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ABOUT OUR PARISH

THE HISTORY OF IMMACULATE CONCEPTION PARISH, EGE

A CHURCH IN THE WILDERNESS

The history of Immaculate Conception, Ege began in 1853 by a French pioneer named Gabriel Girardot. Gabriel Girardot emigrated from France and began clearing land that he had purchased, where Ege is now located. On his first trip to America, Girardot did not bring his family. He first cleared the land and prepared a home for them. Upon clearing the land, he made a vow to God that he would build a “church in the wilderness” if God blessed his labors and he was able to successfully transplant his family into the new world. By 1856, there were nine families that lived in the area then known as the Girard Settlement, also known as French Settlement. The first Holy Mass was celebrated by Fr. Francis Deschamp in 1856 at Gabriel Girardot’s home. Fr. Vincent Schaefer of St. Mary’s, Avilla visited the settlement as a mission of the Avilla parish until 1863.

By 1863, Gabriel Girardot donated two acres of land (the present cemetery) to the Bishop of Fort Wayne for a church to serve the Catholics in the area. Girardot personally built the first church of 25 X 40 feet. He also hand made the pews, altar, and other furnishings. The church was named Immaculate Conception in honor of Our Lady. The altar of this original parish church stood on the very place where Gabriel Girardot is buried at the parish cemetery. On July 5, 1863, Bishop John H. Luers and his Vicar General, Fr. Julian Benoit were visiting the Avilla area to search for a possible site for a new Catholic orphanage and also made a visit to the Girard Settlement. Even though the church was not completely finished, Bishop Luers offered Holy Mass in the church and dedicated it.

From 1863 until 1876, Immaculate Conception served as a station of St. Mary’s, Avilla and was served by the priests of the Avilla parish. Fr. Dominic Duehmig of Avilla was instrumental during this time for helping a large number of Polish immigrants to settle at the Girard Settlement. The Polish at the time worked as loggers for the local railroads. Because most of them were Catholic, they were encouraged by Fr. Duehmig to locate at the Girard Settlement where land was inexpensive and also where there was a Catholic presence. Today, the descendants of many of those Polish families still live near and attend church at Immaculate Conception. This largely changed the culture of the community from predominately French to Polish. By 1876, the growing pioneer community built a new church of 38 X 90 feet and seated 260 people. It was built at a cost of $4,500 and was located at the site of the present day brick church. At this time, Immaculate Conception was no longer considered a station of Avilla, but was now an independent parish. The first resident pastor was Fr. William Geers, who served for the remainder of 1876. Father Peter Franzen served the parish from 1877 until 1878.

FATHER FRANCIS XAVIER EGE

In October 1878, a new pastor came to serve the Girard (French) Settlement. His name was Fr. Francis Xavier Ege. Fr. Ege was born on January 6, 1849, at Wolpertswende, Germany. He came to America after three years of study in Austria, and finished his studies at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, Milwaukee. Fr. Ege was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Fort Wayne by Bishop Joseph Dwenger on June 10, 1876.

Fr. Ege was instrumental in many positive changes to the parish as the Girard Settlement began to grow. By 1879, the original church (built by Girardot) was moved to the new (present day) church site and was made into a combination rectory/classroom/convent. Fr. Ege also secured the services of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Sacred Heart for the new parish school originally called St. Anne School. The school opened on April 9, 1879 with Sister Bridgitt Herr as Superior and Sister Justina Kari as organist and teacher.

According to those who knew him, Fr. Ege was always remembered as a very kind and devout Catholic priest who was held in high esteem by both Catholics and non-Catholics in the community. When the rectory and convent were destroyed by fire in 1886, aid was even given to Fr. Ege by non-Catholic neighbors who greatly respected him. Because of their great love and respect for Fr. Ege, all of the residents of Girard (French) Settlement, including Gabriel Girardot, changed the name of their village and post office to Ege, Indiana.

Fr. Ege was reassigned to St. Anthony, Glassville (now in Diocese of Gary) in 1897 and served at several other parishes until his death on February 8, 1924 in Kokomo, IN. His funeral Mass was held at St. Patrick’s Parish, Kokomo and he is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery, Kokomo.

THE FIRST FIRE

In 1886, the rectory/school/convent (original church built by Girardot) was destroyed by fire. The parish, under Fr. Ege’s direction, then built a two-story brick school with a brick convent attached to the rear of the building. At this time, Father Ege renamed the school Immaculate Conception, to coincide with the patron saint of the parish church. The school remained open until 1932. In 1887, Fr. Ege also built a beautiful brick two-story, ten room priest’s home at a cost of $3,000. This 124 year old building is still standing today and is currently used as classrooms for the parish CCD program.

THE SECOND FIRE

In 1921, Father Francis Donnelly became pastor of Immaculate Conception. In the winter of 1922, the parish church (the second one built in 1876) burned to the ground while Sunday Mass was being offered by Fr. Donnelly. Most of the parishioners worked during the fire to rescue the statues, pews, and organ, until Fr. Donnelly ordered that it was too dangerous to stay inside the building. Mass that day was finished in the school building. The statues, organ and some of the pews were saved. The rescued pews are still used for visitors during the parish’s annual chicken dinner each September.

After the fire of the second church, plans to build a new parish church began immediately. While plans for the third parish church began, Holy Mass was held at the parish school building. A new brick church (present day church) was built in 1923 on the site of the second church. It was dedicated by Bishop Herman Alerding on November 14, 1923.

PARISH TRADITIONS

Between 1924 through the present day, Immaculate Conception has been known for many of its parish traditions. The most well-known of those traditions is the annual chicken dinner held each Sunday after Labor Day. This tradition started in 1924 and has been a primary fundraiser for the parish ever since. It is a popular community festival that serves guests with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and noodles. This food is homemade by the parishioners and has been since the inception of the dinner. People from all over the area attend the dinner for a taste of the “good Polish cooking”. The parish usually serves an average of 1,000 meals each chicken dinner and has a variety of games and entertainment for guests and parishioners. The majority of parishioners, adults and children alike, participate in the chicken dinner each year and are assigned various duties. For over 93 years, the annual chicken dinner has been a true parish-wide effort.

OUR SISTER PARISH

By 1958, the rural Catholic community surrounding the towns of Ege, LaOtto, and Churubusco had continued to grow and a second “sister” parish was started in Churubusco under the direction of Fr. Anthony Rzeszutek. It was named after St. John Bosco. Fr. Rzeszutek served as pastor for both Immaculate Conception and St. John Bosco parishes. By 1971, the rectory was moved from Ege to Churubusco. Since the inception of St. John Bosco, the same priest has served both Immaculate Conception and St. John Bosco parishes. Many families of both parishes still have close ties to this day.

THE THIRD FIRE

On the morning of Tuesday, April 18, 1989, at 6:00 AM, a parishioner of Immaculate Conception noticed smoke coming from the back window of the church while driving on his way to work. An electrical shortage had occurred under the main altar and started a fire inside the church. Firefighters from five local departments immediately arrived to the church and successfully extinguished the fire. It was considered as one of the greatest local saves by the chief of the LaOtto Fire Department. The fire was contained to just the main altar of the church; however, there was extensive damage done to that area and the original main altar was completely destroyed. Miraculously, all of the statues and the main stained-glass windows were saved.

Because of the potential large costs to restore the church as well as the size of the parish, many parishioners were unsure of the future of the parish. Regardless of the uncertainty, many parishioners returned to the church the day after the fire to remove pews and statues into storage. Plans were already made to temporarily hold Sunday Mass in a newly built pole building located on the church property. Following the work done at the church, the men of the parish, still covered in dirt and soot, went to Mass at the pole building that night. The special Mass was celebrated by Bishop John M. D’Arcy. Bishop D’Arcy, impressed by the will of the parish community during its adversity, assured everyone that night that not only would the burned church be restored, but that he would return to consecrate the church after it was completed. Most of the men that night shed tears of gratitude upon hearing that assurance from Bishop D’Arcy. Under the direction of Fr. Don Isenbarger, the parish was completely restored to its original beauty. A Mass of Consecration was held on Tuesday, November 14, 1989 and was celebrated by Bishop D’Arcy. That evening was also the 66th anniversary of the dedication of the same building by Bishop Alerding. The restored parish still stands today and various aspects of the church have been redecorated several times by Ege parishioner Barry Campbell, who specializes in statue restoration and church artistry for parishes throughout the Diocese.

THE PARISH TODAY

The Immaculate Conception parish today consists of approximately 140 families. The church religious education program continues to thrive and the parish is in excellent financial condition with no debt. Many families of Immaculate Conception, Ege have been a part of this parish community ranging anywhere from the past 50-150 years. Direct descendants of Gabriel Girardot still attend Immaculate Conception today. Fr. James Shafer of St. Joseph, Garrett Parish is also a direct descendant of Gabriel Girardot. Immaculate Conception has also welcomed many young families from surrounding areas in the past 15 years who have also made major contributions to the parish life. Like their ancestors, many parishioners of Immaculate Conception today are farmers, manual laborers, and small business owners. The people of the parish hold a deep, humble Catholic spirituality passed down from Ege’s earliest pioneers and a strong love for its parish and community heritage. To most people of this parish and rural community, it is considered the center of their lives, just as it was for Gabriel Girardot and his neighbors over 150 years ago.

Priests who have served Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Ege
Rev. Francis Deschamp1856 – station visited for 1st time
Rev. Henry Vincent Schaefer1858 - station visited
Rev. Francis Deipenbrock1863 – attended from Avilla
Rev. John Wemhoff1863-1865 – attended from Avilla
Rev. Augustin B. Oechtering1867-1868 – attended from Avilla
During 1856-1876, Holy Cross priests from Notre Dame would also offer Holy Mass frequently at Girard Settlement.
Rev. William Geers1876 – first resident pastor
Rev. Peter Franzen1877-1878
Rev. Francis X. Ege1878-1897
Rev. Francis P. Faust1897-1910
Rev. Francis A. King1910-1919
Rev. J. Nicholas Allgeier1919-1921
Rev. Raphael F. Donnelly1921-1926
Rev. Peter Schmitt1926-1928
Rev. Anthony V. Nadolny1928-1933
Rev. Joseph A. Suelzer1933-1934
Rev. Louis Michalski1934-1944
Rev. Casimir B. Moskwinski1944-1950
Rev. Joseph Buczyna1950-1953
Rev. William S. Plotzki1953-1957
Rev. Anthony J. Rzeszutek1957-1971
Rev. Dennis H. Blank1971-1973
Rev. Camillo A. Tirabassi1973-1978
Rev. James Seculoff1978
Rev. Patrick Durkin1978-1981
Rev. Donald Isenbarger1981-1997
Rev. Danney Pinto1997- 2016
Rev. Francis C. Chukwuma2016-present