In October, St. Theresa of Avila Church, Rhodelia, Ky., is celebrating 200 years of faith.
In light of our bicentennial, the present pastor, Father George Illikkal, invited us to write an article about this early Catholic settlement. As sons of the parish, we love this place, and are happy to tell you a few things about our rich history.
St. Theresa’s roots go deep into the frontier days of our archdiocese, when Catholic settlers from England, Scotland and Ireland came to the United States. Landing in southern Maryland, they found their way to the Holy Land of central Kentucky.
Multiple churches were established in places no GPS could even find now. Religious communities of women and men sprung up. This pioneer spirit still hovers in the air of faith that we breathe today. As settlements spread, some of our ancestors floated down the Ohio River and stopped at what they called St. Theresa’s Landing, near Flint Island in Meade County.
Full of faith and with minimal resources, they started a parish. These settlers never left. The fertility and beauty of the land got into their blood. Names of the first settlers: Arnold, Bruner, Elder, Hayden, Beavin, Jarboe, and Rhodes (thus Rhodelia) are still here.
In 1818, the U.S. was only 42 years old and Kentucky was a young 26. Imagine what faith it took for our ancestors to accomplish what we so richly inherited. Two hundred years later, we reap the fruit of their bold belief that “with God, nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1, 37). The faith of these laity, religious sisters and priests was missionary and self-sacrificing.
History repeats itself. Father Illikkal, a native of India, is a living symbol of these early missionaries: Father Stephen Badin, from France; Father Charles Nerinckx, the Netherlands; Father Edward Donovan, Ireland; and Father Joseph Odendahl, Germany). All left their homeland to serve us.
The Sisters of Loretto came in 1869 to staff St. Theresa Academy. In 1870, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth arrived by boat and buggy to serve the people of this parish and surrounding community for more than 100 years.
Lay Catholics built strong families whose values are still visible in this community of “Kentucky proud” folks. Faith, family and neighbor are prized blessings. When crisis or tragedy strikes, the parable of the “potluck dinner” springs into action. Small-town grievances and gossip disappear as the community pulls together. Each family brings their “dish” of comfort food and offers the work of their hands as needed. When one suffers, all suffer; when one rejoices, all rejoice.
The church blesses this community with faith, education, culture, and exposure to God’s larger world. This community blesses the church with its faithfulness, its down-home goodness and the feel of “Mr. Rogers” neighborhood. Along with the other 110 parishes in the archdiocese, St. Theresa hands to our generation a great treasure and tradition.
Let the words of St. Theresa of Avila guide our next steps.
“May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.”
We invite all who have roots in St. Theresa of Avila Church to join the celebration on Oct. 14. The archbishop will celebrate Mass at 10:30 a.m. A reception will follow in the gym. RSVP by email to email@example.com.