March 1, 2024 | Archives, Local News, Your Stories
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

The new stone church for St. Mary Magdalene in Sorgho in 1948. The old school is seen at the right. COURTESY OF GRADY EBELHAR

Rock solid: Looking back at St. Mary Magdalene’s history in its present stone church


On Jan. 28, 2024, St. Mary Magdalene celebrated 75 years in the stone church which was built in 1948 and dedicated on Jan. 27, 1949. The Men’s Club provided breakfast in the parish hall after the 8 a.m. Mass. St. Mary Magdalene Parish began in 1907 with a wooden church and was in great need of repair when the new stone church was built. There have been 19 different priests who have served in St. Mary Magdalene Parish for these 75 years. St. Mary Magdalene still remains as rock solid as the St. Meinard stone it was built with.

A little over 75 years ago thoughts were of building a new church here at St. Mary Magdalene. The old wooden church had served its purpose of getting St. Mary Magdalene established. As someone said, it was easier to cool in the winter than it was to heat and easier to warm in the summer than cool. Several fundraisers were held for the purpose of building a new church. It really did not become a serious idea until Fr. Robert Wilson arrived in 1946. By 1948 it was well under construction. The architect was Thomas Nelson. The general contractors were John Hamberg of Owensboro and Ubelhor Brothers of Evansville. When the church was finished, the dedication took place on Jan. 27, 1949. Bishop Francis R. Cotton celebrated Mass with Fr. Wilson.

Fr. Henry Willett came from August 1949 until August 1950. Fr. Willett came as a substitute for nearly one year to replace Fr. Wilson who went to Chicago on an assignment. When Fr. Wilson returned in 1950, he developed an idea of building a new school. It was completed in 1951 and consisted of three classrooms. Fr. Wilson remained until 1957. Fr. Aloysious Powers stayed until 1962 when Fr. William Hagman. Fr. Hagman helped to supervise the new rectory but never lived there before its completion. Fr. William McAtee became the first resident priest when he arrived in February 1965. Fr. McAtee’s stay was short lived. Fr. Robert Garlick came to St. Mary Magdalene in the fall of 1965 and stayed for one year. In 1966, Fr. George Boehmicke came and became the longest resident priest we have had for 17 years.

In the summer of 1975, the parish hall building project was in progress. On Nov. 9, 1975, Bishop Henry J. Soenneker dedicated the parish hall building. Fr. Boehmicke retired in 1983.

The present-day St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Sorgho, with its new narthex added in 2019. COURTESY OF GRADY EBELHAR

Fr. Henry O’Bryan (F.O.B) came to Sorgho in 1983. In 1984, the remodeling of the church took place. New paint, a speaker system and a new carpet were all installed. The communion rail was removed, and the stone altar was turned away from the wall to face the congregation. The parish hall was used for about two weeks for Mass while the pews were removed for carpet and while the painting was completed. On Aug. 12, 1984, Bishop John J. McRaith celebrated Mass to consecrate the new altar.

In May 1988, the final 8th grade class graduated from St. Mary Magdalene School. In the fall it opened under the name of “Holy Angels.”

In 1989, Fr. Kevin Karl arrived along with Fr. Danny Goff. Fr. Karl only stayed for one year. Fr. Goff became the full-time priest in 1990. In the fall 1990, the bell tower was removed from the church and a new roof was installed. In Jan. 1991, the new heating and air-conditioning system was installed. Fr. J. Patrick Reynolds became our pastor in 1994.

In December 1998, a parish hall renovation began. This completion coincided with the 50th anniversary of our present-day church. We were honored to have Bishop McRaith to join us on February 7, 1999, for the rededication of the parish hall.

Fr. Reynolds was instrumental in getting our own parish cemetery close to the church. In 2003 a new cemetery was established. In June 2004, Fr. Richard Powers was assigned to St. Mary Magdalene. The new cemetery was dedicated by the bishop on Sept. 11, 2004.

Fr. Richard Powers retired in June of 2007. He was replaced by Fr. Pat Bittel. On June 14, 2009 Fr. Mark Buckner arrived. In 2012 the parish hall was updated. In 2017 Fr. Shaiju Thomas arrived. In 2018 the parish began meeting concerning building a narthex on the front of the church. In 2019 narthex money was pledged and the council discussed and voted to approve to move forward. The blessing of the narthex was on Sept. 29.

In 2021 Fr. Augusty Valomchalil came to St. Mary Magdalene in June. The tabernacle was relocated back behind the altar. The Sacred Heart statue was restored and placed at the side altar. In 2022 the rectory was fully renovated. In 2023 Fr. Jamie Dennis arrived in June.

There are still several families living in the parish who have resided here for over 75 years. They are the families of: Bartley, Beyke, Boarman, Clayton, Collignon, Leo Ebelhar Family, Peter Ebelhar Family, Elder, Fleishman, Fogle, Gilles, Green, Greenwell, Head, Holinde, Kaelin, Nace Knott Family, R.M. Knott Family, Mulligan, Scherm, Smith, Stephens, Stowers, and Thompson.

Donna and Grady Ebelhar are lifetime members of St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Sorgho.

Originally printed in the March 2024 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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