August 10, 1851
The property on which St. Augustine stands today was purchased in the mid 1850's by Father Augustus Bessiones, who was the first resident priest in Jeffersonville. The church's foundation was laid in 1864, and construction continued for several years. By 1869 the bell tower and the front of the church were finished. The church was named St. Augustine in honor of Father Augustus Bessiones.
The parish obtained a large pipe organ, a main altar, two bells, and a wood carved pulpit. In the middle of the church hung a large chandelier, and all the windows were plain, not stained glass. The church was slightly damaged by the flood waters of 1883-84 when water reached as high as the second step of the main altar.
As the congregation grew, a remodeling of the structure began to take place. Steam heat, stained-glass windows, electric lights, and a new main altar were all added, and the walls were frescoed.
On December 9, 1903, during the remodeling period it is believed a careless worker dropped a match which started a fire, and in a day's time only the walls and bell tower were left standing. The loss was estimated at $40,000. By the spring of 1904 what was left standing was torn down and a new building was built. The style of architecture for the new church was Spanish Renaissance. It is believed that much of the new construction was done by the parishioners.
On June 18, 1905, the parishioners were able to celebrate Mass in the partially completed structure. In 1910 three new bells, weighing 2 1/2 tons, were placed in the large tower, and a manual pipe organ was purchased and installed in the church balcony.
The bells were named:
- Joannes (the small bell), John -- with the inscription: Laudate pueri dominum "Children, Praise the Lord"
- Jacoeus (the medium bell), James -- with the inscription: Laudate Dominum omnes gentes "All peoples praise the Lord"
- Augustinus (the large bell), Augustine -- with the inscription: Gloria in excelsis Deo "Glory to God in the highest"
In 1913 a major renovation of the church was undertaken after the parish received a donation of $15,000 for the marble from Mr. John Morgan. The marble was ordered from Italy, and there was concern because World War I was in progress and the ships could be sunk bringing the marble from Italy. The marble did not arrive until 1924.
Workers were sent from Italy to help put everything together. The main altar, two side altars, communion rails, pillars, and statues were constructed of marble, but the wainscoting and stations of the cross are not marble. Marble terrazzo was added to the sanctuary floor.
A unique piece is the sculpture of the Lord's Last Supper above the back altar. The sculpture was done by Amedo T. Nardini of Carproni Galleries in Amedo, Italy. The church floor had to be shored up due to the weight of the marble.
The stained-glass windows, depicting the Mysteries of the Rosary, were added in the early 1920's. These windows, manufactured by the Emil Frei Company of Munich, Germany, were placed inside the original clear glass windows, giving added insulation from the weather. The new altars and redecorated church were consecrated on March 25, 1925.
A new marble pulpit was donated to the church by O.H. Wathen just in time for the 1937 flood waters of the Ohio River, which reached the top of the main altar.
Since 1973 the church, as well as the parish, has experienced many changes and improvements. These include a new organ, a new boiler, air conditioning, insulation, ceiling fans, light fixtures, new paint, and a platform new front altar which brings the congregation and the priest together as one in the celebration and worship. This was done in accordance with new Liturgical guidelines handed down from Vatican II.
In 1983 another major renovation project was completed. The church roof was repaired, the inside of the church was carpeted, and new pews were installed. The interior and the Stations of the Cross were painted.
The "old" sacristy became a Blessed Sacrament chapel, allowing for small liturgies and a quiet place for prayer. The marble pulpit was restructured and moved next to the altar. Sections from the communion rail were utilized in the design and construction of the new altar.
In 1955 a new speaker system was added. In 1997 repairs were made to the roof, a sprinkler system was installed, and extensive replastering was completed. The interior was also painted, the marble was cleaned, and new carpeting was installed.
Taking note of the struggles and sacrifices necessary to build the house of the Lord, we appreciate the interest and support of various churches and congregations who have experienced similar struggles.
The more than 150 year history of St. Augustine Church has been a story of tests and trials to establish a house of worship. As Christians, we await the "Day of the Lord" with patient endurance, carrying our cross at times and realizing that tests are God's way of "creating us anew."
We have suffered through a fire and two floods; however, God's goodness and glory eventually shine through. God has certainly been good to the Catholic Community of St. Augustine.
We are happy to share God's goodness with you. We are pleased to share our heritage which is manifest in this church building. We thank you for the time you have shared with us.