After half a century, Ireland to build new church


IRELAND — It’s been 49 years, eight pastors, three bishops and countless committee meetings, and St. Mary Church in Ireland is ready to break ground on a new church building.

The parish will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking after Mass at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 21. A luncheon will follow. The Catholic Diocese of Evansville’s new bishop, Joseph Siegel, will bless the site on Sunday, Feb. 25, and Streicher Construction of Jasper will begin major construction in March.

The parish kicked off a $6 million capital campaign in March 2017 with the hope of raising $4.8 million to break ground. So far, the campaign has garnered $5.4 million in pledges that will be paid over the next three years. Of those pledges, $2.8 million has already been paid, giving the parish enough funds to start the project. Several parish fundraisers and an anonymous donation outside of the capital campaign have also provided funds for the project.

“In a short span of time, people have really come forward very, very generously,” said Father Joseph “Effie” Erbacher, the current priest at St. Mary.

The parish focused on finding local companies to complete the work. Hafer Associates of Evansville will be the project’s architect, and Jasper’s Streicher Construction is the general contractor. Erbacher said all the sub-contractors will also be local.

The new church will be built on parish property just west of the current building. At 14,000 square feet, the new building will be almost three times the size of the current church and accommodate 685 parishioners in the pews with space for an additional 140 folding chairs. The current building seats 385, far to few to accommodate the parish’s 1,100 families.

Once complete, the new church will maintain the traditional look of the current building, with the sanctuary on the upper level and church offices on the lower level. Right now, the focus is on completing the upper level. The exterior will look almost identical to the current building. On the inside, the plans call for a refurbished pulpit from another church that has closed. The pulpit will look like the original one installed in the Ireland church.

The project will cost roughly $7.5 million.

The congregation began discussing a new building decades ago, but the process didn’t pick up speed until the early 2000s when Father Donald Ackerman created the long-term planning committee. Then, the committee picked up speed a couple years ago, and their action culminated in the capital campaign.

Now that the project is ready to break ground, Erbacher said he and the congregation are looking back at all the past parishioners’ hard work with gratitude.

“We all feel very blessed that we have finally arrived at that time for which many, many former and existing parishioners have worked so hard for,” Erbacher said.

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