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Immaculate Conception celebrates 100th anniversary

Church leaders commemorated the 100th anniversary of founding of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church during a luncheon Saturday at the Cedars. Church leaders commemorated the 100th anniversary of founding of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church during a luncheon Saturday at the Cedars.

Members of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church culminated a yearlong celebration of the church's 100-year history on Saturday in a two-hour bilingual Anniversary Mass during which Bishop Peter J. Jugis installed the church's new pastor, Father Martin Schratz.

At a luncheon earlier at the Cedars, church leaders welcomed Father Schratz and two other new pastors, Father Robert Williams, a parochial vicar, and Brother Lombardo D'Aurio, a pastoral associate, plus visiting Catholic leaders from the region and national offices. Commission chairs in charge of the church ministries also attended the luncheon.

Mayor Barbara Volk read a proclamation commemorating the 100th anniversary and crediting the church for its service in the community. Kathy Meersman, who chaired the anniversary celebration along with her husband, said that the church's first priest had recorded notes about the first mass, on Aug. 25, 1912. "Almost every one of the regular parishioners attended," he wrote. The number was 19 — three men, eight women and eight children.

ImmaculataFatherFather Martin SchratzFather Schratz asked a blessing before the luncheon on the church and its service and for "the beginning of a new journey of 100 years."

Schratz most recently served as pastor of Our Lady of Consolation in Charlotte, a 500-member mostly African-American parish, and before that was pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas, also in Charlotte. A native of Philadelphia, Schratz has pastored five churches in his career.

"The people are very hospitable," he said of his new parishioners. "It's been a great experience. There's just so much going on here." He said he does not plan major changes or new initiatives, at least not until he observes and sees what the congregation needs. Two priorities, he said, are "to try to empower the people in ministry and to see what I can do to bring together the two communities, the Mexican and Anglo communities."

Immaculate Conception has about 1,800 members on the roll but church leaders say it has about 3,000 members counting Latino members who don't officially sign up.

The year of celebration began last Sept. 17 with an "Anniversary Fiesta" centering on the multicultural aspect of our parish. Following a 5 p.m. Saturday Mass, participants went in procession to the school gymnasium where the evening featured Hispanic food, music, dance, and culture. Nearly 375 adults and children attended.
October 2011 was the month of the Rosary, which was prayed by the community before each weekend Mass.
The celebrations over the past year included a bilingual Evening of Reflection and Recitation of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary hosted by the Stewardship Commission, youth of the parish serving in a January service as lectors, ushers, greeters, servers, and choir, recognition in February of all couples married at Immaculate Conception Parish were asked to stand and receive a special blessing, in March a celebration of the 130th Anniversary of the Knights of Columbus, in April, participation in the Hendersonville Day of Service, in June an all-day retreat for our parish community (and a picnic in 100-degree heat) and on Aug. 10 "An Evening with Dan Schutte," a free concert by the renowned Catholic composer of contemporary hymns as "Blest be the Lord," "Here I Am, Lord," "Sing a New Song," and "You Are Near."
At 5 p.m. Saturday parishioners gathered for the Anniversary Mass. Leading in the procession to the church were the Aztec Dancers, a group of Hispanic youth, followed by the members of the Parish Commissions bearing banners depicting their ministries. During the liturgy, Bishop Jugis installed Father Schratz.
Special gifts were brought to the altar during the presentation of gifts. Bearing the gifts were members of the parish representing the various generations of the parish.

Here is a sketch of the church's history, provided by Jim and Kathy Meersman, co-chairs of the anniversary celebration:
August 25, 1912 – With a congregation of 19 faith-filled men, women, and children (3 men, 8 women, 8 children), Father Peter Marion celebrated the first Mass in his new parish of Immaculate Conception in Hendersonville, NC. On land donated by Samuel Johnston, a Hendersonville merchant, a small white clapboard church was built on the corner of 7th Avenue and Church St. By 1920, the parish numbered 55 permanent members. During the summer months, visitors to the area filled the tiny church.

July, 1924 – After Fr. Marion's death on July 4, 1924, Father James A. Manley was transferred from St. Lawrence in Asheville to become the new pastor. In 1926, with the approval of Bishop Hafey and with the help of a parishioner, three sisters of the Sisters of Christian Education arrived from France to begin a Catholic school in the large white house that had been the rectory. There were 10 students. By 1927 that number had grown to 16 and a dress code was established for the students.

1927 – Father George Watkins becomes pastor, followed by Father Paul Termer later that year. A large brick home is purchased to house the growing school, and a small cottage named Madonna Hall is built for meetings and the kindergarten.

1931 – 1944 – Father Philip O'Mara is pastor and the parish has grown to 100 year round members. In 1936, a new stone church with twin towers is built with seating for 200.

1944 – 1967 – Father Edward V. Lane is pastor and in 1962 built a new brick school, our current school, for the 125 students. Father Hugh Clarke and Father Edward Doherty, two Irish priests, assisted Fr. Lane.

1967 – 1972 – Father Joseph S. Showferty became pastor of the 240 families in the parish. In 1969, a convent, the present Friary, was built and plans began for additions to the church which was to have stone from nearby quarries and use natural timber to frame the L-shaped, mountain chalet design.

1972 – 1974 – Father William N. Pharr becomes pastor and work begins on the new addition to the church which was completed in 1974. Father Pharr commissioned a local artist, Louis Spegel of Black Mountain, to hand carve the figure of the crucified Christ out of slabs of white oak. Father Pharr also commissioned a wooden cross stained walnut upon which the figure of Christ was hung above the altar. That crucifix hangs above the altar today. Mr. Spegel also carved a figure of the Madonna which is still in the current church.

1974 – 1979 – Father Thomas A. Walsh became pastor and raised funding for a large brick structure to be attached to the school that would house a gymnasium, meeting rooms, a library and additional classroom space.

1979 – 1983 – Father Paul C. Wilderotter is pastor of Immaculate Conception and changes the sign to read, "A Roman Catholic Community."

1983 – 1991 – Father Conrad Kimbrough and Father Charles Reese are pastors as the church continues to grow in numbers being the only Catholic Church in Henderson County.

1991 – 1995 –The Franciscan Capuchin Friars arrive as Father Robert Salamone, OFM Cap. becomes pastor. In 1992, Brother Michael Molloy comes to the parish to teach at the school, train the altar servers, and act as sacristan. By then the church was nearing 1200 families and 3,000 members and it was obvious that a larger church was needed. Planning and fund raising were nearly completed when Father John Aurilia became pastor in 1995.

1995 – 2009 – Father Aurelio oversees the completion of the existing church which was dedicated on December 5, 1998. With Father John Salvas' ministry to the growing Hispanic population, the parish continued to grow in numbers.

2009 - 2011 – Father Nicholas Mormando becomes pastor and under his leadership, a new building was constructed to house St. Gerard's House and the Grotto Pre-School where young children with autism and special needs and their families receive training, support, education, and a chance for a normal, productive life. When Father Nick was chosen to be the Provincial Minister of his order in November of 2011, Father John Salvas became the Administrator of the parish until a new pastor could be appointed.

2012– As we approach the 100th Anniversary of Immaculate Conception Parish, we welcome Father Martin Schratz, OFM Cap., as pastor, along with Father Robert Williams, OFM Cap., Parochial Vicar, and Brother Lombardo D'Auria, OFM Cap., Pastoral Associate. Father Martin will be installed as the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church during the Anniversary Mass on Saturday, August 25, 2012, 5:00 PM.