Biography of Rev. Balthasar Biegel

REV. BALTHASAR BIEGEL, The cross and the emblems of the Catholic church were exhibited in Elwood many years ago, when the first Mass was celebrated in the house of John Buchanan, then situated on the corner of Main and Sixteenth streets, and thereafter services were frequently held in what was called “The Section House,” which was later removed to South B street and is now occupied by Mrs. William Rooney, During these pioneer days the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was als0 offered up in the house of Bernard Bauer, then on East Main street, at the home of Gustav Kramer on South Anderson street, and in that of Bridget Smith, located two doors east of the present site of the St, Joseph’s Church, and now owned by William Fessler, Prior to 1860 the village was, at irregular intervals, visited by missionary priests, these bold and self-denying workers, including Father Maloney, Father Clark and Father Fitzmaurice, who came from Indianapolis, Lafayette and Anderson to minister to the spiritual needs of the few scattered Catholics, In 1860 the place became a station and thereafter was regularly attended on week days by Father McMahon, who was pastor at Anderson from 1860 to 1865, During Father McMahon’s time, two lots, each 66×132 feet, were purchased from William Barton and Peter Well, then on Simmons, but now South A street, each costing sixty dollars, The money for one lot was raised by the Catholic people, and for the other it was borrowed from John and Thomas Smith, and the deal was made by Father McMahon and John Buchanan in 1862, Father McMahon was succeeded by Father J. B. Crawley, who attended Elwood from 1865 to 1884 while residing at Anderson, and under his charge the station became a mission, and was attended once a month, on Sundays. In February, 1880, the little flock decided to build a church, as the following statement by Father Crawley indicates, this being at the same time the first record of the parish that can be found, viz: “Elwood, Madison County, February 3, 1880, he it hereby known that on this date of February 3, 1880, Bernard Bauer of Elwood and James Cornelius of Curtisville, were duly elected by the vote of the Catholic congregation of Elwood and vicinity, treasurer and secretary respectively, and are empowered to collect and hold funds for the erection of a Catholic Church in Elwood, guaranteeing sufficient security to collect and hold same.” Steps were immediately taken to raise money by subscription and festivals for the erection of this first church, which was a brick structure, 25×40 feet, with a small vestry, 10×10 feet on the east side, The building, the estimated cost of which was $1,500, was completed in the fall of 1881 find was dedicated by Bishop Dwenger, At that time the following families constituted the parish: Bernard Bauer, John Besch, John Buchanan, James Conner, James Cornelius, Frank Gieselbach, Patrick Healy, James Kelly, Gustav Kramer, Daniel O’Brien, John Doyle, Patrick Dugan, John Finan, James Gallagher, Michael Gavin, Patrick Reddington, William Rooney, Patrick Shay, Bridget Smith and Richard Wilson, Father Crawley is still held in grateful remembrance by the few surviving old settlers. He made many trying and irksome trips on the handcar visiting Elwood and other missions from Anderson. Father F. C. Wiechman succeeded him, and attended the Elwood mission from 1884 to 1889, while he was pastor of Anderson. He attended the place on the fourth Sunday of each month and enjoyed great popularity among all classes.

In 1889 the mission was raised to a parish with Rev, Balthasar Biegel as the first resident pastor, the appointment going into effect Sunday, July 28, 1889. This also was the first appointment of Rev. Father Biegel, who had just been ordained in June of the same year, Elwood, now a city of twelve thousand inhabitants, at this time numbered only eight hundred inhabitants, but the village had before it a promising future and prospects of a rapid growth, Natural gas had just been discovered in this locality and industries were looking for locations, The history of the city dates back to March 1. 1853. when it was laid out as a town by James Anderson, Mark Simmons, and J. B. Frazier, and called Quincy, but to avoid confusion in the mail, the name was changed to Elwood, July 21, 1869, The history of the Catholic church has been contemporaneous with that of the city, The first Catholic settler who came to the vicinity was Patrick Shay, a native of Ireland, who passed away an honored citizen March 10. 1907. When, in 1857, the Pennsylvania railroad was built through Elwood, about half a dozen other Catholic families came to the village, being of. sturdy Trish and German nationality, At the time of Rev, Father Biegel’s appointment, Bishop Dwenger said: “Elwood is now a small mission, but it will soon be a large parish, You will have a great deal of hard work to perform, and I may have to give you a little financial aid in the beginning, Let me know when you need it,” However, the generous people of Elwood managed to keep their pastor above water, and never let him want for anything, and the assistance offered by Fort Wayne was never needed.

Father Biegel said his first mass at Elwood, Sunday, July 28, 1889, on which day Father Wiechman made his farewell address. He preached his ‘first sermon to the parish on August 4, 1889, and selected for his text the words: “Pax Vobis,” “Peace Be to You ;” and peace and harmony have ever been blessings to St. Joseph’s Parish, and have, no doubt, been the real secret of its success, Immediately after the appointment of the new pastor, the congregation set to work to build new priest’s house. It was a neat, cozy, one-story, six-room house, built west of the little church, and cost $1,000, The rapidly increasing membership of the parish necessitated more room for church purposes, and in the spring of 1892 it was decided to enlarge the old church to three times its former size, this being done at a cost of $2,500, In the fall of 1892 the enlarged and remodeled church was dedicated by Very Rev, M. E. Campion, delegated by Right Rev, Joseph Dwenger, who was ill at the time, During the same year a bell was purchased, and was blessed by Rev, J. H. Bathe, delegated by the Bishop. In 1891 a parochial school was established, a one-room, frame building, costing $700, north of the church, and in September of this year it was opened with an attendance of eighty pupils, Miss Margaret Murphy was placed in charge of this parochial school, while Father Biegel assisted in the work, taking classes to the parsonage, In 1893 a second room was added and was placed in charge of Miss Margaret Cauley, the addition costing about $800, The number of children attending the parochial school continued to increase so rapidly that the two teachers could no longer do justice to them, and it became necessary to secure more teachers and to place the school on a more systematic basis, The time to place the school in care of one of the many religious orders had arrived, and the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Academy, Tipton, Indiana, were engaged to take charge of the school, coming in September, 1894. On February 14, 1894, the school house had been damaged by a fire which originated in a defective chimney, and the entire roof was destroyed and school had to be continued in the church. The building was immediately rebuilt, and a second story, with two rooms, was added at an approximate expense of $1,000, In the fall of 1899 ta high school department was added to the school, and it became necessary to take two of the lower grades to the church in order to accommodate all the children. On January 29, 1911, Father Biegel made a proposition to erect a new school building, the old one having been but temporary, and the parish cheerfully consented to the movement and it was determined to erect a modern school building at a cost of $45,000, which is now in course of construction, Not only the Catholics of the city, but those of other creeds and denominations, supported the cause by liberal contributions, and at this writing (1913) inure than one-half of the money needed has been raised. Alfred Grindle, of Indianapolis, is the architect, and Frank Medland, of Logansport, the contractor.

In the fall of 1896 it became imperative to provide for more suitable living quarters for the Sisters. The parish decided, therefore, to convert the priest’s house into a convent for them, and to. erect a new pastoral residence, It must here be said, that in the spring of 1894 a piece of ground, equal to eight large city lots, adjoining the original church property, was purchased of Gustav Kramer at a cost of $1,000, Mr. Kramer receiving $500 in cash and being given a funded High Mass. The ground was at that time considered of much greater value, but Mr. Kramer sold it at this reasonable price because it was intended for church purposes, On the west line of this newly acquired property, a new parsonage was built at a cost of $3,000, It is a twelve-room building and furnishes ample accommodation for the pastor and his guests, The congregation introduced the pastor into the new priest’s house with a joyful “house warming,” October 3, 1896, after which the old parsonage was turned over to the Sisters.

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For a number of years it had been the ambition of the people and the pastor to build a new church to meet the requirements of the growing parish, and as early as 1894 they began to accumulate funds for this purpose. Their dream was finally to be realized, when in the spring of 1899, ground was broken for the new edifice. The massive basement, twelve feet in height, built of Bedford stone, was completed during the same year. The corner-stone of the new edifice was laid on the eighth day of October, 1899, by Very Rev, John H. Guendling, then administrator of the diocese of Fort Wayne, Bishop Joseph Rademacher, the successor of Bishop Dwenger having died, Some fivc thousand people attended the celebration and societies from all parts of the state participated in a grand parade, During the year 1900 the super-structure was built, and the following year the church was completed in all its details, and was dedicated to the honor of God on July 14, 1901, by Right Rev. H. J. Alerding, Bishop of Fort Wayne, William Gettinger of Union City, Indiana, was the architect of the structure, The basement was built by August Gleitze of Logansport, Indiana, and the super-structure by Medland Brothers of that city. Lute Douge, of Elwood did the plastering, and Fred Ryan of Anderson, had the contract for the interior wood work, The steam heating apparatus was installed by J. H. Asire, of Logansport, The building is in the Romanesque style of architecture, built of brick and stone. It is 132 feet in length, inside measurement, 56 feet wide in the nave, 66 feet across the towers, and 70 feet across the vestries. The tower at the southeast corner is 138 feet high, while the other one rises 101 feet above the sidewalk, The interior ceiling is 41 feet above the floor, which slopes gradually and imperceptibly to the altars, While the structure is beautiful on the outside, it is within that the great amount of money and pains have been applied. The entrance to the church is through three massive stone doorways, set between the two towers. Just inside them is a roomy, vestibule, with the baptistry to the left, Entering the auditorium proper, a veritable feast of art and beauty greets the eye. On the high ceiling, four upon each side, have been painted eight life-sized pictures of saints, representing the eight beatitudes. The figures which represent the beatitudes, are in their order as follows St. Francis of Assisi, St, Francis de Sales, St, Mary Magdalene, St, Boniface, St, Vincent de Paul, St, Aloysius, St, Elizabeth and St, Stephen, In the sanctuary, above the altar, are the figures of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the organ gallery are paintings of St, Rose of Lima, the first American Saint, and St. Philomina, the patroness of working girls, Above the proscenium arch, on a scroll, is a Latin inscription, which translated into English means.

“Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world,” The fresco work forms a fitting background for the paintings, and the blending of the colors is such as to produce a friendly and cheerful effect, This work was done by Leber Brothers, of Louisville, Kentucky, students of the art schools of Italy. The art glass windows, which cost more than $3,000, are arranged in pairs beginning at the entrance, On the east side the first window represents the birth of Christ, the opposite one representing His death, The next east window shows St, Patrick preaching the Gospel, while its counterpart gives the Good Samaritan practicing the teaching of the Saviour, The third pair represents the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin and the Apparition of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The west window, next to the altar, represents the Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she is to be the Mother of Jesus, while in the opposite window-is shown the Angel Guardian. On the sanctuary there is a window representing the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove, This is surrounded by twenty-four lights, and makes a surpassingly beautiful showing at night, The circular window in the organ loft shows St, Cecelia, the patroness of church music, All of the large side windows have three small panels below them, the one in the center containing the emblem of the society which donated them, while on each side are boquets of St, Joseph’s lilies emblematic of the patron saint of the church, These lilies are also used extensively in the decoration of the walls and ceilings. The windows were all made by the Artistic Glass Painting Company, of Cincinnati, Ohio, the figures being of glass imported from Switzerland.

All the ordinary church societies are affiliated with the parish, The Rosary Society for the married ladies; the Young Men’s and Young Ladies’ Sodality for the young people; the Holy Name Society for the men, and the Society of the Children of Mary and the Infant .Jesus Society for the children, The Apostleship of Prayer has done its effective work in the parish since 1894, Besides these church societies, fraternal organizations, for men and for women, are also well represented, The Catholic Benevolent Legion was organized April 9, 1893; the Ancient Order of Hibernians, January 23, 1898; the Catholic Order of Foresters. August 6, 1900; a council of Knights of Columbus, May 16, 1903; the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, December 5, 1898; and the Ladies’ Catholic Benevolent Association, October 22, 1903. These societies have commodious and well furnished quarters, with a reading room, and elegant apartments for innocent recreation.

A handsome pipe organ which is in keeping with the interior decorations and furnishings adorns the organ gallery, while the various altars and stations are beautiful in design and complete the decorations, The church as it stands is valued at $60,000, Immediately after the dedication of the new church, the old one was remodeled for school purposes, and the Sisters’ convent was remodeled at the same time and an extra story added to the building, these improvements costing in the neighborhood of $2,000, When the church property was first purchased, the ground was low and swampy, but was considered a very desirable place on account of its location in the center of the city, It took 10,000 yards of earth to fill the lots and put them in proper condition, and the grounds are now among the most beautiful in the city. In the spring of 1905 a lot, 66×132 feet across the street from the school, with a brick building on it, was purchased by the congregation, as was also a nine- room house with a lot 50×132 feet, west of the parsonage. Conditions were such that the church should control this property, the rent of which now constitutes a good source of revenue for the parish. The church ground proper has a frontage of 350 feet on South A street, with the average depth of 250 feet, A paved street passes the property, and a cement walk, ten feet in width, extends along the entire frontage, which improvements cost approximately $3,000, For a long time a creek, running along the north line of the property, had been the cause of much annoyance to the parish, but the difficulty was finally remedied, satisfactorily and definitely, by a retaining wall 280 feet in length, which was constructed jointly by the city of Elwood and St, Joseph’s congregation, at a cost of $1,500, Many ornamental trees and shrubs have been planted, and the spacious church grounds now offer an ideal place for the schoolchildren’s play-ground and for out-door social gatherings. The little “mustard seed” of thirty-two years ago has grown to a majestic tree, and a conservative estimate places the value of all the Catholic church property of Elwood at $150,000.

Man’s body is a temple of the Holy Ghost, The bodies of Catholics are anointed in the holy sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Extreme Unction, They are taken to the church for the last blessing after death, and it is the desire of the church that the mortal remains of practical Catholics should be buried in consecrated ground, For this reason St, Joseph’s parish purchased five acres of land one and 0ne-half miles south and one-half mile westt of the city for a Catholic cemetery, at a cost of $500, Several hundred dollars worth of improvements have since been made on the ground, and about 400 bodies have been buried there, awaiting the summons of God to resurrection, The Very Rev, M. E. Campion, at that time dean of the Logansport district of the diocese of tort Wayne blessed the cemetery in the fall of 1891.

Rev. Balthasar Biegel, whose untiring labors have made possible the erection of this great structure, was born at Hanover Center, Lake County, Indiana, August 6, 1866, and is a son of Peter and Theresa Biegel, natives of Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, His paternal grandparents emigrated from Germany, and settled in Missouri, where they died advanced in years, having had a large family, which included Peter, Henry, David, John and Mary, The maternal grandparents, on coming to the United States, located in Lake County, Indiana, where the father died at the age of seventy-eight years, and his wife when eighty-nine years of age, They became the parents of four children: Theresa, John, Elizabeth and Catherine.

Peter Biegel was a lad of about seven years when he accompanied his parents to America, the first location of the family being at Strawtown, New York. Soon thereafter, however, they came to Lake County, Indiana, and here Mr. Biegel grew to manhood, He became a farmer, and as such removed to New’ Cambria, Missouri, in 1873, and there his death occurred in 1895, when he was fifty-seven years of age, his widow following him to the grave in 1908, when sixty-five years old, They were the parents of ten children: John, Balthasar, George, Frank, Henry, Mary, Helen, Margaret, Albert and Peter.

Father Biegel was baptized at St, John’s Church, the mother church of what now forms the Schererville district of the diocese of Fort Wayne, He received his first Holy Communion at St. Martin’s Church, Hanover Centre, Indiana, October 3, 1880, and was encouraged by Rev, William Berg, one time pastor of his native village, to study for the priesthood. Preparatory to his course in college, he was given private lessons in Latin and Greek by Father Berg and feels himself bound by undying gratitude to this, his first zealous and model pastor, He later entered St. Lawrence College, Mt, Calvary, Wisconsin, where he graduated from the classical course in June, 1885. He then made his course in Philosophy and Theology at St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and received minor orders, sub-deaconship and deaconship from Archbishop Heiss, of Milwaukee, and was ordained priest by Bishop Dwenger at the Cathedral of Fort Wayne, on June 15, 1889, with fourteen months’ dispensation, the required age being twenty-four years. He celebrated his first Holy Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 20, 1889, at St, John’s Church., the church of his baptism, Immediately after his ordination he was appointed first resident pastor of Elwood, with Noblesville, Cicero, Mullin’s Settlement and Alexandria as missions.

In Elwood, Father Biegel’s influence, always for the good, felt in every nook and corner. The respect which he inspired in the little village on his arrival has not abated as the place has grown into a prosperous city, but is increased as time goes on, TO the talents of a pastor is added the learning of a scholar and littérateur, which, united with a rare business tact and ability to govern, has made him already a conspicuous figure in the church and the state, and has gained him the confidence, the good will and the love of all classes, denominations and nationalities.



Madison County IN,

Forkner, John. History of Madison County, Indiana: a narrative account of its historical progress, its people and its principal interests. Chicago: The Lewis publishing company, 1914.

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