We're celebrating stewardship this Fall at St. Alphonsus Liguori. We're celebrating the many great families that make up our faith community and the many gifts of time, talent and treasure that are shared to glorify God and make a difference in the lives of His children. Learn about your parish's history, find out ways you can take part in ministries, and let's continue to answer the call to discipleship. "Upon this rock I will build my church." - Mat. 16:18
Urban & Mary Weitzel with sons.
If houses could talk, they would have some interesting stories to tell, stories of family, friends, and guests, of events and holidays, of smiles, tears, and laughter. Some houses might read like diaries and others like history books. Of particular interest to St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church, however, are the stories born from the living room of John Urban and Mary Weitzel, as told by their son Deacon Louis Weitzel.
Deacon Lou’s grandfather, after whom he was named, was the sheriff of Dearborn County, a German settlement. He had lost his hand from a misfire when shooting a gun for a wedding celebration in town, but continued his role as sheriff. The townspeople would joke that he never had trouble arresting anyone because "you darn well better go in for him, because he'd shoot you since he couldn't fight with one hand," Lou explains. Because Lou’s grandfather and family lived at the courthouse, Urban would tell anyone who asked that he was born in jail.
After growing up and relocating to Zionsville, Urban worked as a carpenter, owning the only lumber yard in town partnered with Metzger’s, and built many barns in the area. Urban even built the altar steps for St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lebanon, the family’s destination each Sunday morning for Mass seventeen miles from home.
Urban and Mary Weitzel married and had four children, Robert, Louis Perry, Paul, and Louis. Lou explains that his older brothers Louis Perry and Paul were the sons of Mary’s sister and were adopted into his family after their mother died shortly after Paul was born. "In days past, families did that all the time," he explains. As children, the Weitzel boys enjoyed Zionsville’s big Spring and Summer attraction, the ballpark. Playing games of softball every night, the boys kept busy. "I was a softball catcher and I was on three different teams," said Lou. After a few years, though, this would become just a fond memory for the Weitzels. When it became clear that the United State was going to enter World War II, Lou left his family to serve in the Air Force. "Then the war came and nothing was the same after that."
During this time "you couldn't build; you couldn't do a darn thing," Lou explains. This would prove to be problematic to the Redemptorist priests of the only Catholic Church in the county, St. Joseph in Lebanon, who were trying to expand their mission into the Zionsville area. Because Urban and his family commuted to St. Joseph for mass each week, the priests asked to begin a parish community in the living room of their little house on 2nd Street near the village.
The few Catholic families in Zionsville began celebrating Sunday liturgy in the Weitzel household. It didn’t take long until the community outgrew the space afforded by the living room walls. Before buying property elsewhere, Urban put his trade into the service of his new parish community by digging into the ground on the side of the house to build an external entrance into their basement. The new entrance created a larger space for Mass to be celebrated in order to accommodate the growing church.
This was all happening during a time of Civil Rights, and the Ku Klux Klan was a strong presence in the Midwest. Lou explains that three weeks out of the month, the KKK would burn crosses on the front lawn, issuing threats to the Weitzel family and the Catholic community. When it came to burning crosses, though, "the only place they could buy the lumber was dad's lumber yard," Lou adds laughing, "we used to joke about that." Despite threats, the faith of this community was not easily shaken and the community would grow into what we know as St. Alphonsus Liguori today.
Dedication of church in 1963.
After so many years of service to the Catholic Church in the Zionsville area, Urban and Mary retired to Arizona. The Weitzel boys continued the work of their parents; Paul grew up to work in the lumber business in Chicago, and the other three grew up to serve the church. Two of Lou’s older brothers became Redemptorist priests; for thirty years, Fr. Robert served as a missionary in Brazil, and Fr. Louis served in the US Army as a chaplain in Vietnam and Korea. Fr. Robert actually had his first Mass at Lebanon and was present for the dedication of St. Alphonsus' church in 1963, and Fr. Louis was the first priest ordained from the parish. After serving in the Air Force, Lou returned to work in his father’s lumber yard for a short while before taking a job with Ford Motor Company and moving his wife and children to Michigan. A few short years after his wife’s death, Lou decided to become a deacon in the Diocese of Lansing, where he continues the Weitzel tradition of service well into his nineties.
The many rooms and buildings that have been a part of St. Alphonsus are packed with a rich history, and even today, Lou still loves to share the story of its founding. All along, though, St. Alphonsus Liguori Catholic Church has been built high with the bricks of family and friendship, founded in the love and generosity of families like the Weitzels, and held together by the mortar of God’s love. After all, as Deacon Lou says, "Willing people make a parish. God will take care of the rest of it."
Families like the Weitzels continue to impact our parish and the Catholic Church through their response to discipleship and sharing of the gifts God has blessed them with. Today, families are participating in Fruitful Harvest to help support the diocese and the parish's latest building renovations.