History of St. Bernard Church

Corner Cass & Sinclair Streets
Wabash, Indiana - 46992

The year 2014 brings St. Bernard Catholic Church to its 150 Sesquicentennial Jubilee. To commemorate this great event, a special celebration is being planned. On Wednesday August 20, the Feast of St. Bernard, there will be a special Mass celebrated at 5:30 p.m. followed by a party & picnic. Balloons will be released by St. Bernard's children after the picnic. On Sunday August 24 there will be a formal Sesquicentennial Celebration Mass at 2 p.m. with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades with current and former priests, and religious invited. A catered meal will follow Mass and will take place under tents in the parking lot. Evening Prayer/Vesper Service in church will conclude the day's activities. A time capsule is also being prepared to commemorate the event. The Religious Education Classes have been collecting 150 jars of baby food to be donated to the local LIFE Center and a commerorative Booklet of Events is also being created. A special cookbook filled with parishioners' favorite recipes will also be available. You may check out more about St. Bernard Parish on St. Bernard 150th Anniversary on Facebook. The following is a short history of St. Bernard Church in Wabash, Indiana.

According to reports of pioneer missionary Catholic priests, Lagro, seven miles east of Wabash, was the religious center for many inhabitants along the Wabash River long before northern Indiana had a bishop of its own. Catholic settlements later sprang up all along the Wabash River from Huntington to the Illinois state line.

The first record of a priest having visited Wabash (then called Wabashtown) was on September 23, 1834, when Rev. Stephen Theodore Badin in a letter to his superiours in Cincinnati wrote that he had visited this area and mentioned the procurement of lots in the town of Wabash.

It wasn't until 1862 that Rev. John Ryan, pastor of St. Patrick's Church, Lagro, visited the mission city of Wabash and offered Mass in the home of John Ivory. The Catholic population was 35, pricipally German and Irish.

With the consent of Right Rev. John Henry Luers, first bishop of Fort Wayne, Father Ryan laid the foundation of St. Bernard's Church at 429 W. Maple St., 1864.

The new church, completed in 1871, was a brick structure 60 x 30 feet. February 1871, Rev. Frederick C. Wiechmann became first resident pastor. A frame school 30' x 20' was started in 1877, but discontinued after one year for lack of support.

During the pastorate of Rev. John H. Bathe, a new rectory was built for the pastor adjacent to the church on the corner of Minor and Fisher Streets. This new house replaced the former priest's house a half-block west of the church on the corner of Maple and Comstock Streets.

April 17, 1900, under the pastorate of Rev. Robert J. Pratt, the growing congregation arranged an exchange of the church property on Maple Street for a church and house at the corner of Sinclair and Cass Streets, formerly the Methodist Church. Built in 1862, the church was a two story brick building, second floor of which was used for church purposes. At the same time, two lots and a brick residence just behind the church were purchased with future expansion in mind. September 34, 1900, the new church was dedicated.

By 1922 the congregation had grown further, and, under the direction of pastor Rev. Edmund A. Ley, St. Bernard's School was begun on the first floor of the church building. Staffed by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Tipton, enrollment was 40 children in six grades. The first home for the Sisters was provided by a Miss Murphy on N. Huntington Street. By 1923 the school had grown to eight grades and 70 pupils.

By 1951 the congregation and school had outgrown the old facilities, and under the direction of pastor Rev. Leo A. Hoffmann, the Sisters' old convent on the corner of Cass and Maple Streets was razed and a new school erected on the site. It opened in 1951 with 141 children and four classrooms. Another four classrooms were added in 1961. Due to the shortage of Sisters in 1968, the number of grades was reduced to six.

The old church was razed in 1951, and on Easter Sunday 1953, Mass was offered for the first time in the new St. Bernard Church on the corner of Cass and Wabash Sts.. The new church was built of Indiana limestone, of modified Gothic architecture, with a roof of Vermont slate of variegated colors. The interior of the church seats 324; beautiful marble work was fabricated in Petra Santa, Italy.

Over the years, priests of St. Bernard's have been: Rev. Bernard Kroeger (1862-66); Rev. George Steiner (1866-68); Matthew E. Campion (1868-73); (pastors of St. Patrick's, Lagro, and served Wabash as a mission church); Rev. Frederick C. Wiechmann (1871-79); Rev. Michael M. Hallinan (1879-1881); Rev. John H. Bathe (1881-98); Rev. Peter J. Crosson (1898-1900); Rev. Robert J. Pratt (1900-1910); Rev. William D. Sullivan (1910-1921); Rev. Edmund A. Ley (1921-1932); Rev. Charles J.A. Scholl (1932-1940); Rev. Leo A. Hoffmann (1940-1956)
Rev. Robert J. Zahn (1956-1976) Assisting Fr. Zahn in Wabash at different times were 3 Associate Pastors: Fr. James Bartels, Fr. Adam Schmitt and Fr. (now Msgr.) John Suelzer. During his time in Wabash, Fr. Zahn assumed pastoral charge of St. Patrick parish in Lagro in 1956 and in 1958 he established the St. Robert Bellarmine Mission parish in North Manchester. During his pastorate at St. Bernard's, Fr. Zahn added four additional school rooms completed in Sept. 1961 and a new Convent was erected in 1966, also greatly reducing the church debt. Rev. Eugene Zimmerman (1976-1982); Rev. William Kummer (1982-1985); Rev. Daniel E. Peil (1985-1993); Rev. Timothy A. Wrozek (1993-2001); Father Sextus Don (2001-Present).

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