NEW HOPE, Ky. — Since the early 1800s generations of families have found a spiritual home at St. Vincent de Paul Church in New Hope, Ky., and some parishioners can still trace their lineage back to that time.
On Sept. 27, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul, the church will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its founding.
The parish has had many large families over the years, said Father Ken Fortener who served as pastor from 2007-2018. He describes the parish as a “warm and accepting community.”
“It is a family church; people tend to know everyone,” he said.
Rural communities are known for their ability to pull together and take care of others and the people of New Hope have lived up to that, he said.
“They’re great people. They are very helpful and they take care of each other,” said Father Fortener in a recent interview. During his time as pastor of the parish, a physically handicapped individual in the community needed a house and his parishioners came together and built a home.
“They do things like that,” he said.
He noted that besides the bookkeeper, there are no other paid employees in the parish office; everyone else is a parishioner donating their time.
“Volunteers are all over the place,” he said.
The current church building, located on Church Street, was constructed in 1887. St. Vincent de Paul has about 175 families and the church is part of a cluster, which includes St. Catherine Church in New Haven, Ky., and Immaculate Conception in Culvertown, Ky. Father Matthew Hardesty is pastor of all three parishes.
Father Hardesty said he is impressed with his parishioners.
“They deeply identify with the parish and its history. They are knowledgeable about it and they’re proud,” said Father Hardesty. “They are connected to that history over many generations and they celebrate that.”
The beginnings of the church date to 1800, when an early settler, James Dant, started inviting people to celebrate Mass in his home, according to historical records. Some of the earliest Catholic settlers in that area came from Maryland and New Hope, Pa., from which New Hope, Ky., may have taken its name, said Father Fortener.
Father Charles Nerinckx offered the sacraments during those homemade Masses. In 1819 Father Nerinckx built a log cabin, which became St. Vincent de Paul Church, near the Dant farm, according to the parish’s historical records. In the 1850s a larger church made of brick was built on the same site. Some parishioners speculate that the log cabin may have burned.
Norine Masterson along with her husband Bruce has been a member of St. Vincent de Paul for 34 years. She serves as music director and director of religious education at the parish.
The Mastersons can trace their lineage back five generations, she said. Their earliest ancestor arrived in the New Hope area in 1793, she noted.
She and her husband raised three sons at St. Vincent de Paul. The family was always active in the parish. Her sons were altar servers growing up. The Masterson’s five grandsons are now being raised in the church as well, she said.
“I love doing things for the church,” she said. She’s worn many hats during her years at the parish, but her “favorite” way to serve is working with the choir. She is also the organist. The choir started as a youth choir years ago. All the members have grown up and had children, but the group is still referred to as the “youth” choir, said Masterson laughing. They still sing at Mass.
Father Hardesty said he was amazed the first time he heard the choir sing. The members, he noted, grew up in a lay Dominican community in New Hope where they learned sacred chant and polyphony. The choir and its music are “gems,” said Father Hardesty.
The parish also has a religious education program for children, which has started meeting again after time away due to the pandemic.
“I love the religious education program,” Masterson said. “I have a feeling there are many kids who don’t know anything about God” and the program helps to educate them.
Some have returned years later to tell her what a difference the classes made in their lives, she said.
Masterson said she loves being a part of a small community.
“Everyone watches out for each other. When something is wrong in somebody’s family we pray for each other.”
Masterson thinks it’s interesting how generations of families have made New Hope and St. Vincent de Paul their home.
“The families were so large that even if some didn’t stay, there are still roots here,” she said.
With the parish’s bicentennial coming up, she’s been reading some of the church’s history, she said. The pews in the current church’s choir loft came from the old church built in 1859, she noted. The hand-carved European oak used to build the altar and ambo was brought over from France by boat, she said.
According to historical information she found, the current church building which was constructed in 1887, was made possible by the donations of parishioners. The structure cost $19,000 and a member of the church named Edward Miles, along with his wife Annabelle, offered to donate $11,000. The remainder of the money was donated by others.
“It was a community effort. They decided it was important to have this church and they all pitched in,” said Masterson.
She and other parishioners are working on establishing a community center, possibly by renovating the old school building, which sits next door to the church.
“We need a bigger gathering space. People love to get married in our church, but there’s no space for a reception,” she said. Having a gathering space “would promote the faith to those in the community so much better.”
Another family that has deep roots in the St. Vincent de Paul community is the Dant family. Amy Dant has been a lifelong parishioner and her 89-year-old mother Louise Dant has been a member for 68 years. They still attend Mass together. Louise Dant played the organ at Mass for at least five decades.
“I was blessed to be able to do that, she said in a recent interview. She and her husband had eight children whom they raised in the church. She served on many committees and enjoyed cooking for and visiting the Sisters of Charity who served as educators at the old St. Vincent de Paul School.
The Sisters of Charity started the school in 1890. The school closed in 1975. Amy Dant recalled being a student there for two years before it closed. St. Vincent de Paul “is home even after spending five years away in the military,” said Amy Dant in a recent interview. “The church itself is such a beautiful church.”
Amy Dant was on the committee that planned the anniversary celebration. They’d planned a gathering with food and exhibition of church artifacts, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to change those plans, she said.
Father Hardesty will celebrate a Mass Sept. 27 to mark the church’s bicentennial.