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St. Michael's celebrates 225 years

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By Kacie Goode

As Archbishop Joseph Kurtz addressed the congregation Sunday morning, he spoke a little about family dinners.

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“When we eat a meal together, good things happen in your family and those around you,” he told the guests. Being faithful to one’s family, faithfully attending church and taking an interest in one another through Christ were ways he asked the parishioners to celebrate the 225th anniversary of St. Michael the Archangel Church in Fairfield.

“It’s a glorious history that St. Michael’s parish has,” he said.

Kurtz was one of several guests attending St. Michael Sunday for the anniversary service. Joining him in leading the service were The Rev. John R. Johnson, pastor of St. Michael, former pastor Bill Hammer, who helped in the church’s restoration a few years back, Deacon Carl A. Fahringer and Father C. Joseph Batcheldor, who has ties to the church’s start. Archivists from the Sisters of Loretto were also in attendance Sunday, among many others.

Taking up several front-row pews during the service were members of Simpson family.  

“My ancestors were among the founding parishioners of St. Michael’s back in 1792,” said Gilly Simpson, who has served as the director of religious education at the church for more than 20 years. Simpson’s children are tenth generation in the parish, and he has also published a book on the church’s history. “From our family’s perspective it is a rich history that we are very proud of.”

St. Michael’s was established in 1792 and is the third oldest Catholic parish west of the Allegheny Mountains. Originally set where the existing cemetery property is located, the church moved to its current location in 1831 on land donated by the Henry McKenna family.

For years, the parish continues to offer a unique history within the Fairfield community. In 2010 during a renovation of the church, a letter from 1902 was discovered tucked inside the altar. The letter included a prayer and was signed by Sallie Pitt, the mother of Monsignor Felix Newton Pitt, a prominent figure in Archdiocese history.

The parish was a start of vocation not only for Pitt, but for many others including the founder of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Mother Catherine Spalding, and Richard Miles, the first bishop in Tennessee.

Following Sunday’s service, guests traveled over to the dining hall for a celebratory luncheon. There, Sen. Jimmy Higdon awarded the parish a proclamation to commemorate the anniversary.

As guests then enjoyed their meal, some flipped through albums of old photographs while others mingled with their families, friends, and community members.

As he waited for the meal to start with his family, Edward E. Hord shook hands, hugged and caught up with a few of his former patients.

Soon to be 94, Dr. Hord, originally from New Albany, Indiana, has been attending St. Michael’s since 1956 when he opened at dental practice in Bloomfield. He’s known many of the parishioners for years professionally and personally.

“It’s one of the nicest things that’s ever happened to me,” he said of connecting with the church.

Over the years, Hord has seen the faces of the church change, but he’s remained a part of it. Recovering from a fall, Dr. Hord was excited to be in good shape and spirits to take part in the special Sunday service.

“To me, it’s miraculous,” he said of the church’s anniversary. “I’m proud of St. Michael’s. They’ve always been nice to me.”

The celebration lasted a few hours, bringing in both longtime church members and first-time visitors. While this particular milestone concludes, the parish is looking forward to many more.

“Dear friends let us celebrate today that gift of 225 years, both the ones that just ended and the 225 years that are about to begin,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

St. Michael’s is located at 111 Church St., just off the main street in Fairfield.

 

Additional information on the church, as provided by Simpson's book, "Pioneer of Faith" :

  • established the same year that Kentucky became a state.
  • the name St. Michael’s did not come along until 1806.  Before that, it was known as the Cox’s Creek settlement and Gardiner’s Station.
  • the church moved to its current location in 1831  
  • on land donated by the Henry McKenna family.  McKenna was a bourbon maker,and Henry McKenna bourbon is still made today.  He is buried in the parish cemetery under the tall obelisk, surrounded by family members.
  • the oldest intact tombstone in the cemetery belongs to Francis Coomes.  Mr. Coomes was a Revolutionary War veteran and  
  • was born in 1726.
  • St. Michael’s first priest, Stephen Badin, was also the first priest ordained in the United States.
  • the first resident pastor at St Michael’s, Guy Ignatius Chabrat, would later become a bishop.
  • the parish was called by one historian “the cradle of religious vocations in Kentucky,” and that several dozen  
  • religious vocations were borne of St Michael’s parishioners.
  • four of the pastors would eventually become bishops.
  • one of the original settlers of the parish, Grace Newton Simpson, was called by historian Benedict Webb “one of the most  
  • extraordinary Catholic women of her day in all America.”
  • there are still four natives of the parish serving the  Lord.  Sister Grace Simpson and Sister Mimi Ballard are Ursuline Sisters of  
  • Mount Saint Joseph, Sister Karen Hall is a Carmelite, and Father Malachy (Ivan Flaherty during his youth at St. Michael’s) is a Trappist monk.