EMINENCE, Ky. — During a Mass to celebrate St. John Chrysostom Church’s 150th anniversary, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre thanked parishioners and their ancestors for their faithfulness in proclaiming Christ for a century and a half.
“For 150 years this faith community has answered, ‘You are the Messiah and Lord’ just like St. Peter did,” Archbishop Fabre told the congregation.
In his homily, the archbishop drew attention to the Gospel reading from the Book of Matthew where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and later directs the question at them, “Who do you say I am?” St. Peter responds, “You are the Messiah. The son of the living God.”
The faith community of St. John Chrysostom has held on to Peter’s response and made Jesus the center of their life, said Archbishop Fabre. “You not only proclaim but live that reality every day. … It’s what’s been at the very heart of this community and continues to be,” he said.
The archbishop said he was grateful to them and to their ancestors for proclaiming their faith for so long.
St. John Chrysostom, a small mission parish in Eminence, Ky., was established in 1873. Historical records show that Mass was being celebrated in people’s homes as early as 1855.
Kathleen Sullivan, a long-time parishioner, said during that time, in that part of Henry County there was “nothing but trees.” Historical records show Archbishop John Spalding gave permission for a church to be built in 1860 but construction wouldn’t start until years later. Though the Church of the Annunciation was dedicated in 1860 in nearby Shelbyville, it wasn’t feasible for the farm families of Eminence to get there, said Sullivan, adding, “It would take a whole day to get there and back.”
Sullivan is a storyteller. She has chronicled the parish’s early days and gave a presentation on its history during a banquet after the Aug. 26 Mass.
When working the land became too much for the farm families in Eminence, they sponsored Irish workers to come and help, Sullivan said. These Irish families “were the first to say we need a church.”
The parish is built on donated land that, at the time, cost $250, said Sullivan. In the early days, St. John — a small wooden structure with a towering steeple — had no restroom facilities. A pot-bellied stove kept parishioners warm on cold Sunday mornings, she said.
The parish has come a long way since then.
The church began a major renovation in 2013, which included rebuilding the sanctuary and the addition of a confessional. The renovation also connected the parish hall to the main church with an addition that houses an office and a new sacristy.
St. John is now home to about 40 active parishioners, said Pat Smith, a long-time parishioner who serves as the parish secretary. Though small, its parishioners’ involvement has made a significant contribution to the surrounding community, she noted.
A sense of family that permeates the parish flows into the community, parishioners said. In particular, St. John partners with the Henry County Help Center to feed needy families and individuals, said Smith.
Mary Howard has been a member since the late 1970s, though her health has prevented her from attending Mass weekly. At the help center, she said, food is donated year-round, some of it planted and harvested by parishioners.
At Christmastime, the parish adopts at least two families served by the center. The parishioners then donate gifts, food and clothing, to ensure they’ll have a good Christmas, she said.
“We’re a close-knit family,” she said. “We’re small and we all know each other, care about each other and if something comes up we all work together.”
Joanne Ashby, who has been a parishioner since June of 1970, said she feels the same way. “It’s just a family. We’ve done a lot of things together and have fun memories of church picnics” over the years, she said.
The parish’s size gave her the opportunity to be involved in numerous ministries, Ashby noted. “It gave me the opportunity to do a lot of volunteer work that I probably wouldn’t have done in a larger parish,” she said.
Being small and having one Mass on Sunday meant she could get to know and draw close to her fellow parishioners.
“If someone is missing, you check on them,” she added. “It’s just a family. I feel very attached to it.”
St. John is served by clergy who also serve at the Church of the Annunciation. Father Jean González Romero serves as administrator, and Father Michael T. Wimsatt, pastor of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., serves as the parishes’ presbyteral moderator.
Deacons Robert J. Hart and John P. Strain also serve the two parishes.