The House of the Prince of Peace
Material civilization in Indiana traces back to the old French settlement of Vincennes or rather civilization established there reached out claiming new territory each year until the primeval forest was converted into hundreds of hamlets, towns and cities. So to with the spiritual civilization when, George Roger Clark, in the name of the United States government, laid siege to Vincennes he found Father Gibault, the hero of Maurice Thompson’s novel, the highest spiritual authority there, directing the consciences and administering to the religious wants of the Catholics who formed the entire population of Indiana’s first settlement. Each step forward made by the sturdy pioneer, establishing towns and cities is swiftly followed by the gentler but not least determined step of the black robed priest forming his little congregation, laying the foundation of the “House of the Prince of Peace.”
Thus it happened that in the year 1849 Rev. William Doyle, then pastor of St. Andrew’s congregation at Richmond, Indian, visited Liberty and celebrated mass at the home of Patrick Gleason which was probably the first Catholic service held in Union County and unquestionably was the beginning of the present parish of St. Bridget. Father Doyle was not a novice in the work of establishing churches. An Irishman by birth he spoke fluently the German, French and English tongues and this fact made him very much sought after in quarters where people of different languages were forming congregations. Hence he brought to Liberty a great deal of experience and soon had the village formed into a station which he visited very two months and so far interest the people as to be able
to purchase three acres of land for the amount of three hundred dollars. The coming of Rev. Henry Peters in 1853 gave the people even greater encouragement. His visits were once a month and having no residence in Liberty he stopped in turn at the homes of Patrick Gleason, Dennis Egan, Thomas Roach, Joseph O’Conner and Thomas Burk. Of these worthy gentlemen only one, Thomas Burke still survives to connect the present with the past.
The first Catholic Church in Liberty was built in 1854 and consisted of a frame building forty feet long and thirty feet wide. It was a modest structure indeed, but it represented the sacrifice of a few scattered families struggling for a foothold in this great country of their adoption, and its destruction by fire in 1858 was a signal for universal grief. The fire occurred on Saturday night and on Sunday morning the Priest and people, ignorant of their loss, journeyed toward Liberty, as they thought to celebrate the mysteries of their religion but in truth to mingle their tears in the ashes of their once modest but beloved Church. But sorrow had no honor to discourage; accepting the hospitality of a gentleman who offered his blacksmith shop for a church, they erected a temporary alter and kneeling on the earthen floor they bless the God who maketh it to rain alike upon the just and the unjust. Leaving his people to raise what funds they might, Father Peters visited a number of Catholic communities throughout the state accepting their charity and in 1859 erected the brick building which will soon give place to a building more befitting the love of a people for the God who with the lapse of years has prospered them.
After twelve years, in 1872 Father Peters yielded his charge to Rev. Januarius M.
D’Arco, an Italian nobleman, who was the first resident priest. He served for twenty years and while he did much to complete and beautify the property his greatest work was in the spiritual uplifting of the people. Gently but firmly he pointed out the imperfect of his flock and encouraged them in what was right and good and his efforts have borne abundant fruit.
Father D’Arco resigned his charge in 1892 and died in 1894. He was succeeded in turn by Rev’s Dennis MeCave, James J. Wade and Francis P. Ryves who have continued and increased the seed of fruit. Crowning the work of the pioneer priest is the erection of the beautiful new St. Bridget’s Church at the cost of twenty thousand dollars and which for years to come will be a monument to the spirit of faith and sacrifice of the ninety families that constitute the membership of the present St. Bridget’s congregation.
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