medley with current pastor Fr. Shijo Vadakumkara, previous pastor Fr. Augusty Valomchalil, and four Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, whose order ministered to the parish for many years. Sr. Eula Johnson, SCN, and Sr. Maggie Cooper, SCN, are both natives of Daviess County. FILE PHOTO
The history of the Catholic Church in frontier Kentucky is a Eucharistic Revival unto itself
My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
In June of this year the Catholic Church of the United States initiated a three-year Eucharistic Revival. Most dioceses marked this event by highlighting the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). I joined the parishioners of St. Joseph in Mayfield in a Corpus Christi procession around their church grounds. We gathered in the shadow of their old school building that was damaged beyond repair from the destruction of the Dec. 10, 2021 tornadoes. Within eyesight, scores of buildings had been destroyed and many lives were lost.
St. Joseph’s campus presented an extraordinary place to inaugurate the faith and hope that we pray a Eucharistic Revival will rekindle in a culture and age in which many have lost appreciation for our sacramental tradition.
Several months later, on Sunday, August 14, I joined the St. Lawrence Parish community in eastern Daviess County in celebrating their bicentennial. In 1822, Fr. Charles Nerinx, an early Catholic missionary to the Kentucky frontier, offered the first Mass in Daviess County in a private home for the cluster of Catholic families that had settled there. In years to come, from this gathering, St. Lawrence Catholic Church was organized with the approval of the bishop of Bardstown, Benedict Joseph Flaget. In 1824, Kentucky-born (in Sunfish, Ky., in our diocese) Fr. Elisha Durbin offered pastoral care to Catholics across western Kentucky where he built many churches. In 1824 a small log church was built at St. Lawrence to be followed by a more permanent structure that they quickly outgrew. The present-day church was built in the 1870s.
These two stories are tied together by 200 years of Catholic history and by the faith of those who have gone before us and passed on to us the priceless heritage of our one, holy, catholic (intentional small c – “catholic” translates to “universal”), and apostolic faith.
By 1822, when the first Mass was offered in Daviess County, there had been Catholic settlements and churches in Breckenridge and Grayson Counties for many years – also first established by Fr. Nerinx. Catholic settlements were scattered across central Kentucky beginning in 1775 – the first parish of Holy Cross established in 1785 at Providence, Ky. The Diocese of Bardstown was established in 1808 and encompassed what is today the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. When Bishop Flaget was appointed bishop there were six priests serving this vast area. Most Catholic settlements only enjoyed the presence of a priest and celebration of the Eucharist after long intervals.
One might say that the history of the Catholic Church in frontier Kentucky was a Eucharistic Revival unto itself. For the presence of the Catholic faith and sacraments set in motion a wellspring of Catholic education and service. In 1812 two congregations of women religious were founded, the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth – both of which continue ministries of education, service, and social justice to this day. In 1822 the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine were established there as well.
Let us pray that our modern-day Eucharistic Revival may be as fruitful as this unique moment in our history.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the September 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.