By GLENN RUTHERFORD
BARDSTOWN, Ky. — The Catholic Holy Land in Nelson, Washington, Marion and other counties in Central Kentucky is steeped in more than two centuries of history.
And no parish in that heartland of the Archdiocese of Louisville is closer to the epicenter of that history than St. Thomas Church, which lies just south of here.
This year, St. Thomas parish — home of the restored Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget Log house, built in 1795 — is celebrating its bicentennial.
It is a celebration so significant that the parish will take the entire month of July to complete it.
“This is the place of a lot of firsts,” said Father Jeffrey G. Hopper, pastoral administrator of St. Thomas Church, noting that the parish was home to the first archbishop — Benedict Joseph Flaget — and the first seminary in what was then called the nation’s “western frontier.”
“There is a great deal of excitement about our bicentennial, oh, yes,” said Father Hopper. “And our Bicentennial Mass (on July 1) is just the kickoff. We’ll have something happening here every weekend in July.”
The Bicentennial Mass to be held at 11 a.m. on July 1 will be celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz and be followed by a banquet in the St. Thomas Parish Life Center at noon. For the meal, Father Hopper said, the church will provide chicken, ham and drinks; parishioners are asked to prepare their favorite dishes to be shared.
“This year the archbishop allowed us to celebrate the Feast of St. Thomas on the first, rather than the third of July,” Father Hopper noted, “so we’ll be able to have our full, sit-down dinner after Mass.”
The parish life center was once the gymnasium of the old St. Thomas School, and has been renovated into a space that can be used for family events and other large church gatherings, the priest said.
“We hold wedding receptions there, and have our larger Masses — our Christmas Mass, for instance — in that larger space,” he said.
The second Sunday of the celebratory month, July 8, will feature the theme of “Our Parish has Given You Life,” and people will be asked to help the lives of others by donating blood. The American Red Cross will be on hand to take blood donations in the parish center from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
July 14 — a Saturday — will feature the official dedication of the St. Thomas Parish Life Center. That celebration will begin with Mass at 4 p.m. A news release from St. Thomas Church about the event asks people to “come and see what your generosity has created,” in reference to the renovated building.
The fourth weekend celebration will be held on July 22 and is “a birthday party for the parish,” Father Hopper said.
“We’re going to have cake and ice cream and we’ll be releasing 200 balloons,” he added. “There will be a bouncy there for the kids, too.” The party will begin at noon on the parish courtyard by the rectory garage.
The final weekend of July will be the annual St. Thomas Parish Picnic, made special this year by the bicentennial. “We’ll have an outdoor Mass,” said Father Hopper, “and we’ll have bands, antique cars, the normal kinds of picnic activities. And that will mark the end of the celebration. But for us, every weekend for the entire month is going to be something special.”
As busy as Father Hopper will be during July, he might be expected to take a bit of time off following the bicentennial schedule. But that’s not the case.
“Immediately following the bicentennial, I, along with four adult chaperones and six high school kids, are heading to the mountains of north Georgia for a ‘Lifeteen’ retreat,” he said. “We’ll be white water rafting, zip lining, and holding Adoration, worship services and Mass.”
After that week-long retreat, he said, Father Hopper expects to return to his “regular busy summer schedule.”