The History of St Peter's Catholic Church
Franklin County, Indiana
On August 15, 1833, a number of German immigrant families arrived at Baltimore, Maryland aboard the ship, the Weser. The majority of these families had been from Großwallstadt, Bavaria, Germany and wished to take up land together in the New World and form a new community. Among the ten or so families who formed the community of Neuwaldstadt in Highland Township, Franklin County was that of Michael Ripperger, Henry William Geis, Ignatz Ripberger, Mathias Fussner, Franz Alois Bauer, and Conrad Weiler.
Father John A. Kohlman in his 1919 Directory of St. Peter Church described Neuwaldstadt: “In those days the entire region was a vast stretch of wild, virgin forest, into which, as it appeared, only a casual settler here and there found his way. However, these brave and courageous young men, undaunted and undismayed at the hazardous undertaking of attempting to establish their homes and seek their fortunes in the heart of an immense forest, where probably only beasts of prey had hitherto trodden, and where the axe of the ‘invader’ had not yet left its mark, forthwith assumed the arduous task which a guiding Providence has outlined for them.”
The new settlers, having purchased government lands, went about the task of building single room log cabins. As these first homes were being constructed, additional families from the Old World were already arriving to take their place along with the
In the midst of this, the people of Neuwaldstadt turned their attention to their spiritual wellbeing. Having been accustomed to the availability of both Catholic church and priest in their Old World homes, they found the forests of Indiana in this regard severely lacking. In the spring of 1834, two German Catholics, Mr. John Heimburger of Yorkridge and Mr. Ripperger of Neuwaldstadt were met by Father Joseph Ferneding, “The Apostle of the Germans.” It seems their meeting took place by chance as the two gentlemen were on their way to a mill on the Whitewater River. Looking across the river, the men saw a man on horseback who they thought looked like a priest. Hearing the men speaking German, Father Ferneding asked if there were any Catholics in the vicinity. The men informed him of Catholics in the surrounding areas and the noble Father promised to go back with them. The next day he celebrated Mass at the home of Mr. Heimburger with the promise that in the future he would return to the same village and also pay a visit to the Catholics at Neuwaldstadt.
In the meantime, the Neuwaldstadters decorated a large, hollow tree with various icons and religious emblems and fastened a large portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mary within. The tree acted as sacred place where the people could gather to pray and sing. These devotions were usually directed by Michael Ripperger. In addition to this, the people also made pilgrimages to New Alsace in order to attend Mass at the church in that location.
As early as the summer of 1834, Father Ferneding visited Neuwaldstadt and said Mass in the homes of William Geis and Adam Ripberger. Father promised to return and encouraged the congregation to commence the building of a house of worship. In 1835 the erection of a simple log church was begun. Land for the church was deeded to Bishop Bruté by Michael and Margaret Ripperger, Regina Ripberger and son John, and Margaret Geis and sons. On October 23, 1836, Ignatz Ripberger, one of the original founders, died. He was buried beside the church in what was to become St. Peter’s Cemetery. In July, 1838, Bishop Bruté blessed the completed church and dedicated it to St. Peter. The new church having been named St. Peter
caused the surrounding community to be known by the same.
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