Most of the following accounts were taken from a manual which appears to have been written by Father A. G. Wicke and Mr. L. C. Cullison in 1928.
Although Indiana was made a state in 1816, the Catholic population was very sparse in this area of the state. In 1835 Bishop Brute, passing through Terre Haute on his way to Chicago, wrote: "Had I said a Mass in Terre Haue, about twenty Catholics might have been present.”
The Reverend Simon Petit Lalumiere was the first native priest in Indiana. He was ordained in 1830 and was sent to be the first resident pastor of St. Joseph Church in Terre Haute in 1842, just two years after the completion of the National Road (US 40). Fr. Lalumiere remained at St. Joseph until his death in 1857. His duties took him as far north as Lafayette. The records of St. Paul's Church in Greencastle mention Father Lalumiere as the first priest to visit that city, probably not later than 1850.
Father Lalumiere's records indicate that in 1855 the first Catholics to move to Clay County were Joseph Watts and his wife Mary Ann, along with their family. The Watts family moved from Butler County, Ohio to Indiana, and settled near what is now Hoosierville in Clay County.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated in Clay County for the first time in 1860. Henry and Ann Boucher emigrated from County Clare, Ireland in 1847, and they moved down the Wabash and Erie Canal in 1859 into Clay County. They purchased a tract of land four miles southwest of what is now Brazil. After building a home for his family, he asked the officiating priest from St. Joseph’s Church in Terre Haute to offer Mass in his home. It was said that this tradition continued for the next 5 years. The priest that said the first Mass was probably Reverend Meinrad McCarty, O.S.B. from the Benedictine Monastery at St. Meinrad in Spencer County.
Brazil has been the county seat since 1877, when the courthouse records were secretly removed from Bowling Green, and transported to the newly built courthouse at Brazil. Platted in 1844, the town is supposed to have received its name from a local citizen who happened to be reading news about Brazil, South America. The town developed into a coal-shipping center in the 1850s. Among Brazil's coal drillers was John Clevland Hoffa, whose son, James R. Hoffa, born in Brazil in 1913, rose through the union ranks to lead the Teamsters from 1957 to 1971. The Hoffa family lived in Brazil until 1922.
In the 1850s the Benedictines were in charge of St. Joseph's Church in Terre Haute. Upon the death of Father Lalumiere in 1857, the Jesuits from St. Louis took charge of Saint Joseph’s for the next two years. In 1859 The Benedictines returned to run the parish, and among them was Father Meinrad McCarty. Not only did Father Meinrad celebrate the first Mass in Clay County; nearly every Catholic activity for the next fifteen years, in this part of Indiana, was planned, directed and carried to completion by him. Industrial development brought hundreds of Catholics into this part of Indiana. As early as 1863, the number of Catholics was sufficient to make a real demand for Catholic service. Three years after Mass had been first offered in Clay County, Father Meinrad celebrated Mas in Brazil. The Mass was celebrated in the house of John McQuaide, which was located a little east of Old Hill Cemetary and on the south side of what is now West National Avenue. Many early Catholics are buried in that cemetery because there was at that time no proper Catholic cemetery.
Mass was said somewhat regularly from 1864. It was also offered in the Donnelly house, located on Jackson, as well as in the home of John MQuaide, after he moved from Brazil to the Otter Creek area.
The first Catholic church was probably built in 1865 and was located in the neighborhood of Jackson and Franklin. Just how long it was used for a Catholic Church is uncertain. But after a year or so, ground was purchased and the humble church was moved to the present property and stood midway between Alabama and Harrison Streets, facing Church Street. In later years it gave way to the present church and was used as a part of the Sisters' house. In 1923 this venerable building was moved to the corner of Alabama and Church Streets and was incorporated in the new rectory which was completed that year.
Three more years passed before there were sufficient Catholics in the area to assure a resident pastor for Brazil. Although no one knows exactly when the official title of this church was bestowed upon it, it was assumed that from the very beginning the parish was placed under the direct protection of the mother of God, under the title, "Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary." As early as 1867 this title was official, for it is found on the title page of the earliest parish register.
Brazil probably didn't have a resident pastor before 1868. Records indicate that a resident pastor became a reality before the end of February, for on the 29th it was recorded that Sarah Moran was godmother for Mary Ellen Evans, after that date the records continue uninterruptedly to the present day. The fall of 1868 is also when the parochial school started in Brazil, and Father Meinrad was assigned as the resident pastor of Annunciation.
Not much is known about the original school building. It was said to have been a small frame building that was located just south of our present school building and faced Harrison Street. The first teacher was Mrs. Elizabeth Barnett and she was sometimes assisted by her step-daughter Miss Lydia Barnett, a non-Catholic. Father Meinrad also taught from time to time. Mrs. Winifred Sheridan also taught in the building, and Mrs. Sheridan and her husband Charles also constituted the first choir at Annunciation. What happened to the school is not clear because there is later reference to it being made into a residence and that it was then located across from the entrance to the church on Alabama Street.
Father Meinrad was indeed busy. He also said Mass in the house of Thomas Smith of Knightsville before 1872. Mr Smith married Father Meinrad's sister. Mr. Smith then wanted to build a home on the site occupied by the house that was then being used as a church. This necessitated the building of St. Patrick's church in Knightsville in about 1872. To raise money to build the church, Father Meinrad held a popularity contest between three mine bosses, the prize being a gold headed cane. Local pride produced at least part of the money that made the church in Knightsville a possibility. It must also be said that at about this same time a church was built in Carbon. Father Meinrad also said Mass in the basement of the house of Felix Haefle, one mile north of Cardonia.
Father Meinrad, the first resident priest of Brazil and the surrounding mission churches, continued his labors until November of 1875. In 1875 Fr. Meinrad was followed by another Benedictine, Father Benedict Brunet, who had occasionally assisted Father Meinrad the previous few years. Father Benedict remained only until August of 1877, when he was followed by the first secular priest in Brazil, Reverend Frances M. Mousset. Father Mousset had the reputation of a "born politician". It was said that he campaigned around the county for John McQuaide, who was seeking the nomination for sheriff. Unfortunately Mr. McQuaide was defeated by three or four votes.
The wheels of industry, powered by the mine fields, were now revolving rapidly. Catholics were continuing to come to Brazil in increasing numbers and it was not long before the old church was found to be too small. Under the direction of Father Mousset, a new church was planned. The foundation and the corner stone upon which the present church stands were laid early in 1880. But Father Mousset was not destined to complete the work he started, and he was removed in August of 1880. Reverend Hippolyte Pierrard was sent by the bishop to become the fourth pastor of Brazil, and he remained at his post of duty until failing health forced him to lay down the burden twenty-six years later. Arriving in Brazil, Father Pierrard found a somewhat chaotic condition, but with a business acumen that marked his entire pastorate he soon established order and in 1881 completed the church, which at that time, was one of the most imposing edifices in the Diocese of Vincennes.
Grown old in the service of God, it may no longer rank with the more beautiful churches in the diocese, but the dignity of age, that indefinable thing of beauty, still clings close about the old parish church that has beheld the sorrows and joys of generations of its children. It has welcomed them in Baptism into the bosom of Christ's mystical body, it has rejoiced with them as in holy wedlock it bid them God's blessing on life's uncertain voyage and it has mourned as they were carried over its worn threshold to the place of final rest. In the majestic splendor of service well done, its lofty spire bearing aloft, that all may see humanity's single hope, the Cross of Jesus Christ, the old church still stands as a monument to the heroic sacrifices and untiring devotion of Father Pierrard and his people.
It was not long after the completion of the church that the school was reorganized and placed under the care of the Sisters of St. Francis. The Sisters came in September of 1882 to take charge. With the exception of a few months in 1905, one order or another of Sisters were in charge of the school until around 1982.
A story told by Sister Agnes relates the conditions surrounding the early teachers in Brazil. It seems that one night the Sisters were terrified by threatening noises coming from the other room in their two room home. As dawn brought renewed hope after the night of terror, one of the Sisters ventured to attempt an investigation. Imagine their relief to learn that their unwelcome nocturnal visitor was a cow that had passed a blissful night in the Sisters' kitchen.
As the years passed Father Pierrard labored on. Father Pierrard ventured through the black, sticky mud of the impossible roads of the 1880s to carry the Eucharist to the sick or to offer the Sacred Mysteries in some of the outlying missions with but a single thought, to give glory to God and unselfish service in the cause of those whose spiritual father he was. The parish more than doubled in the twenty six years since Father had come to Brazil. The growing demands that accompanied this rapid growth, the primitive condition of the country roads and the almost constant exposure to every kind of weather finally exacted their toll, and in 1906 he was replaced by a younger priest. After being replaced as pastor, Fr. Pierrard passed away a few months later.
Father Pierrard had long realized the need of a new school to care for the increasing number of children, and before declining health had forced him to abandon his work, he had made full preparations. When the fifth pastor, Rev. Joseph T. Bauer, came in 1906, the basement and foundation of the present school were already completed. The new school building was soon completed, and within a short time nearly three hundred children were enrolled. This was the peak of the Catholic population in Brazil, and with the fading of the industrial revolution, the population soon started to decline.
In 1910 Father Bauer was moved to St. Mary's Church in Madison. Reverend Augustine J. Rawlinson, who had been Assistant at the Church of the Assumption, Evansville, now became the sixth pastor of Brazil. He came to steer the parish through a disheartening period. Industrial decline set in and families moved away leaving the church deeply in debt because of the recently completed school building. The failure of the Building and Loan Association wiped out a large sum that had been invested and earmarked for this debt. So the congregation was deeply discouraged. Nevertheless, by the time Father Rawlinson left, it is recorded by a parishioner that “the parish was in the best condition it had known for nearly 15 years.” Father Rawlinson also served as a mediator in labor-management disputes during his pastorate.
Fr. Rawlinson, in 1917, left to serve in the First World War. Fr. Wicke, who followed Fr. Rawlinson at Annunciation, wrote: “War could hardly be expected to have any terrors for one who had gone through the experiences of this parish since 1910.” During Fr. Rawlinson’s absence the parish was administered by the Rev. D. F. Fitzgerald, who also entered the army. Fr. Frederick Burget took over after Fr. Fitzgerald’s departure, but Fr. Rawlinson returned to Annunciation in 1919 from the war.
Here it is important to note that two parishioners died in France during WWI. They are Thomas L. Bussing and Robert Barnett Harris.
In 1921 Father A. G. Wicke became pastor. Fr. Wicke’s time at Annunciation coincided with the rise and development of the Ku Klux Klan in Clay County. Fr. Wicke made the rounds every day picking up oil-soaked rags that had been placed by the church walls between the buttresses. In spite of such strain, he encouraged the building of a new rectory and other needed improvements, amounting to nearly $25,000. He also, fortunately for posterity, compiled a History of the Catholic Church in Clay County when Annunciation Church celebrated the completion of its first 50 years in 1929.
Fr. Wicke’s pastorate also saw staff reorganization as the school was placed under the direction of the Sisters of Providence. It was at this point that the parish also acquired a full-time assistant pastor. Young men and women who had been reared in Annunciation Parish began entering religious vocations. The church took over the administration of several Missions. Father Wicke was remembered with great affection by members of the parish, some of whom would visit him at his home in Huntington, Indiana, after he retired.
In 1938, after 17 years of productive service, Father Wicke was succeeded by the Rev. J. F. Patterson. Father Patterson died in 1951 and few records are available. Some said he was busy with war work and was known as a good person to talk to.
In 1943 Father Patterson was succeeded by the Rev. Charles Wagner. Father Wagner recalled this as a rather tranquil period. A Holy Name Society and an Altar Society were active and a Boy Scout Troop was organized during this time. Each of the organizations averaged about 20 members.
In 1954, the Rev. Charles McSween was appointed pastor. Like Father Rawlinson, Father McSween had served in Europe “from Normandy until Czecho-Slovakia” and, like most of Annunciation’s pastors, he had been ordained at the St. Meinrad Seminary. Prior to coming to Brazil, Fr. McSween spent 2 months at St. Catherine’s in Indianapolis as an assistant to the pastor; 6 years at St. Ambrose in Seymour; and was assistant at St. Anne’s in Terre Haute when called to Annunciation as pastor. At this time industry was beginning to slow down—in fact the mines were mostly idle; but there were about 600 Catholics in Clay County out of a population of 24,000. It was during this period that the assistant at Annunciation, Father Dooley, was appointed Director of Guidance at Schulte High School in Terre Haute.
Although members recall Father Wagner was always making repairs with his own hands, the buildings were beginning to need major replacements. A gas furnace was installed in the rectory, and stokers installed in both the church and the school. Members of the church not only furnished money and materials, but many worked with their own hands painting, paneling the rectory, and laying a tile floor in the school.
During this period both the City of Brazil and Annunciation Church participated in international exchanges with Brazil, the South American country. On Oct. 16, 1958, the Brazilian Consul, Joao Tiereira, brought a carved wooden statue of Brazil’s patron saint, “Nossa Senhora” (Our Lady of Aparacedia) as a gift from Cardinal Mottal, Cardinal Archbishop of Sao Paulo, to Annunciation Church. This statue now resides in Mary’s side altar. In a picture in the centennial anniversary book the statue was accepted by Father McSween and Father Mooney with altar boy Robert Knierim looking on.
In 1961, Father McSween was transferred to St Francis de Sales Church in Indianapolis. Fr. McSween was replaced by Father Anthony Spicuzza. The decline in local industries had become acute. New families continued to move in, but not to work locally, as most earned their living in Terre Haute, Greencastle, or Indianapolis. In October of 1965, an Indianapolis paper noted that Brazil had “lost almost half of its retail shops: and applied for Federal Urban Renewal.
The Depression, World War II, the cessation of immigration from Europe, and now, the Age of Mechanization and Automation have revolutionized the town’s way of life. Because of these changes, there have been changes to how Annunciation Church was administered. Although the three Masses were packed almost every Sunday, many of those who attended were persons vacationing at nearby resorts. The actual membership of the parish was between 400 and 500 souls.
Fr. Spicuzza, like most of his predecessors, was a native Hoosier. He was born in Indianapolis where he graduated from Cathedral High School. Father attended Notre Dame University and Saint Mary College, in Saint Mary, Kentucky. Father attended Saint Meinrad for his seminary work, and was ordained a priest at Saint Meinrad on June 11, 1946. He served as assistant pastor at St. Andrew Church in Richmond for 15 years before coming to Brazil.
Father Bernard Schmitz, who served as the assistant pastor, was born June 11, 1931, in Cincinnati. He received his high school, college and seminary training at St. Meinrad, being ordained on May 3, 1957.
To worship in safety as well as comfort, it was necessary to replace the church roof in 1961 when slates from the original roof began sliding off. In 1963, a new boiler system was put in for both the church and the school. This abolished the coal furnace in the school which allowed room for the cafeteria and recreation room in the basement. Electrified bells were also installed in 1963, and new pews were installed in 1966 which replaced the ones that had served since 1880. There is no record, however, of when the organ was installed, nor is the donor of the organ recorded. The white plaster-of-paris Stations of the Cross are mentioned in the manual of 1929. The Stations of the Cross are said to have been imported from Europe.
The 1963 remodeling of the school basement included a new ventilating system for the classrooms, remodeling of the former coal-bin in the basement with yellow ceramic tile, a Clay County product, and light cherry wood paneling. The basement at that configuration could seat 250. Offices and storage rooms have since been added, which has cut down on the available seating.