St. Michael Church marks 220th anniversary

By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor

FAIRFIELD, Ky. — St. Michael Church in Nelson County Kentucky — located a few miles off of Bardstown Road just south of Mount Washington — is among the Archdiocese of Louisville’s oldest parishes. It was founded in the late 18th century by pioneers who moved from Maryland to Kentucky seeking a place to freely practice their Catholic faith.

Today’s parishioners, many descendants of those founders, celebrated the church’s 220th anniversary Sunday, Sept. 30, with a luncheon and a special Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. Concelebrants included the pastor, Father William D. Hammer; resident priest Father Albert J. Hartlage, who is retired; associate pastor
Father David Carr; and Father David Mary, a priest of the Franciscan Brothers Minor in Fort Wayne, Ind. Also concelebrating were Fathers Jerry Eifler and Joseph Batcheldor, who have roots in the parish.

Archbishop Kurtz pointed out during his homily that St. Michael was established 19 years before the arrival of the diocese’s first bishop — Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget. He noted that the forerunner to the Cathedral of the Assumption, St. Louis Church, was once a mission of St. Michael Church. And he said that one of St. Michael’s earliest pastors was Father Stephen Theodore Badin — the first priest ordained in the United States.

“Just think of the roots and history of St. Michael in the nation and this archdiocese,” he said. “This place is already known as the cradle of religious vocations in Kentucky. Just think of the sisters, priests, brothers and deacons who have their roots here at St. Michael.”

Two of those former parishioners who chose religious life were present for the celebration, including Ursuline Sister of Mount St. Joseph Grace Simpson, a descendant of the parish’s founders.

The other was Brother Clarence Marie, a 28-year-old who joined the Franciscan Brothers Minor in February. Formerly Matthew Curtsinger, Brother Clarence was involved in CCD, the parish youth group and volunteered at the church for a couple of years as he discerned his religious vocation. Eleven members of his community returned with him to celebrate the parish anniversary on Sunday.

Father Hammer, pastor of St. Michael, said during announcements at the end of Mass that an anniversary “is about being with family” and he welcomed Brother Clarence’s community into St. Michael’s family.

“You are a part of our family and our heritage,” he told the young man. “And your community is a part of our family now, too.”

He added during an interview after the Mass, “Our parish has always had that sense of mission to serve the larger church. The children of the church have always been generous with their lives.”

He noted that Mother Catherine Spalding, the first leader of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, was a daughter of St. Michael parish, too.

Father Eifler, a retired priest of the archdiocese, said his great-great grandparents were among the founding families of St. Michael. They traveled from Maryland to what was then the Kentucky frontier and settled in the Fairfield area.

“I wanted to honor them with this celebration today,” he said. Also in their honor, he was one among several donors to help fund the restoration of an historic painting at the parish. The painting of the crucifixion hangs above the church’s high altar and is believed to date to the late 18th century. Funds from the Building a Future of Hope campaign also helped to restore the painting.

Father Joseph Batcheldor, a retired archdiocesan priest who served briefly as an interim administrator at St. Michael, said he attended the celebration because the parish figures prominently in his family’s history and it was dear to his mother.

“My mom and dad were married here, baptized here. My grandparents were members here,” he said. “Our family on both sides goes back to a family (at St. Michael)  from the beginning — the Lillys.”

“Since my mother so dearly loved the parish, she was really rooted here,” he added, noting that he grew up in Louisville. “We came back as children for all the socials, summer picnics and family reunions. It means a lot to me.”

His family commissioned and donated a couple of years ago a new altar and pulpit, made in part from a portion of the old communion rail.

St. Michael parish continues to flourish today with nearly 200 families. A $600,000 restoration of the sanctuary was completed in 2011. Parishioner Gilly Simpson, a descendant of the founders and a ninth generation parishioner, has compiled a history of the parish, a 400-page book called Pioneer Faith.

1 Comment

  • Helen Lilly Wheat says:

    As one of the Lilly’s who received a wonderful education at St. Michael’s School in the early 50″s, made my first communion and was confirmed there, loved your article and happy to see that the parish is going strong. My family was one of the early families who settled there. My uncle, Warren C. Lilly, S.J. and his aunt, Sr. Mary Benedict, a Sister of Charity of Nazareth, came from the parish. Both was omitted from the beautiful book written about the history of St. Michael’s Church. So I am adding two more religious vocations who had roots in this beautiful church. I got a strong religious background at St. Michael’s and have been teaching at Lexington Catholic High School for thirty-five years in religious studies. My earliest training came from my parents, Bernard and Eleanor Lilly and St. Michael’s School. Happy to see this great article.

    Helen Lilly Wheat

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