A parish of the Diocese of Owensboro located in Whitesville, Kentucky

Parish History

 

     The important details surrounding the beginnings of Saint Mary of the Woods Parish are lost with the sands of time. However, there are some references to the fact that Father Elias Durbin and Father Charles Nerinckz visited the area for sacramental ministry in the early 1820s. Father Durbin baptized William Lanham on July 3, 1825, probably at the Lanham home in the Deserter Creek settlement to the south of present-day Whitesville. Mass was offered in the home of Thomas Clark Hagan during this early period. This area later became known as Hagan’s Station.

     In 1833, Father John C. Wathen was appointed first pastor of Saint Lawrence and tended the faith community at Hagan’s Station as his mission. Father Walter Coomes became pastor in 1841 and served until 1848, with the assistance of Fathers Linus Coomes and A.A. Aud. In 1845, Richard W. Barrett donated an acre and five poles of land upon which was built a 30 X 46-foot log church, with a 14 X 20-foot addition on the back to serve as a sacristy. The name Saint Mary of the Woods was given to this new church.

     Bishop Martin John Spalding administered the Sacrament of Confirmation, in 1849, at Saint Mary, where Father Michael Coghlan was then pastor of 163 parishioners. The names of this early community include some that are still common to the area. Father Coughlan directed the parish in building a frame structure, to serve as a church building, in 1862. This building was later moved from the hilltop in the current cemetery to Whitesville, where it was used as a school building from 1886-1918.

     Father Charles Eggermont served as pastor from 1872-78 when Saint Mary became an independent parish. Father Kyran W. King became the first resident pastor, in 1878, and soon began work on the “new” brick church, which was dedicated on June 8, 1884. In 1879, the first parochial school was started; Mr. John Kelly was its first teacher. Father John Sheridan led the community in worship in the church from 1885-87, even though the interior was not finished until Father Lawrence Ford (1887-93) arranged for its completion. Father Ford established the mission of Saint John the Baptist in Ohio County, which grew slowly for 70 years until a parish was erected in Fordsville.

     The Father Hugh O’Sullivan era (1893-1938) saw many improvements to the parish plant; a brick kiln was built on the property and used to make fire bricks to build a rectory (1898), the stables (later used as parish offices), and a new school building, completed in 1918. This building, O’Sullivan Hall, continued to grow over the next 11 years as the school enrollment increased and more classroom space was required. Bricks from the brick yard were sold to help pay for improvements at the parish; many buildings in Daviess and Ohio Counties can boast of having Whitesville bricks in them.

     O’Sullivan Hall also served as the convent for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth who worked in the parish from 1901-90. Other religious orders serving the community were the Franciscan Sisters (late 1880s), the Mount Saint Joseph Ursuline Sisters (1867-89), and the Benedictine Sisters (late 1980s), from Ferdinand, Indiana.     

     The parish rejoiced as the Diocese was established because their pastor was named Vicar General and given the dignity of Monsignor. These honors were short-lived, however, as Monsignor O’Sullivan died on July 26, 1938. Father Joseph Egan replaced him, temporarily, until Father William B. Jarboe was named pastor, serving until 1947. Fathers Frank Ward, Henry O’Bryan, and Pius Edelen worked as assistant pastors during this time. Fathers O’Bryan and Edelen continued as assistants for Father Martin Nahstoll, along with Fathers Martin Mattingly, Walter Hancock, and William J. Hagman. Father Nahstoll led the parish in erecting a new high school building (Saint Mary High School) in 1954-55. Father Benedict Huff became pastor in 1961, assisted by Fathers Hagman, David Warren, and William Field. Under Father Huff’s administration, the current grade school building was completed in 1965. Father Charles Fischer succeeded Father Huff and ushered in the establishment of Trinity High School, which serves the parishes of Eastern Daviess County: Saint Mary of the Woods, Saint William, and Saint Lawrence. Father Fischer was helped by Fathers William Field, Lewis White, Phillip Field, Phillip Thomas, Frank Roof, Jerry Riney, and Carroll Wheatly, who later taught at Trinity.

     A newly-formed booster club raised funds to build a gym, in which the first basketball game was played on November 19, 1971. It was also during this year that school boards were established for both schools, and a parish pastoral council was formed to assist in the task of leading the parish community. A dining room was added to the rectory in 1976.

      Father Charles Philip Riney assumed the duties of pastor in 1976, assisted by Fathers Carroll Wheatly, Jerry Riney, John Meredith and Raymond Goetz. On October 6, 1978, the fourth church building was blessed and dedicated. Father Stephen Dunn succeeded him, in 1983, with the help of Fathers Jerry Baker; William Hagman; Anthony Bickett; Severin Messick, O.S.B; and Larry McBride. In 1986, O’Sullivan Hall was dismantled.

     Sister Ann Legeay, S.C.N. came to work as a parish minister in 1980 and was influential in getting a senior citizen center program started in the community. Sister Terri O’Sullivan, O.S.U. worked as parish minister (1986-88) and was succeeded by Sister Brenda Engleman, O.S.B. who worked as pastoral associate (1988-90). She was followed by Sister Mary Sheila Higdon, O.S.U., who also served as Director of Religious Education. In 1989, Mr. Dan Fuller was named principal of Trinity High School; in 1990, Mr. James Boro was named first lay principal for Saint Mary of the Woods School. Father Joseph Mills came as interim pastor during the spring.

     In June 1989, Father Louis F. Piskula was named pastor, and Father Len Arcilesi came as his associate. Father William Hagman continued to be in residence, serving special duties, as needed, around the diocese. Also assisting Father Piskula were Father Richard Cash and Father Bruce McCarty.

     In 1990, the Longtrail stable was extensively renovated to accommodate the parish office and meeting rooms, and the rectory first floor was remodeled into living space for the clergy. The church roof was replaced with slate and copper flashing in 1991, and repairs were made to the rectory roof in spring of 1992. Father Richard L. Cash served as part-time associate for the parish and part-time religion teacher at Trinity High School (1990-92). Mrs. Katie Williams was named as interim principal of Trinity High School in 1991. In 1992, Mr. John Calhoun was named principal of both Trinity High School and Saint Mary of the Woods School. Father Bruce McCarty was appointed associate pastor, in 1992, with special duties to Trinity High School.
In 1994, Father Kevin Osborne was named pastor with Father William Hagman in residence. Monsignor Bernard Powers was named pastor in 1995; his assistants were Father William Hagman and Father Richard Cash. In 1994-95, a computer lab was added to the grade school.

     In 1995, The Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery moved from Owensboro to Whitesville and became neighbors to the parish. Deep in the wooded serenity of 170 acres of Whitesville Kentucky, they continue the Passionist contemplative life begun in Italy by the greatest mystic of the 18th century, St. Paul of the Cross.

     Father Richard Powers was named pastor in 1996; his associates were Fathers Maury Riney (1996), Brian Roby (1998), Mike Williams (2000), and Randy Howard (2001). Lay leadership, on parish staff, included Pat Rumage (Administrative Assistant) followed by Doris Parks (1999), Sr. Clarita Browning (Director of Religious Education- 1996), Lane Rhodes (Business Manager- 1999), Brett Ballard (Director of Music- 2000) who was followed by Ray Caluag (2003), Joe Bland (Youth Minister- 2002), and Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance-1994).

     In 1995, Mr. Steve Winkler was named principal of both Trinity High School and Saint Mary of the Woods School. Mr. Mike Clark was named principal of both Trinity High School and Saint Mary of the Woods School in 2000; a group of students from Trinity High School and the parish, under the leadership of Fathers Richard Powers and Brian Roby, visited Rome to celebrate World Youth Day 2000 for the Jubilee Year. In 2002, Dr. Don Ralph replaced Mr. Clark as principal of both schools.

     The former rectory was demolished in April 2000 to make way for the new parish center, including the parish hall and parish offices, which was built immediately afterward. The priests lived in a nearby home, provided by the Beyke family, until the new rectory was completed in February 2003. Longtrail was torn down in October 2004 to make room for more parking; the new parish offices were incorporated into the new parish hall.

     Father Pat Bittel was named pastor in 2003; his associate was Ralph Patterson (2003). Lay leadership, on parish staff, included Lane Rhodes (Business Manager), Doris Parks (Administrative Assistant), Deborah Hopkins (Director of Religious Education- 2004), Joe Bland (Youth Minister), Carol Sloan (Music Director-2005) and Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance). In 2004, Mr. Bill Hagan was named principal of both the high school and the elementary school. In 2006, Ms. Allison Brant was named principal of Saint Mary of the Woods School, and Mr. Bill Hagan retained his position as principal of the high school. During this time, a gazebo was placed between the church and the parish hall, and a prayer garden was added to the grounds, next to the Grade School. Many people donated memorial markers and statues to the garden, usually in memory of their deceased loved ones.

     In 2007, Father David Johnson was appointed pastor. Lay leadership, on parish staff, included Lane Rhodes (Business Manager), Sharon Coomes (Administrative Assistant- 2007), Joe Bland (Youth Minister), Sr. Karla Marie Kaelin, OSU (Director of Religious Education- 2008), and Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance). In late 2008, two computer labs were updated in the high school. In 2009, Sister Suzanne Sims was named principal of St. Mary of the Woods School. In 2010, Trinity High School established the Traveling Classroom, starting a tradition of taking students to other parts of the world “to walk in the footsteps of saints.” As of 2019, 86 students have participated.

      In 2011, Mrs. Connie Morgan was named principal of Trinity High School. Angels for Ashley, a fund-raising group named in honor of parishioner Ashley Johnson, established the Alumni and Friends Barbecue Cookoff. The first event took place at the fairgrounds, but soon moved to the home of Vickie and Jerry Morris. The event brings alumni together each year and is a significant source of aid for the school. In 2011, Trinity High School began celebrating Veterans Day with relatives of the students and members of the parish who had served in the military. The breakfasts started out small, in the home economics room, but were quickly moved to the parish hall, due to increased popularity and attendance. In 2017, the event incorporated both schools, included all the students, and provided patriotic songs performed by students from St. Mary of the Woods.

     In 2012, Father Gerald Baker returned to St. Mary of the Woods as pastor; his associates were Fathers Ken Geraci (2012), John Broussard (2014) and James Walling (2015). Lay leadership, on parish staff, included Lane Rhodes (Business Manager), Sharon Coomes (Administrative Assistant), Joe Bland (Youth Minister and Director of Religious Education) followed by DeeAnna Wathen (Youth Minister and Director of Religious Education- 2014), David Morris (Director of Music- 2016) and Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance). Lots of updates were made to the church and school buildings during this time. The church updates included refurbishing Church statues, a new altar and ambo, the addition of altar angels, and decorative and automated doors; the offices of the high school were repurposed, remodeled, and redecorated; the restrooms were updated; the hallway lighting was changed; and the Veterans Wall was added.

     In 2013, Mr. Ron Williams was named principal of Trinity High School.

     In 2013, the parish convocation included meetings of the parishioners to ask for input about the direction of the parish and the schools. Those meetings resulted in long-range pastoral planning. The schools hired a Director of Admissions and Development and focused on branding the school. New school logos were introduced in November 2013. One of the most significant results of the convocation was the establishment of perpetual adoration at St. Mary of the Woods Church.

     On May 21, 2014, the Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery, Whitesville, launched a Catholic Radio Station, WJOR- Jesus Our Redeemer Radio, in service to the good people of Whitesville. The hardware is housed at St. Mary of the Woods Church.

     In 2016, Fr. Brian J. Roby returned to St. Mary of the Woods and serves as the current pastor; his associates have included Father James Walling (2016), Father Michael Charles Ajigo Abiero (2017), and Father Jamie Dennis (2018). Lay leadership, on the parish staff, includes Lane Rhodes (Business Manager) followed by Seth Dant (2018), Sharon Coomes (Administrative Assistant) followed by Debbie Aud (2017), Carrie Howard (Director of Religious Education- 2016), Jessica Bennett (Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry- 2019), David Morris (Director of Music), Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance) followed by Emett Barnett (2018), and Janetta Booker (Director of the St. Mary of the Woods Horn Community Center- 2017) followed by Chris Tyson (2019).

     One of the most significant updates to the parish, during this time, was the erection of the new Horn Community Center. Trinity graduate Mike Horn offered a substantial donation to the project, and the community worked to raise the rest of the necessary funds. The prayer garden and playground equipment were moved in early 2016, and work was begun on the new gym. In February 2017, a Thanks for the Memories event was celebrated in the old gym, affectionately referred to as “The Barn.” In March 2017, the new facility opened to great fanfare. Many community members came out to celebrate the ribbon cutting, proud of the magnificent new building they helped to make possible. The playground equipment was moved to the side of St. Mary of the Woods School, where the parking lot was formerly located, and items from the prayer garden were resituated beside the church building and within the landscaping around the gazebo.

     In 2016, Mrs. Emily Hernandez became the first Saint Mary of the Woods graduate to take over as principal of Saint Mary of the Woods School.

     In May 2017, Trinity High School’s 50th graduating class celebrated their graduation in the new Saint Mary of the Woods Horn Community Center. In 2017, Mrs. Emily Hernandez became principal for both the grade school and the high school; she was a graduate from both schools. Mr. Ben Morris, also a SMW and Trinity graduate, assumed assistant principal duties.

     After a break-in in early 2018, Trinity High School and Saint Mary of the Woods School updated their security systems. Later in 2018, the flooring was updated in the church building, and new roofing was added to both schools and the rectory. Over a series of several weekends, community members came forward to volunteer their time and talent in replacing the roofs. In January 2019, volunteers came forth again to update the drainage system and sidewalk around the high school.

     Over the years, there have been various ministries, programs, and organizations, as well as countless unnamed persons who have contributed to the life and growth of this parish; The Total Abstinence Society, Knights of Columbus, Legion of Mary, Saint Vincent de Paul, Catholic Family Movement, Altar Society, Cursillo, Army of Mary, Parish Renewal Weekends, Marriage Encounters, Teens Encounter Christ, Engaged Encounters, Block Rosaries, Renew, Scripture Study, to name but a few that have offered approaches and tools for growth of segments of the parish. In February 1992, the entire parish embarked on a stewardship process, allowing the Word of God to confront the way in which we live and share our time, talent, and treasure in all aspects of our life. Today, in 2019, the parish has oversight of nearly 100 ministries with approximately 850 families committed to a life of Stewardship.

     The faith community begins to grow, through the efforts and generosity of many dedicated persons, and by the grace of God. The vision of our ancestors has sparked a flame of faith whose torch has been handed on to us who run the course of history. Our challenge is to run the race well, with the flame of faith alive in our hearts, and to pass along that burning desire to attain an everlasting place in God’s kingdom. Our prayer is that our efforts, however small and meager, may in some way bring others closer to our loving God.

 

 

Quick History Time Line

• 1833 Father John C. Wathen, pastor of St. Lawrence, serves the Whitesville area.
• 1841 Father Walter Coomes, pastor of St. Lawrence, serves the Whitesville area.
• 1843 Father Linus Coomes, pastor of St. Lawrence, serves the Whitesville area.
• 1844 Father A.A. Aud, pastor of St. Lawrence, serves the Whitesville area.
• 1846 A small log church is built at site of present cemetery.
• 1848 Father Michael Coghlan becomes pastor of St. Lawrence and mission of St. Mary.
• 1862 Father Michael Coghlan builds a second church, St. Mary Church, and moves it to Whitesville.
• 1872 Father Charles Eggermont becomes pastor of St Mary until 1878.
• 1878 Father Kyran W. King becomes the first resident pastor of St. Mary.
• 1879 The first parochial school is started. Mr. John Kelly is its first teacher.
• 1880 Father Kyran King moves pastoral residence to Whitesville, on nine acres of land.
• 1883 The third St. Mary Church is built, this one with brick walls; it is dedicated on June 8, 1884.
• 1885 Father John Sheridan becomes pastor.
• 1885 Vocations: Celestine Brey prepares for priesthood; Susan Catherine May Cain enters the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Mount Olivet.
• 1887 Father Lawrence B. Ford becomes pastor; he is responsible for decorating the interior of the brick church.
• 1890 The school closes.
• 1893 Father Lawrence B. Ford establishes the mission of St. John in Ohio County; Father Hugh O’Sullivan becomes pastor.
• 1898 Father O’Sullivan is responsible for building of the rectory.
• 1901 The school reopens under the direction of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth; high school subjects are added in 1904. From 1901 – 1963, one principal serves all grades (elementary through high school). Sister Maria Pike serves as principal from 1901 – 1917.
• 1917 Sister Margaret Frances Duke serves as principal until taking ill in April 1918.
• 1918 The new school is built. Sister Mary Constantia Deitrich becomes principal.
• 1919 Sister Joseph Mary McDonough becomes principal.
• 1923 Sister Vincent Blandford becomes principal.
• 1928 An east wing is added to the school building.
• 1929 Sister Mary Cecelia Nally becomes principal.
• 1935 Sister Mary Redempta Adkins becomes principal.
• 1936 Sister Raymunda Rufra becomes principal.
• 1938 Pastor and first Vicar-General of the Diocese of Owensboro, Father Hugh O’Sullivan, dies in July; Father Joseph Egan is appointed temporary pastor for two months; Father William B. Jarboe becomes pastor; his assistant pastors are Father Frank Ward (1940), Father Henry P. O’Bryan (1941), and Father Pius Edelen (1944). Sister Juliana Saunders becomes principal.
• 1944 Sister Helen Frances Sheeran becomes principal.
• 1947 Father Martin Nahstoll becomes pastor; his assistant pastors are Father Pius Edelen (until death), Father Henry P. O’Bryan (1949), Father Martin Mattingly (1950), Father Walter Hancock (1952), and Father William Hagman (1959).
• 1948 Sister Mary Isidore Nagel becomes principal.
• 1951 Sister Mary Rita Knight becomes principal.
• 1954 St. Mary High School building is built.
• 1957 Sister Walter Ann Kane becomes principal.
• 1960 Sister Albert Mary Durbin becomes principal.
• 1961 Father Benedict Huff becomes pastor; his assistant pastors are Father William Hagman (1959), Father David Warren (1962), and Father William Field (1965).
• 1963 An addition is added to the high school building; Sister Robert Mary Roberts becomes principal of St. Mary High School. Sister Rose Mary McAvoy becomes principal of St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 1964 New elementary school is built; it holds 14 classrooms.
• 1966 Sister Thomas Veronica Hill becomes principal.
• 1967 Father Charles G. Fisher becomes pastor; his assistants were Father William Field (until 1967), Father Carroll Lewis White (until 1968 when he is killed in an auto accident), Father Philip Field (1968), Father Philip Thomas (1969), Father Frank Roof (1973), Father Carroll Wheatley (1975), and Father Jerry Riney (1975). Sister John Bosco Carroll serves as principal from August through November. Sister Agnes Teresa French serves as principal from November through May 1968. The Sisters of Nazareth withdraw from St. Mary High School. In May, Saint Mary High School closes. St. Mary High School becomes Trinity High School when merged with high schools from Knottsville.
• 1968 Sister Robert Miriam Harrington becomes principal of St. Mary of the Woods School. (She changes her name, in 1969, to Sister Agnes Harrington.)
• 1969 Sister Lenorra becomes principal of Trinity High School.
• 1970 The Booster Club is established.
• 1971 The gym is built. The Parish Council is established on August 27; St. Mary of the Woods School Board is established on September 20. Mr. Virgil Sublett becomes principal of Trinity High School. Sister Mary Zita Henkel becomes principal of St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 1972 The first Eucharistic Ministers are commissioned on August 20.
• 1974 Mr. James Hurm becomes principal of Trinity High School.
• 1976 Father Charles Philip Riney becomes pastor; his assistants are Father Carroll Wheatley (1975) and Father Jerry Riney (1975); Father John Meredith (1980) and Father Raymond Goetz (1981). Sister Rita Spalding becomes principal of St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 1977 Mr. James Delehunt becomes principal of Trinity High School.
• 1978 The new St. Mary of the Woods Church is built.
• 1981 Mrs. Katie Williams becomes principal of Trinity High School.
• 1982 Mr. Chris Cameron becomes principal of Trinity High School. Sister Anita Hayden becomes principal of St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 1983 Father L. Stephen Dunn becomes pastor; his assistants are Father Anthony Bittel (1983), Father Severin Messick (1983), Father William Hagman (1985), Father Gerald Baker (1985), and Father Larry McBride (1987).
• 1985 Sister Stephanie Warren becomes principal of Trinity High School.
• 1986 The school that had been built in 1918, called the O’Sullivan Building, is dismantled.
• 1989 Father Louis Piskula becomes pastor; his assistants are Father William Hagman (1989) and Father Len Arcilesi (1989); Father Richard Cash (1990) and Father Bruce McCarty (1992). Mr. Dan Fuller becomes principal of Trinity High School.
• 1990 The Longtrail Building is extensively remodeled (by Fathers Len Arcilesi and Father Piskula) for parish offices and meeting rooms. The first floor of the rectory is also remodeled. Mr. James Boro becomes the first lay principal for Saint Mary of the Woods School.
• 1991 The copper roof is installed on the church building; Father Richard Cash works as part time associate and part time Trinity High School pastor. Mrs. Katie Williams becomes principal of Trinity High School.
• 1992 The rectory roof is reworked with slate and copper flashing. Mr. John Calhoun becomes principal of both Trinity High School and St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 1994 Father Kevin Osborne becomes pastor; his assistants are Father Bruce McCarty (1992) and Father William Hagman (1993).
• 1995 Monsignor Bernard Powers becomes pastor; his assistants are Father William Hagman (1993), and Father Richard Cash (1995). Mr. Steve Winkler becomes principal of both Trinity High School and St. Mary of the Woods School; Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery moved from Owensboro to Whitesville.
• 1996 Father Richard Powers becomes pastor; his assistants are Father Maury Riney (1996), Father Brian Roby (1998), Father Mike Williams (2000), and Father Randy Howard (2001).
• 2000 Mr. Mike Clark becomes principal of both Trinity High School and St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 2002 Dr. Don Ralph becomes principal of both Trinity High School and St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 2003 Father Pat Bittel becomes pastor; his assistant is Father Ralph Patterson (2003).
• 2004 Mr. Bill Hagan becomes principal of both Trinity High School and St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 2006 Ms. Allison Brant becomes principal of St. Mary of the Woods School; Mr. Bill Hagan remains as principal of Trinity High School.
• 2007 Father David Johnson becomes pastor.
• 2009 Sr. Suzanne Sims becomes principal of St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 2010 The Traveling Classroom begins.
• 2011 The Trinity High School Alumni & Friends Barbecue Cookoff begins its annual event. Mrs. Connie Morgan becomes principal of Trinity High School.
• 2012 Father Gerald Baker becomes pastor; his assistants are Father Ken Geraci (2012), Father John Broussard (2015), and Father James Walling (2016).
• 2013 Mr. Ron Williams becomes principal of Trinity High School; Perpetual Adoration is established at St. Mary of the Woods Church.
• 2014 Passionist Nuns launch Catholic Radio Station WJOR.
• 2016 Father Brian J. Roby becomes pastor; his assistants are Father James Walling (2016), Father Michael Charles Ajigo Abiero (2017), and Father Jamie Dennis (2018). Playground is moved to the side of the grade school; prayer garden is dismantled; ground is broken on the SMW Horn Community Center. Mrs. Emily Hernandez becomes principal of St. Mary of the Woods School. In March, work begins on the Horn Community Center.
• 2017 In February, Thanks for the Memories celebration takes place at The Barn. In March, the Horn Community Center is blessed and dedicated. Prayer garden is relocated to beside the church. Fiftieth class graduates from Trinity High School. Mrs. Emily Hernandez becomes principal of both Trinity High School and St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 2018 State-of-the-art security systems are added to both schools. Roofing is replaced on both schools and the rectory. Flooring is updated in the church. Mr. Ben Morris is named principal of Trinity High School; Mrs. Emily Hernandez remains as principal of St. Mary of the Woods School. In November, Mrs. Emily Hernandez and Mr. Ben Morris are named principal and assistant principal of both Trinity High School and St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 2019 Drainage system is updated at Trinity High School. St. Mary Gym received a new roof. Mrs. Jill Payne and Mr. Nathan West are named Assistant Principals to Trinity High School and St. Mary of the Woods School.
• 2020 The 175th Anniversary of the parish is celebrated on August, 16, 2020 with a weekend of festivity culminating in the celebration of the Holy Mass at the St. Mary of the Woods Horn Community Center, presided over by Most Rev. William F. Medley, the Fourth Bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, followed by a barbeque meal.

(Information from 1946 – 1992 was compiled by Father Len Arcilesi, October 18, 1992. Information from 1992-2018 was compiled and incorporated into Father Arcilesi’s document (with corrections) by Christina Rhodes, March 3, 2019 and Fr. Brian J. Roby, June 25, 2019.)

 

Parish History

The important details surrounding the beginnings of Saint Mary of the Woods Parish are lost with the sands of time. However, there are some references to the fact that Father Elias Durbin and Father Charles Nerinckz visited the area for sacramental ministry in the early 1820s. Father Durbin baptized William Lanham on July 3, 1825, probably at the Lanham home in the Deserter Creek settlement to the south of present-day Whitesville. Mass was offered in the home of Thomas Clark Hagan during this early period. This area later became known as Hagan’s Station.
In 1833, Father John C. Wathen was appointed first pastor of Saint Lawrence and tended the faith community at Hagan’s Station as his mission. Father Walter Coomes became pastor in 1841 and served until 1848, with the assistance of Fathers Linus Coomes and A.A. Aud. In 1845, Richard W. Barrett donated an acre and five poles of land upon which was built a 30 X 46-foot log church, with a 14 X 20-foot addition on the back to serve as a sacristy. The name Saint Mary of the Woods was given to this new church.
Bishop Martin John Spalding administered the Sacrament of Confirmation, in 1849, at Saint Mary, where Father Michael Coghlan was then pastor of 163 parishioners. The names of this early community include some that are still common to the area. Father Coughlan directed the parish in building a frame structure, to serve as a church building, in 1862. This building was later moved from the hilltop in the current cemetery to Whitesville, where it was used as a school building from 1886-1918.
Father Charles Eggermont served as pastor from 1872-78 when Saint Mary became an independent parish. Father Kyran W. King became the first resident pastor, in 1878, and soon began work on the “new” brick church, which was dedicated on June 8, 1884. In 1879, the first parochial school was started; Mr. John Kelly was its first teacher. Father John Sheridan led the community in worship in the church from 1885-87, even though the interior was not finished until Father Lawrence Ford (1887-93) arranged for its completion. Father Ford established the mission of Saint John the Baptist in Ohio County, which grew slowly for 70 years until a parish was erected in Fordsville.
The Father Hugh O’Sullivan era (1893-1938) saw many improvements to the parish plant; a brick kiln was built on the property and used to make fire bricks to build a rectory (1898), the stables (later used as parish offices), and a new school building, completed in 1918. This building, O’Sullivan Hall, continued to grow over the next 11 years as the school enrollment increased and more classroom space was required. Bricks from the brick yard were sold to help pay for improvements at the parish; many buildings in Daviess and Ohio Counties can boast of having Whitesville bricks in them.
O’Sullivan Hall also served as the convent for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth who worked in the parish from 1901-90. Other religious orders serving the community were the Franciscan Sisters (late 1880s), the Mount Saint Joseph Ursuline Sisters (1867-89), and the Benedictine Sisters (late 1980s), from Ferdinand, Indiana.
The parish rejoiced as the Diocese was established because their pastor was named Vicar General and given the dignity of Monsignor. These honors were short-lived, however, as Monsignor O’Sullivan died on July 26, 1938. Father Joseph Egan replaced him, temporarily, until Father William B. Jarboe was named pastor, serving until 1947. Fathers Frank Ward, Henry O’Bryan, and Pius Edelen worked as assistant pastors during this time. Fathers O’Bryan and Edelen continued as assistants for Father Martin Nahstoll, along with Fathers Martin Mattingly, Walter Hancock, and William J. Hagman. Father Nahstoll led the parish in erecting a new high school building (Saint Mary High School) in 1954-55. Father Benedict Huff became pastor in 1961, assisted by Fathers Hagman, David Warren, and William Field. Under Father Huff’s administration, the current grade school building was completed in 1965. Father Charles Fischer succeeded Father Huff and ushered in the establishment of Trinity High School, which serves the parishes of Eastern Daviess County: Saint Mary of the Woods, Saint William, and Saint Lawrence. Father Fischer was helped by Fathers William Field, Lewis White, Phillip Field, Phillip Thomas, Frank Roof, Jerry Riney, and Carroll Wheatly, who later taught at Trinity.
A newly-formed booster club raised funds to build a gym, in which the first basketball game was played on November 19, 1971. It was also during this year that school boards were established for both schools, and a parish pastoral council was formed to assist in the task of leading the parish community. A dining room was added to the rectory in 1976.
Father Charles Philip Riney assumed the duties of pastor in 1976, assisted by Fathers Carroll Wheatly, Jerry Riney, John Meredith and Raymond Goetz. On October 6, 1978, the fourth church building was blessed and dedicated. Father Stephen Dunn succeeded him, in 1983, with the help of Fathers Jerry Baker; William Hagman; Anthony Bickett; Severin Messick, O.S.B; and Larry McBride. In 1986, O’Sullivan Hall was dismantled.
Sister Ann Legeay, S.C.N. came to work as a parish minister in 1980 and was influential in getting a senior citizen center program started in the community. Sister Terri O’Sullivan, O.S.U. worked as parish minister (1986-88) and was succeeded by Sister Brenda Engleman, O.S.B. who worked as pastoral associate (1988-90). She was followed by Sister Mary Sheila Higdon, O.S.U., who also served as Director of Religious Education. In 1989, Mr. Dan Fuller was named principal of Trinity High School; in 1990, Mr. James Boro was named first lay principal for Saint Mary of the Woods School. Father Joseph Mills came as interim pastor during the spring.
In June 1989, Father Louis F. Piskula was named pastor, and Father Len Arcilesi came as his associate. Father William Hagman continued to be in residence, serving special duties, as needed, around the diocese. Also assisting Father Piskula were Father Richard Cash and Father Bruce McCarty.
In 1990, the Longtrail stable was extensively renovated to accommodate the parish office and meeting rooms, and the rectory first floor was remodeled into living space for the clergy. The church roof was replaced with slate and copper flashing in 1991, and repairs were made to the rectory roof in spring of 1992. Father Richard L. Cash served as part-time associate for the parish and part-time religion teacher at Trinity High School (1990-92). Mrs. Katie Williams was named as interim principal of Trinity High School in 1991. In 1992, Mr. John Calhoun was named principal of both Trinity High School and Saint Mary of the Woods School. Father Bruce McCarty was appointed associate pastor, in 1992, with special duties to Trinity High School.
In 1994, Father Kevin Osborne was named pastor with Father William Hagman in residence. Monsignor Bernard Powers was named pastor in 1995; his assistants were Father William Hagman and Father Richard Cash. In 1994-95, a computer lab was added to the grade school.
In 1995, The Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery moved from Owensboro to Whitesville and became neighbors to the parish. Deep in the wooded serenity of 170 acres of Whitesville Kentucky, they continue the Passionist contemplative life begun in Italy by the greatest mystic of the 18th century, St. Paul of the Cross.
Father Richard Powers was named pastor in 1996; his associates were Fathers Maury Riney (1996), Brian Roby (1998), Mike Williams (2000), and Randy Howard (2001). Lay leadership, on parish staff, included Pat Rumage (Administrative Assistant) followed by Doris Parks (1999), Sr. Clarita Browning (Director of Religious Education- 1996), Lane Rhodes (Business Manager- 1999), Brett Ballard (Director of Music- 2000) who was followed by Ray Caluag (2003), Joe Bland (Youth Minister- 2002), and Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance-1994).
In 1995, Mr. Steve Winkler was named principal of both Trinity High School and Saint Mary of the Woods School. Mr. Mike Clark was named principal of both Trinity High School and Saint Mary of the Woods School in 2000; a group of students from Trinity High School and the parish, under the leadership of Fathers Richard Powers and Brian Roby, visited Rome to celebrate World Youth Day 2000 for the Jubilee Year. In 2002, Dr. Don Ralph replaced Mr. Clark as principal of both schools.
The former rectory was demolished in April 2000 to make way for the new parish center, including the parish hall and parish offices, which was built immediately afterward. The priests lived in a nearby home, provided by the Beyke family, until the new rectory was completed in February 2003. Longtrail was torn down in October 2004 to make room for more parking; the new parish offices were incorporated into the new parish hall.
Father Pat Bittel was named pastor in 2003; his associate was Ralph Patterson (2003). Lay leadership, on parish staff, included Lane Rhodes (Business Manager), Doris Parks (Administrative Assistant), Deborah Hopkins (Director of Religious Education- 2004), Joe Bland (Youth Minister), Carol Sloan (Music Director-2005) and Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance). In 2004, Mr. Bill Hagan was named principal of both the high school and the elementary school. In 2006, Ms. Allison Brant was named principal of Saint Mary of the Woods School, and Mr. Bill Hagan retained his position as principal of the high school. During this time, a gazebo was placed between the church and the parish hall, and a prayer garden was added to the grounds, next to the Grade School. Many people donated memorial markers and statues to the garden, usually in memory of their deceased loved ones.
In 2007, Father David Johnson was appointed pastor. Lay leadership, on parish staff, included Lane Rhodes (Business Manager), Sharon Coomes (Administrative Assistant- 2007), Joe Bland (Youth Minister), Sr. Karla Marie Kaelin, OSU (Director of Religious Education- 2008), and Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance). In late 2008, two computer labs were updated in the high school. In 2009, Sister Suzanne Sims was named principal of St. Mary of the Woods School. In 2010, Trinity High School established the Traveling Classroom, starting a tradition of taking students to other parts of the world “to walk in the footsteps of saints.” As of 2019, 86 students have participated.
In 2011, Mrs. Connie Morgan was named principal of Trinity High School. Angels for Ashley, a fund-raising group named in honor of parishioner Ashley Johnson, established the Alumni and Friends Barbecue Cookoff. The first event took place at the fairgrounds, but soon moved to the home of Vickie and Jerry Morris. The event brings alumni together each year and is a significant source of aid for the school. In 2011, Trinity High School began celebrating Veterans Day with relatives of the students and members of the parish who had served in the military. The breakfasts started out small, in the home economics room, but were quickly moved to the parish hall, due to increased popularity and attendance. In 2017, the event incorporated both schools, included all the students, and provided patriotic songs performed by students from St. Mary of the Woods.
In 2012, Father Gerald Baker returned to St. Mary of the Woods as pastor; his associates were Fathers Ken Geraci (2012), John Broussard (2014) and James Walling (2015). Lay leadership, on parish staff, included Lane Rhodes (Business Manager), Sharon Coomes (Administrative Assistant), Joe Bland (Youth Minister and Director of Religious Education) followed by DeeAnna Wathen (Youth Minister and Director of Religious Education- 2014), David Morris (Director of Music- 2016) and Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance). Lots of updates were made to the church and school buildings during this time. The church updates included refurbishing Church statues, a new altar and ambo, the addition of altar angels, and decorative and automated doors; the offices of the high school were repurposed, remodeled, and redecorated; the restrooms were updated; the hallway lighting was changed; and the Veterans Wall was added.
In 2013, Mr. Ron Williams was named principal of Trinity High School.
In 2013, the parish convocation included meetings of the parishioners to ask for input about the direction of the parish and the schools. Those meetings resulted in long-range pastoral planning. The schools hired a Director of Admissions and Development and focused on branding the school. New school logos were introduced in November 2013. One of the most significant results of the convocation was the establishment of perpetual adoration at St. Mary of the Woods Church.
On May 21, 2014, the Passionist Nuns of St. Joseph Monastery, Whitesville, launched a Catholic Radio Station, WJOR- Jesus Our Redeemer Radio, in service to the good people of Whitesville. The hardware is housed at St. Mary of the Woods Church.
In 2016, Fr. Brian J. Roby returned to St. Mary of the Woods and serves as the current pastor; his associates have included Father James Walling (2016), Father Michael Charles Ajigo Abiero (2017), and Father Jamie Dennis (2018). Lay leadership, on the parish staff, includes Lane Rhodes (Business Manager) followed by Seth Dant (2018), Sharon Coomes (Administrative Assistant) followed by Debbie Aud (2017), Carrie Howard (Director of Religious Education- 2016), Jessica Bennett (Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry- 2019), David Morris (Director of Music), Chris Bickwermert (Director of Maintenance) followed by Emett Barnett (2018), and Janetta Booker (Director of the St. Mary of the Woods Horn Community Center- 2017) followed by Chris Tyson (2019).
One of the most significant updates to the parish, during this time, was the erection of the new Horn Community Center. Trinity graduate Mike Horn offered a substantial donation to the project, and the community worked to raise the rest of the necessary funds. The prayer garden and playground equipment were moved in early 2016, and work was begun on the new gym. In February 2017, a Thanks for the Memories event was celebrated in the old gym, affectionately referred to as “The Barn.” In March 2017, the new facility opened to great fanfare. Many community members came out to celebrate the ribbon cutting, proud of the magnificent new building they helped to make possible. The playground equipment was moved to the side of St. Mary of the Woods School, where the parking lot was formerly located, and items from the prayer garden were resituated beside the church building and within the landscaping around the gazebo.
In 2016, Mrs. Emily Hernandez became the first Saint Mary of the Woods graduate to take over as principal of Saint Mary of the Woods School.
In May 2017, Trinity High School’s 50th graduating class celebrated their graduation in the new Saint Mary of the Woods Horn Community Center. In 2017, Mrs. Emily Hernandez became principal for both the grade school and the high school; she was a graduate from both schools. Mr. Ben Morris, also a SMW and Trinity graduate, assumed assistant principal duties.
After a break-in in early 2018, Trinity High School and Saint Mary of the Woods School updated their security systems. Later in 2018, the flooring was updated in the church building, and new roofing was added to both schools and the rectory. Over a series of several weekends, community members came forward to volunteer their time and talent in replacing the roofs. In January 2019, volunteers came forth again to update the drainage system and sidewalk around the high school.
Over the years, there have been various ministries, programs, and organizations, as well as countless unnamed persons who have contributed to the life and growth of this parish; The Total Abstinence Society, Knights of Columbus, Legion of Mary, Saint Vincent de Paul, Catholic Family Movement, Altar Society, Cursillo, Army of Mary, Parish Renewal Weekends, Marriage Encounters, Teens Encounter Christ, Engaged Encounters, Block Rosaries, Renew, Scripture Study, to name but a few that have offered approaches and tools for growth of segments of the parish. In February 1992, the entire parish embarked on a stewardship process, allowing the Word of God to confront the way in which we live and share our time, talent, and treasure in all aspects of our life. Today, in 2019, the parish has oversight of nearly 100 ministries with approximately 850 families committed to a life of Stewardship.
The faith community begins to grow, through the efforts and generosity of many dedicated persons, and by the grace of God. The vision of our ancestors has sparked a flame of faith whose torch has been handed on to us who run the course of history. Our challenge is to run the race well, with the flame of faith alive in our hearts, and to pass along that burning desire to attain an everlasting place in God’s kingdom. Our prayer is that our efforts, however small and meager, may in some way bring others closer to our loving God.