On July 1, 2014 the “Parish of the Annunciation of the Lord” was born into the Catholic faith community of Evansville, Indiana. Christ the King Parish, which dates to 1942, and Holy Spirit Parish, which dates to 1952, jointly began the process to merge shortly after Bishop Charles C. Thompson announced a new strategic plan for the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, Indiana, in September of 2013. The plan was simple: Create a new parish by working together to become a vibrant, healthy expression of Christ's Body, the Church. The Parish of the Annunciation of the Lord, or Annunciation Parish, is the capstone to the faith journeys of two diverse parishes with many interesting milestones along their individual paths.
On September 27, 2013, Bishop Charles C. Thompson announced a new strategic plan for the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, Indiana. Christ the King and Holy Spirit parishes would merge into a new parish. Pastors, staff, and lay leaders sprang into action to strategize what the new parish might look like. These initial plans began the exciting process resulting in the birth of a new parish, the “Parish of the Annunciation of the Lord” on July 1, 2014. The new parish born in the love of Christ from two separate communities encompasses the long and rich history of each one.
When Christ the King was being formed the Diocese of Evansville was not yet born; Evansville was part of the Diocese of Indianapolis. The Diocese desired to alleviate the crowded conditions of St. Benedict Church and purchased property for a new church in 1938. In the summer of 1941, Father William Lensing was appointed the first pastor and he immediately surveyed the local residents, calling a meeting of potential parishioners. In October of 1941, the city granted the permit to construct a $7,000 white frame church at the corner of Vann and Chandler Avenues. The church was only the second erected since St. Benedict was constructed thirty years before; the first was St. John the Apostle erected one-year prior.
Bishop Ritter dedicated Christ the King Church with its capacity of 300 in 1942. Bishop Ritter’s homily addressed the ongoing World War, and declared the name Christ the King was well chosen, “Jesus Christ is the Savior of all, and it’s quite fitting as we look to Him as our spiritual leader and ruler.” The new parish was composed of 75 chartering families. After the Dedication Mass, twenty-two priests were the dinner guests of Father Lensing that evening. The boundaries of the parish ran from Boeke Road east to the county line, and from the Southern railway tracks south to the Ohio River.
Bishop Ritter became Indianapolis' first archbishop as Indianapolis was elevated to an archdiocese and Evansville became the See City for twelve southwestern Indiana counties making up the present Diocese of Evansville. Henry J. Grimmelsman was consecrated as the first Bishop of Evansville on December 21, 1944. A new period of construction began for the newly formed diocese as the war ended and American soldiers returned home.
Father Maurice Egloff succeeded Father Lensing, who had resided in his family home, in 1945, and shortly thereafter a rectory was built on the northwest corner of Chandler and Dexter Avenues. A larger rectory was built several years later next door to the parish when additional land was secured for a proposed school. Over the years, Christ the King became the home of bishops, monsignors, pastors and associates.
Christ the King school was the consequence of student overcrowding at St. Benedict Catholic School. Ground was broken for the new school in 1948 and it opened in 1949. It boasted twelve classrooms and a number of special rooms, each with modern fixtures. The initial enrollment was 371 students who were primarily instructed by the Sisters of St. Benedict.
On April 14, 1952, the Diocese of Evansville announced that two new parishes would be established, Holy Redeemer and Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit would be located in the 1700 block of Lodge Avenue and the Reverend Father James F. Hill would be the pastor. The Diocese purchased the site for $22,000 and it was a beautiful fifteen-acre pasture, horse barn, and outbuilding. The horses were moved by the beginning of May and the parishioners began the hard work of converting the Greymount Riding Stable into a place of worship.
As Holy Spirit began the work of creating a new parish, Christ the King continued to grow and church services became overcrowded. The church could no longer accommodate the size of the congregation, nearly 600 families. Led by Fr. Egloff the parish built an auditorium-style building to serve as a church with an additional four classrooms that adjoined the east end of the school. The original plan was to use the auditorium temporarily until a permanent church could be built. It was completed on April 20 and dedicated in May 1952 with a Pontifical High Mass celebrated by His Excellency the Most Reverend Henry J. Grimmelsman.
In the summer of 1952, led by Father Hill, Holy Spirit parishioners painted the entire property, added partitions to the building, added a concrete floor, a sanctuary, a vestry, outside siding, interior decoration, an organ, lighting system, windows, and a parking lot. The outbuilding was converted into a rectory and meeting room. Holy Spirit was founded with 350 families. The new boundaries would include Evans Avenue to the west, Monroe on the north, the Ohio River to the south, and Boeke Road to the east. Bishop Grimmelsman celebrated a Dedication Mass at Holy Spirit Catholic Church on August 2, 1952.
Holy Spirit began planning for a grade school soon after its inception. The school was completed in the summer of 1956. The new school featured nine rooms, while another three rooms were available in a separate building. The school was ready by September and for the first school year 305 children were enrolled. At Christ the King school 580 students were also receiving a Catholic education that year. The Holy Spirit Cougars and the Christ the King Crusaders each became well known for their fierce school spirit and team camaraderie. After the school was completed, a convent and a rectory were added to the Holy Spirit Campus.
In 1957 a modern convent was built on the Christ the King campus to house the Sisters of Saint Benedict. The convent was next door to the school and ideally situated for the nuns who were the majority of teachers. The Sisters who lived, taught, and ministered for both Christ the King and Holy Spirit parishes were characterized as dynamic, active, and apostolic emissaries of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the spring of 1961 planning began for a new church building to serve the growing Holy Spirit congregation. In May of that year the architects released the drawings for the new church. The plan included matching the church design with the five-year-old school by using brick with limestone trim. Almost immediately a campaign committee was organized by Father Hill, which set a goal of $150,000 needed for construction.
Holy Spirit Church construction began in the early fall of 1961 and in October of that year Holy Spirit Church was the largest construction project in progress in Evansville spending $131,250. Construction was completed at a total cost of $200,000. The interior features Saint Meinrad limestone and decorative wood. The altars and the backdrops are marble. The stained glass windows feature verses drawn from the Mass of Pentecost. The seven canopies across the front of the building represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. Symbols of the Holy Spirit adorn the interior and exterior of the structure. The original church was deconsecrated and razed. On October 21, 1962, the dedication of Holy Spirit Catholic Church was held. Father James F. Hill remained the pastor under the guidance of the bishop, the Most Reverend Henry J. Grimmelsman.
Christ the King Church underwent a major renovation that was completed in 1978 under the guidance of Reverend Father Raymond L. Kuper. The “temporary” church was transformed into a permanent center of worship. The main church was reoriented and the pews arranged around the main altar symbolizing the centrality of the Eucharist to worship. A new entrance and two faceted glass windows, the “love” window and the “apostle” window, adorned either side of the new main entrance. A statue of the risen Christ welcomed all into the main hall. A smaller and separate chapel, separated by partition from the main hall, contained the tabernacle and the Blessed Sacrament, a smaller altar, the Stations of the Cross, and the original Crucifix.
More changes followed at Christ the King. By 1985 the convent was converted into a Parish Center that provided meeting rooms and, later, a classroom for a new preschool. In 1996, a new gym, computer, and science rooms were added. A capital campaign began in 2003 to renovate the school and Parish Center. The new facility opened in 2004 that added room for meetings, youth activities, receptions, and dinners.
The success of the campaign continued and under the leadership of pastor Monsignor Kenneth R. Knapp additional updates to the church were made including the addition of a spacious narthex for gatherings, a bride's room, a music room, a kitchen, a belfry and steeple tower, a new altar and lecterns, updated fixtures, decorations, statuary, baptistery, and sacristy. The original Christ the King Crucifix was returned to the main church and the statue of the Risen Christ placed above the main entrance. Bishop Gerald A. Gettlefinger dedicated the renovated church in a Blessing of the Altar and a Rededication Mass on January 25, 2007.
On All Saint’s Day November 1, 2008, Holy Spirit Church dedicated and blessed its shrine to Saint Michael. Developed by the pastor, Reverend Father Claude Burns, as a public place of prayer and contemplation, the shrine faces Lodge Avenue and adjoins the west end of the school. The shrine features a beautiful marble statue of Saint Michael that sits atop a base inscribed with the Prayer to Saint Michael. A black stone backdrop sits in a beautiful plaza framed by oak trees and nine magnolia trees, which symbolize the nine choirs of angels: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Archangels, Principalities, and Angels. Saint Michael has been especially honored and invoked as patron and protector by the Church from the time of the Apostles, as well as the protector of the Pope.
The Saint Michael Shrine dedication was a special day in the history of Holy Spirit Church. Bishop Gettlefinger dedicated and blessed the Shrine as well as service vehicles brought to the ceremony. Clergy, parishioners, civic leaders, members of the police department, paramedics, fire departments, the military, and the community attended the celebration. The Saint Michael Shrine is an open, visible sign of the Catholic faith and its work of fighting evil in the world.
In the fall of 2013 the process of creating a new parish began through the merger of Christ the King and Holy Spirit. Under leadership of Pastor Reverend Father Alex Zenthoefer and the Associate Pastor Reverend Father Christopher Droste, committees were established that addressed important aspects of parish life. Early in the process, recognizing the importance of discernment and prayer to the development of the new church, Father Alex authored a powerful prayer to be prayed at both parishes asking for the Lord’s guidance in the creation of a new faith community.
Through the support of the diocese and the cooperation of clergy, staffs, lay leaders, and the parishioners, the faith communities took ownership of the process as the plan to merge came together. A church-wide openness to the challenges the transition presented to both individuals and the communities ensued as the plan was implemented. Administrative, legal, and accounting issues were addressed in consultation between staff and parishioners. Regular and transparent communication between both parishes and within each community kept the plan moving forward steadily.
As a result of the committee work, on April 17, 2014, the new name was announced, the “Parish of the Annunciation of the Lord.” The merger was effectuated on July 1, 2014, although some details continue to be identified and addressed. The Holy Spirit and Christ the King campuses of Annunciation Parish retain their unique characters and identities, but the merged parish stands as one, poised to meet the needs of all the faithful and the larger community.