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Terre Haute Church Closes As Part Of Statewide Consolidation

The members of St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute say they want to continue their mission of service in the community even though their church has closed.

  • St. Ann Church

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU-WTIU News

    Members of St. Ann Parish stand in the middle of the church. Everything in the building is being donated to other parishes.

  • St. Ann Statue

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU-WTIU News

    The statue of St. Ann holding a young Jesus has been with St. Ann Parish since 1906.

  • St. Ann Clinic building.

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU-WTIU News

    The St. Ann clinic, next door to the church, will remain open as long as it can be self-sustaining. Clinic leaders are working to get state and federal grants to keep it running.

  • Sister Connie Kramer

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/WFIU-WTIU News

    Sister Connie Kramer says she is still deciding where she will go no that St. Ann has closed. She has led the parish for 20 years.

Church Members, Icons To Find New Spiritual Homes

The Catholic Diocese is looking to increase efficiency by consolidating some churches. One of those was St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute.

After more than 130 years the church was forced to close earlier this month. The congregation was committed to outreach, and the church is working to make sure its community mission is not lost in the shuffle.

“I believe it has been the light in the darkness for those that are poor. It has been the place where they have found the face of God in real people,” says Sister Connie Kramer who leads St. Ann parish.

Sister Connie led the parish for nearly 20 years, but the parish’s history goes back more than a century before then. That history is captured in many of the icons in the church like the statue of St. Ann and Jesus that sits at the back of the church.

“Ann is considered the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus,” Kramer explains as she recalls the history of the statue. “This was bought in 1906. It came from New York and what’s unusual about it. They both have glass eyes, which they have never understood how they could have done that then, but they did.” 

I believe it has been the light in the darkness for those that are poor,” Sister Connie Kramer says. “It has been the place where they have found the face of God in real people.

These icons are being dispersed to different parishes. The statue is going to St. Joseph University parish in Terre Haute. The shadow-box of the Last Supper that was crafted in 1876 is being given to Sacred Heart Parish in Terre Haute. But almost everything else, from the chalices to the Stations of the Cross, will go to St. Luke Parish in Salyersville, Kentucky.

Father Bob Damron, the priest at St. Luke, says after the March tornadoes, his diocese called and asked if they were in need of any items.

“We lost everything, everything in the tornadoes,” Damron said he told the diocese.

And the pictures prove it. Photos from after the tornado show the church building to be mostly flattened with just a couple walls still standing.

Damron says the generosity of St. Ann’s reminds them of the important work of every church including his own.

“It means a lot to know that we’re not just a little bitty isolated catholic church in Appalachia,” he says. “The Catholic Church is universal and the Catholic Church throughout the United States is reaching out to help us because we are one family.”

  • St. Luke Church damage

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    Photo: St. Luke Parish

    St. Luke Parish church was destroyed by tornadoes that ripped through Kentucky.

  • St. Luke Church wreckage

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    Photo: St. Luke Parish

    Pastor Bob Damron surveys the damage to the St. Luke Parish church caused by the March tornadoes.

  • St. Luke Church damage

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    Photo: St. Luke Parish

    St. Luke Parish's priest Bob Damron (left) looks at what remains of his church after tornadoes swept through the area.

Statewide Consolidation Plans

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is going through each of its eight regions or deaneries to look for ways it can be more efficient—and that includes shutting down some of the parishes.

The diocese’s spokesman Greg Otolski says they’re looking at what services each of the parishes offer and how many members each church has.

“[It's] all with the goal though of trying to enhance the vibrancy of parish life in that area though,” he says. “If they can consolidate some of what they’re doing and make things operate more efficiency and be better stewards of the resources they have, then that’s what we want them to do.”

Otolski says St. Ann’s had too much overlap and fewer members than some of the other nearby parishes. But he, points out, it’s not just about numbers.

St. Ann is home to about 120 households or 230 people. The church in Kentucky only has about 15 families, but unlike the one in Terre Haute, there isn’t another church within several miles so its parish members can’t get services anywhere else. The closest parish to St. Ann is less than two miles away.

Preserving The Mission Of Service, Social Justice

Back in Terre Haute, parish member Sharon Dick says it’s not all bad news. The St. Ann clinic next door to the church will remain open. It serves about 11 hundred people each month for dental and medical care. 

I didn’t think church was about numbers,” Sharon Dick says. “I thought church was about the things that you do for people that need to be cared for. 

Dick is one of the clinic managers and she says with a high poverty rate in the nearby counties, the clinic is crucial to the parish’s mission.  That is why, she says it doesn’t make sense that the parish is closing at all.

“It’s just very very difficult,” she says trying unsuccessfully to hold back her tears. “As far as I’m concerned, this parish does all the things you’re supposed to do for everyone, and I don’t understand having it closed. I didn’t think church was about numbers. I thought church was about the things that you do for people that need to be cared for. And that’s what hurts the most.”

Sister Connie says she hopes her congregation can be an example to others who might share their fate because of the archdiocese’s consolidation plans.

“For me it means it’s an organ transplant,” she says. “We are offering our life out of a tragic loss to someone else that they can live on out of what we offer them.”

The members of the parish say they will maintain the relationships they have made with each other over the years. But more importantly, they say, they will continue working in the community to keep St. Ann’s social and spiritual mission alive.

Gretchen Frazee

Gretchen Frazee is a reporter/producer for WFIU and WTIU news. Prior to her current role, Frazee worked as the associate online content coordinator for WFIU/WTIU. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studied multimedia journalism and anthropology. You can follow her on Twitter @gretchenfrazee.

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