St. Augustine Church celebrates 200 years

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz shared a moment with Father Jerry Bell, left, and Deacon Joseph Dant during the bicentennial celebration of St. Augustine Church on Aug. 15. The parish in Lebanon, Ky., is among the oldest in the archdiocese. Photo Special to The Record by Amy Taylor

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz shared a moment with Father Jerry Bell, left, and Deacon Joseph Dant during the bicentennial celebration of St. Augustine Church on Aug. 15. The parish in Lebanon, Ky., is among the oldest in the archdiocese. Photo Special to The Record by Amy Taylor

By Amy Taylor, Special to The Record
LEBANON, Ky. — St. Augustine Church, which is among the oldest continuously operating parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville, officially celebrated its 200th anniversary Aug. 15, although parishioners have been celebrating all year.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, who presided at the bicentennial Mass on the feast of the Assumption, told the parishioners, “We are a family that is joined together.” Parishioners of St. Augustine “celebrate now our next 200 years!”

The church was packed with people whose families have been part of St. Augustine for generations, priests who once served as pastors and women religious from four different communities, including the Sisters of Loretto, whose members taught hundreds of children in the parish school over the decades.

The school is marking its 150th anniversary this year.

Bishop Charles C. Thompson of Evansville, Ind., also took part in the celebration. The bishop served as pastor of St. Augustine from 1996 to 2002. The current pastor, Father William Bowling, noted during an interview that the bicentennial celebration began earlier this year.

“We’ve engaged in a number of wonderful projects. The first thing we wanted to do was to invite Archbishop Kurtz to come celebrate with us,” he said.

The parish had a prayer-balloon launch this past spring, held 200 days of prayer for the congregation and created a bicentennial DVD. Two young members working to become Eagle Scouts — Michael Richardson and Brandon Lee — created a rosary garden on vacant land next to the church with the help of donors and volunteers.

“The rosary garden has been a great project,” Father Bowling said. “It invites people to pray.”

St. Augustine’s pastoral associate, Kathy Shannon, who also serves as chairperson of the bicentennial committee, said the bicentennial also prompted other improvements at the historic church.

“There was a restoration of our bell tower,” the former St. Augustine School teacher said. “There was a complete restoration of the structural support system, and we added a carillon (a set of bells). Now the bell can be heard all around town.”

Betty Southall, who is 87, has been a faithful parishioner since the early 1950’s, when she married her husband, Weeter, who is now 90. At one time — when she wasn’t waiting on customers in her husband’s pharmacy — she was very active in church activities, such as teaching religious education.

“I was president of the Altar Society for about 20 years,” the Florida native said. “We cleaned the church, polished the brass, set up for weddings and funerals, and got the church ready for Mass.”

Southall said she has been blessed to work with some wonderful priests and assistants who have become her good friends.

“It has given me such a great sense of satisfaction. I don’t volunteer at church any longer. Now I just go and enjoy it,” she said.

All of the parishioners’ children graduated from the parish school, Southall said. Most of her neighbors’ children attended St. Augustine as well.

“It’s been a wonderful experience to raise my children where they’ve been close to the church,” Southall said. “It gives you such a sense of community.”

Virginia Hamilton, a member of the parish since birth, is the principal of the historic St. Augustine School. She has taught in “Saint A” classrooms or served as principal for the last 42 years.

The Sisters of Loretto were her mentors, the principal said.

“I loved all of my teachers,” she said. Now “I love teaching. The kids teach you so much.”

Father Bowling, who also serves as pastor of Holy Name of Mary Church in Calvary, Ky., and is administrator of St. Francis of Assisi Church in St. Francis, Ky., and Holy Cross Church in Holy Cross, Ky., said he’s looking forward to another anniversary activity: the burying of a time capsule at St. Augustine in October.

“I’m so pleased to be here for the bicentennial,” the priest said. “When you fall into the right place at the right time, what a gift of grace that is!”

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