The masses of Annunciation celebrate their history

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By Todd Martin

As the Church of the Annunciation celebrates it's 150th anniversary this weekend, members will no doubt tell stories from the church's past.

"To make one hundred and fifty years... that's really something special," Rev. Bill Bowling said.

Maybe a particular Lawn Fete memory or the time grandpa fell asleep in mass will get members reminiscing and laughing.

But one man's stories will be tough to match.

John Long's ties to the church on 1st Street, between Main and Washington streets, go back so far they don't even include a pew to sit in.

The church was dedicated during the Feast of the Holy Angels on Oct. 2, 1860.

There were no pews, and the church was not yet finished, but Bishop Martin Spalding from Louisville officiated the first mass.

On Jan. 8, 1861, Long's great grandfather Michael Brown married Kate O'Connor in the church's first marriage.

Brown was also on had to help build the church, mixing mortar and laying brick.

The Browns' marriage started a string of four generations being married in the church, ending with Long and his wife, Esther Jo.

However, several of his grandchildren have come back and been baptized at the family church.

"It [the church] probably means more to me now than it did then [when the Longs were married ]," he said. "I just remember always being around the church growing up."

Long, 76, did spend some of his formative years living in Louisville and some as an adult, but summers and Sundays were always spent back in Shelbyville with family.

Long and his family have seen the church grow, shrink and expand. They've seen additions, like the choir gallery and organ in 1865.

The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception added a convent in 1871. The convent and a small catholic school lasted about 15 years.


Family history

Long also fills a role as the unofficial historian of the church, having updated the history of Catholics in the area that goes back to when the first one, Kean O'Hara, settled in Shelby in 1798.

"Someone just asked if we had a history of the church, and I said I have all this information, so I'll put it together," he said.

Long was the perfect fit to fill the historian job.

After their marriage Michael and Kate Brown moved into a log home where the Stratton Center now stands so they would be close to the church.

"I remember my grandmother being so involved," he said. "She owned a farm in the twenties and thirties, and she would give so much to the church when she had good years."

One of Long's more vivid memories was the beginning of the annual Lawn Fete in the early 1940s.

"The street was a lot wider then, and they'd close it off and put out card tables," he said. "People would come by and sit and order ice cream and cake. I remember a couple of years when they let me dip ice cream; I always wanted to do that.

"They also had a cake and candy wheel, and a fishing pond for the kids. The Lawn Fete was started to raise money while the economy was down, much like today. I think they raised a thousand dollars that year, and that was a quite a lot of money."

But he said the biggest changes in the church have come in much more recent times.


The past 20 years

During the past quarter century the church has purchased more land and grown faster than at any time.

Bowling, who came to Shelbyville full time in 1999, said the change came with growth.

"In the mid-1980s we began to see migrant Hispanics showing up in our area," he said. "At that time Sister Lupe Arciniega S.L. began a migrant ministry in Louisville and traveled throughout the archdiocese."

Sister Arciniega would sometimes administer a mass in Spanish and offer meals at churches.

But that wouldn't be enough for a growing population in Shelby County.

"In 1995-1996, when Father Joe Batcheldor was pastor, the council took the step to hire Gia Mudd as a Spanish minister," Bowling said. "She started giving mass in Spanish every Sunday, and she started Centro Latino."

The center provides services to Spanish-speaking immigrants that need help finding work and information.

At that same time, the church purchased the land just to the west of its campus and continued expanding, adding classrooms and office space, and freeing up more room for Mudd and her work.

That time and influx of new parishioners forever changed the face of the Annunciation.

"Mass in Spanish is now consistently our largest mass. And there are a lot of young people at that mass. I'm only 41, and I'm one of the old ones," Bowling said jokingly. "Adding that large group of people has really changed the face of who we are. We have grown tremendously."

Another big addition came just about three years ago.

Again bursting at the seams, the church purchased the building that used to house Electric City, on the west side of 2nd Street.

"With a lot of volunteer labor and gifts, we got classrooms, a youth room and some storage and meeting areas," Bowling said.

The church has grown quickly.

"In the 1960s and 1970s we had about eighty to one hundred families, now we have about eight hundred families," Bowling said.

But despite the expansion and the increase of the Hispanic population, Long said the change has been simple.

"There have been a lot of changes with the size of the church, but the biggest change is I used to know everybody there - who they were, their kids were, where they lived and what they did," he laughed.

Celebrating 150 years   Today

The unofficial celebration begins with setting up the historical display in the community center, which will include a video history along with photos and old articles.

7 p.m., the Church has dedicated the Holy Hour to pray for the weekend's festivities


11 a.m.: Mass on the Feast of the Holy Angels, lunch will follow mass in the community center

5:30 p.m.: Mass with Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, with a reception following


Mass at 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., with a reception and historic display following each one

2 p.m., Festivities and a closing of the anniversary time capsule