IRELAND, Ind. (WFIE) - Early Thursday morning, the bells at St. Mary’s Catholic Church rang for the last time in their original tower as the old building began being demolished.
For Father John Erbacher, it’s one of his last gifts to the people of Ireland before his planned retirement next year.
“I get emotional about that when that is said,” Erbacher told 14 News.
He stressed that it was a collaborative effort. Erbacher expressed gratitude to Bishops Charles Thompson and Joseph Siegel, as well as LAN Construction, LLC and all of his congregation for helping make it all happen.
Plans to rebuild date back to 1972 when he first entered the clergy.
“Even at that time they were saying, ‘Hey Joe, just think, they’re going to build that new church in Ireland, maybe you’ll get the chance to do that,’” Erbacher said. “Lord Behold, I never in a million years thought I’d get the opportunity.”
Nearly 50 years later, a new church has been built since last June, and the old one began its demolition.
The building stood for 117 years, and it’s been home to generations of parishioners like Martha Schmidt, who was married in the church in 1987.
“It’s our life,” Schmidt said. “We have four sons and they all were baptized here, made their first communion, confirmed - so many good memories.”
Some of the nearly 1000 families who attend St. Mary’s gathered to watch as the historic building began to fall.
“We’re so excited about the new church,” Schmidt said. “It’s beautiful, we love it and everything, but it’s still hard to say goodbye to the old.”
The new building borrows decorations and design inspiration from the old church to respect the past.
The improved church is three times the size of the original.
“As the parish grows and grows, it’s a great testimony to the faith of the people,” Erbacher said.
For parishioners on Thursday, the biggest testimony was being together to see it through.