St. Paul History

By the fall of 1858, there were reported to have been 25 Catholic households with around 90 residents professing the Catholic faith in Tell City.  Tradition has it Father Isidore Hobi, OSB did much to encourage this small community of Catholics, whose numbers were tabulated by Mrs. Innocentia Hoppel and Mrs. Anna Striewe, under the direction of Father Michael Marendt, pastor at Cannelton.  At the time, there was considerable Anti-catholic sentiment in the area due to the activity of the Know-Nothing Party. This 1850’s political movement was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Irish Catholic immigrants.  As a consequence, data was collected with caution and no small degree of physical difficulty.  In the end, it was determined that there was a need to establish a church in Tell City.

 In the fall of 1858, construction was begun on a frame structure 20 feet by 50 feet located on the East side of Eighth Street in the 1000 block between Schiller and Tell streets, near the future location of the old Swiss Theater. At a total cost of $900 for the lot and building, by the spring of 1859, the Catholics of Tell City had a modest home for their worship. Though little is known about the appearance of this early church, in recognition of the Swiss heritage of the community and it’s patron, it was decided to name the church St. William.  It is generally accepted that when Bishop Maurice de St. Palais arrived from Vincennes for the dedication, he suggested the church be named for St. Paul, Apostle to the heathens.  His reasons have been reportedly linked to “members” who were grubbing out stumps on a Sunday rather than attending service and not following the Lords advice, “seek ye first the Kingdom of God”.  Another source reports that the small church was dedicated on January 29, 1860, by Rev. John Chrysosotom Hoffa, OSB as representative of Bishop St. Palais.

The first resident pastor for St. Paul was Rev. Ferdinand Eberhard Hundt. Born in Germany in 1837, he was ordained in 1863 with his first charge being St. Paul.  As there was no rectory for the young parish, he lived in a rented dwelling on 6th street near Franklin.  Fr. Hundt was at St. Paul from May until December of 1863.  From January 1864 until 1867, St. Paul was again served by the Fathers from St. Meinrad. 

Fr. James Michael, who was born in Vincennes on February 18, 1832, was the second resident pastor at St. Paul. During his term plans for a new church were advanced. The old frame church was sold for $425 to Fred Rank. The local paper reported in May of 1874, that Mr. Rank had removed the steeple from his building, which would lead one to believe that the old frame catholic church had a steeple.  The building burned later that year. 

 In 1870, construction began on a large brick church located on the East side of the 800 block of Eighth Street. That year the foundation was built and the corner stone laid by Rev. P. Bede O’Conner, the Vicar General of the diocese.  In 1873 with the church under roof, work stopped.  There were only doors, windows, benches and a primitive altar. Worship by the 70 family congregation continued in these conditions until the arrival of Father Edward Faller who was born in Alsace, Germany on January 3, 1824.

Father Faller arrived in May 1877 and set about completing what would become a Tell City landmark for nearly half of a century. Using the limited resources of the parish and portions of his own wealth, he plastered the interior of the church, finished the towers and topped them with spires. The arched Byzantine styled church was 114 feet by 48 feet, with an interior height of 40 feet.  The spires soared to the majestic height of 134 feet causing some to fear they might endanger neighboring dwellings. But a capable architect framed them in such a way that they stood the test of time. The total cost of the building itself was $16,672.  The south tower became home to the town clock being procured at a cost of $700 (or $500 by another account). The interior of the church was further appointed with the Way of the Cross at a cost of $40, three new bells (the bells were named St. Paul, St. Mary, and St. Joseph. They continue to serve the parish today.) costing $567, and a new main alter with a price of $1,164.

During Fr. Faller’s tenure, the parish also purchased additional land and constructed the first permanent school.  In 1878 two brick buildings were constructed on either side of the newly completed church.  On the South side was a rectory with a nearly identical 50 by 25 feet building to serve as a school located on the North. The new school was entrusted to the care of Franciscan Sisters from Oldenburg, Indiana. In the late 1880’s, the Franciscan Sisters were replaced by Benedictine Sisters from Ferdinand. The original two room school housed 95 children. 

Following Father Faller, Father James Hilbert served at St. Paul’s from November of 1882 until February, 1884.  St. Paul’s next priest was Father John Wernich.  During his term the parish acquired 12 lots from Gertrude and Philip Becker on January 8, 1887.  These and additional lots acquired from Theresa and Gibson Hubbs on April 11, 1887, from E. Anna Bornschein on April 11, 1889 and from Anton and Margaret Rudolph on October 16, 1912 became the beginning of St. Mary Cemetery. Until this time, St. Paul parishioners were buried in the city cemetery (later Greenwood) or other local cemeteries. Several bodies were disinterred for reburial in St. Mary Cemetery.

The next rector at St. Paul was Rev. William Kemper, who served from October 4, 1888, until his death on April 7, 1891. 

The first pastor of St. Paul to have been ordained at St.Meinrad was the Rev. Simon Barber, OSB.  Having been ordained a priest on May 30, 1885, he came to St. Paul in June 1891 and remained until August 1, 1896.

During these early days of St. Paul’s parish, the congregation worked hard to participate in the liturgy and Divine services.  For Corpus Christi the children and adults would weave together garlands of leaves and flowers to be carried in public procession throughout the town.  Three improvised Altars were erected.  The priest would carry the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance under a canopy carried by four men.  The congregation and town folk followed with hymns and prayers and a blessing was given to the crowd at each altar.

Father Barber was followed by the Rev. William Seibertz who was the next priest to lead St. Paul.  As the parish continued to grow, now numbering 200 families, additional rooms were added to the old school. Father observed that the parish had “outgrown its plant.” The need for a new school was looming in the future. He felt a new pastor could cope with the situation better.  But, before leaving St. Paul in June of 1910, Father Seibertz oversaw the beginning of a “school fund” which reached the sum of $6000 by his departure for his new charge at St. Mary’s in New Albany.  He was succeeded on June 10, 1910 by Father Joseph A. Thie.

As Fr. Thie stepped into his role at St. Paul, he was worried about the children that were crowded in the old school. By July of 1913, the student population was 212.  A decision was made to begin the construction of a new school. In November of 1913,with $11,000 in the building fund, a contract was signed with H. G. Mitchell of Scottsburg, Indiana to build the new school.  The total cost was $14.570.00. The old school was removed to make room for a playground. 

Father Thie is also remembered as having the foresight to purchase property on the corner of Ninth and Fulton.  This corner lot became the site for a new brick convent needed to house the 13 nuns living at St. Paul. Completed in 1915, at a cost of $6491.00, the building was a handsome addition to the parish facilities. Then, in 1923 St. Paul Parish acquired one of Tell City’s finest residences (believed to have been built prior to 1861 by Fred Voelke) and the remainder of the Eighth Street frontage, from William Krogman (the son-in-law of Mr. Voelke) for the princely sum of $15,000. The additional land adjacent to the home and bordering on Jefferson Street was the former location of Mr. Voelke’s Brewery and the future location of the present St. Paul Church.

By the time Father Thie died on May 16, 1928, St. Paul Parish had grown to 450 families with a school enrollment of 348 students.  He was laid to rest in the chapel building in St. Mary Cemetery. The chapel, which was funded by private subscription, was the target of such vandalism that it was eventually removed.  The resulting space was converted into a circle where several of the parish pastors are interred

Father Joseph Semersheim became pastor of St. Paul on July 7, 1929. Again the growth of the community loomed foremost in the concerns of the parish.  The 1914 school was too small.  Plans were made for an addition to the school. On June 8, 1930 a large crowd witnessed the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone.  A copper box containing local newspapers and a printed parish history was placed in the stone.  The four classrooms that were added brought the total number of classrooms to 11.  But what really made the addition remarkable was the inclusion of an Auditorium (Gym) of sufficient size for basketball games complete with a stage suitable for school plays, a large basement room for community activities, a large dining room, and a kitchen. At a cost of $112,465.00, the addition was dedicated by the Most Rev. Joseph Chartrand on Pentecost Sunday 1931. Father Sermersheim left St. Paul on June 29, 1934.  Father Theodore Vollmer arrived the same day.

Immediately upon his arrival and after thoroughly checking all parish records, he determined the total indebtedness of the parish to be a crushing $117,520.59.  Realizing that this debt must be priority one for St. Paul parish, Father Vollmer arranged refinancing and rallied the parishioners to reduce the debt. Only eleven and a half years later, on March 3, 1946, the parish organizations sponsored a program to celebrate the final payment on the debt.

It was during the debt reduction phase that Maurice Carr and Mike Cassidy, representing the parish, approached the local school board to seek possible assistance with running the school.  To avoid the closing of St. Paul School and sending its students into an already struggling public system, an agreement was reached whereby the parish would retain the school, but the teachers would be paid a state teacher salary by the local school corporation. With minor changes over the decades, this arrangement would stand for over sixty years.

Father Edward Heuke, took over as pastor in 1950.  During his pastorate, 1950-1969, St. Paul flourished.  His management of financial matters and his handling of difficult problems earned him the reputation of  “ambassador of good will.” It was during this time that the present St. Paul Church was built. At two P.M. December 7, 1952 parishioners and priests gathered on the old rectory lawn for the groundbreaking.

On Easter Sunday April 5, 1953, native son, Father William Lautner used as the opening text of his Corner Stone Laying sermon, a prayer from the Easter Liturgy: “This is the day which the Lord hath made: let us be glad and rejoice therein.” The celebrant was Father Vollmer assisted by Father Heuke and Father Shanahan. Construction would continue the rest of the year as the split Bedford limestone church and rectory took shape.  The interior is St. Meinrad sandstone, with a pine ceiling supported by 12 pillars and wooden beams.  The windows were glazed with leaded stained art glass.  The bells, organ, and clock of the old St. Paul’s church were the only equipment to be installed in the new structure. With a seating capacity of 850, the total cost of church and rectory was $350,000

The solemn dedication of the new St. Paul Catholic Church and rectory was held Sunday February 28, 1954 with the Most Rev. Paul C. Schulte, archbishop of Indianapolis, officiating. 

After the dedication, editor Edgar Schergens would write in the March 19, 1954, edition of the newspaper: “This place, both the church and the parsonage, must be seen to be appreciated. The woodwork and furnishings are exquisite.  It is true that the buildings, both inside and outside, are so beautiful that you just don’t expect to find such as them in a community the size of Tell City.” 

No sooner than Fr. Heuke’s “church for 100 years” was completed than the new (1953) principal of St. Paul School, Mr. Fred J Evrard noted the cramped quarters in the school building.  Beginning in 1957 and ready for classes by 1959, a 12 classroom addition prepared St. Paul for the baby boom kids.  The expansion included a soundproof band room, choral room, school cafeteria, kitchen, teacher’s lounge, multi-purpose room and storage room.

Sunday December 13, 1959 at 11:00 AM, the Very Rev. William Lautner celebrated a Solemn High Mass of thanksgiving in honor of the 100th anniversary of St. Paul parish. Immediately following the mass, there was a dinner in the new school cafeteria honoring His Excellency Archbishop Paul C. Schulte and other visiting clergy and religious.  To complete the centennial celebration, St. Paul pastor, the Very Rev. Edward J. Heuke declared that the new school and church were open for public inspection starting at 1:00 PM with guides to lead tours.  At the time, St. Paul parish rosters boasted 925 families with approximately 3400 members.

In 1968 Mr. Earl Etienne became principal of St. Paul grade school.  A native of Perry County, Mr. Etienne worked tirelessly to ensure the best of education for his students. During his term and the terms of succeeding principals Mike Lindley, Ann Moore and Bruce Chinn, the city school corporation assumed more and more of the daily operational expenses of running the school.  St. Paul continued to be responsible for major maintenance to the building.  In exchange St. Paul technically leased the building to the school corporation with the lease beginning each morning right after religious education classes. 

Father Andrew Diezeman, came to St. Paul June 11, 1969.  The first major project during this time period was the construction of a one-story convent at the corner of Ninth and Jefferson Streets.  At a cost of $160.000 the new facility provided a more modern environment for the sisters living at St. Paul.  The old convent was used as a meeting room facility, home for the scouts, and in 1974 it was leased to Perry County Group Home, Inc. as a home for troubled boys. It was razed in December 1993.

In 1973,  the parish was administered by a team of priests consisting of Father Andrew Diezeman, Father J. Lawrence Richardt, and Father Joseph Kern.   In July of 1975, Fathers Diezeman and Richardt were transferred and succeeded by Father Richard Lawler and Father David Coats. 

 During the 60’s and 70’s small changes occurred at St. Paul.

  • Mid 60’s sanctuary was altered to allow priest to face the congregation.
  • 1977 – New 18-rank organ installed.
  • 1977 – Baptistry renovated into reconciliation room and baptismal font placed in sanctuary.


As early as 1978, serious discussion centered on the need to alter the worship space at St. Paul.  Meetings were held, discussions took place and the needs of the parish were identified.  The new plans called for a reconfiguration of the main worship space, the addition of a common foyer-like space known as the Narthex, new parish offices, a large “L” shaped parish hall and a kitchen. 

As a link between the old and the new, stones from the old altar were used for the support of the tabernacle in the newly created Blessed Sacrament Chapel.  The stones from the side altars were fused to hold the statues of Mary and St. Joseph, which were moved to the unique Devotional Chapel also housing the votive candles.  The cost of the project was $448,744.53.  Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara formally dedicated the newly renovated church and parish hall on Sunday December 4, 1983.July 10, 1985, Father William Ernst became pastor of St. Paul.  In June of that year, the Benedictine sisters moved from the St. Paul convent into a local home, thus ending over 100 years of Benedictine presence on the St. Paul campus. The now empty convent became the home of the Tell City Deanery Catholic Charities, Day Care Ministry, and Parish meeting rooms.

On July 5, 1989 Rev. J Lawrence Richardt became pastor and served the parish until June 29, 1992. On July 1, 1992 Rev. Daniel J. Staublin arrived to serve as administrator. On July 5 1995, he became pastor of St. Paul, St. Michael and St. Pius parishes, and began the process of once again creating a Tri-Parish community.  In the spring of 1995, as part of the process to create a Tri-Parish Community, the convent at Ninth and Jefferson became the Catholic Ministry Center and housed the Tri-Parish offices as well as the offices of Religious Education, St. Paul Music Director, Youth Center and various meeting rooms.  Eventually Catholic Charities returned to the building.

 Early in 1996 the parish was informed that, due to a shortage of priests in the Archdiocese, all archdiocesan priests would be removed from the Tell City Deanery and the sacramental care of St. Paul’s, along with the rest of the Deanery, would be transferred to the Archabbot of St. Meinrad Archabbey.  Fathers Dan Staublin and Tony Hubler left St. Paul on August 7, 1996 and were replaced by Rev. Benet Amato, OSB and Rev. Severin Messick, OSB from the Archabbey.  The two men served as co-pastors of the young Tri-Parish community until September 11, 1997 when it was decided that Fr. Benet would serve as pastor of St. Paul and Fr. Severin would be pastor of Sts. Michael and Pius and would offer sacramental support at St. Paul.  Fr. Benet continued as pastor until Jan. 2, 2002.  During this time the parish began to discuss plans for the future. 

In 1999, the Tell City Troy Township School Corporation completed their new elementary school and moved the corporation teachers from the St. Paul School building. Over the years, the old building had become an increasingly heavy financial burden on the parish due to maintenance and utility costs.  In 1997 parish discussions and an in depth planning process were begun to help identify the present and future needs of the parish.  Part of that discussion was whether to renovate the soon to be empty school building as parish office, religious education and meeting space or tear it down. 

On August 3, 1998, Rev. Barnabas Gillespie, OSB replaced Fr. Messick as pastor of Sts. Michael and Pius. Fr. Amato returned to St. Meinrad in January of 2002.   Rev. Carl Deitchman, OSB arrived on July 1 of 2002 to assume the role of pastor of St. Paul.  It fell to him to direct the ongoing discussions that would guide the next phase of St. Paul’s evolution. In 2003 a decision was made to construct a new Catholic Ministry Center on the southwest corner of Ninth and Jefferson Streets, and to tear down the school building.  The new building would provide classrooms for Religious Education, and office space for the staff of St. Paul and the Tri-Parish.   In July of 2005 the old Moose home was razed and work on the new building began in August.

On January 4, 2006 Rev. Timothy Sweeney, OSB (a former Archabbot of St. Meinrad

Archabbey) arrived to become the new pastor of St. Paul.  He was faced with the task of completing the project that was under way.

In June of 2006 St. Paul School was torn down.  The copper cross, two stone pillars and large granite head stone (carved with the words St. Paul School 1914) from the front of the 1914 section of the school were used in the new Ministry Center.  The copper cross and two stone pillars are displayed in the foyer of the new building, and the carved head stone was placed above the doors on the west side of the building which open into the religious education area.

Work on the new facility was completed in September of 2006.  The new Catholic Ministry Center boasts 14 classrooms - two of which are double size and can serve as meeting rooms - library/resource room, foyer, restrooms, nursery, and ample office space and work areas for the pastors and considerable staff of the tri-parish community.  The former ministry center was renamed the Ministry Center Annex and once again houses the Tell City Deanery Catholic Charities which administers a number of out reach ministries from the building.  The building is also used by the Boy Scouts, and the Quilters.

Fr. Timothy served as pastor at St. Paul until July of 2009.  In May of that year he announced that he would be returning to St. Meinrad Archabbey and would be replaced by Fr. Paul Dennis Etienne, a son of the parish.  Fr. Paul arrived in early July and by October of that year announced that he had been selected by Rome to be ordained a Bishop, and would be serving the Diocese of Cheyenne Wyoming.  Fr. Paul left the parish shortly after the 150th Anniversary celebration in November, and Fr. Dennis Devilius arrived on December 6th of 2009, to take over as pastor of St. Paul. 

In March of 2012, Fr. Barnabas announced that he would be retiring for medical reasons in June, and would return to St. Meinrad Archabbey.  In July of 2012 Fr. Sengole Thomas took over as administrator of St. Michael and St. Pius Parish and as sacramental aide to St. Paul Parish.  After serving as administrator for one year he would be installed as pastor of the two parishes.   

Today the 2334 parishioners of St. Paul, with 150 years of worship and growth behind them, stand well prepared to pass on their faith to those who will follow.

Written by:  Dr. Joseph LeClere, Parish Historian




Last Published: April 26, 2013 4:11 PM
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