St. Malachy Celebrates 150-Year Anniversary & Gears Up for 45th Country Fair
Photographer / Amy Payne
More than 150 years ago, a small group of leaders had a vision for what St. Malachy Parish could be. They purchased land for the church on April 20, 1866, and the note required for the construction of the building was signed by six parishioners: Timothy Casserly, Thomas Corliss, Martin Dugan, Thomas Maloney, Timothy Quinn and Thomas Ward. On September 26, 1869, St. Malachy Parish was established — a 30×40 wood frame building with Fr. John Brassart as the founding pastor. Two families who helped start St. Malachy 150 years ago — the Hessions and the Maloneys — are still active in the Parish today.
“Both families have always been very integrated in what’s going on at St. Malachy,” says Jennifer Zeunik, St. Malachy’s Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator.
Bernadette Davidson’s great-great-great-grandfather, Martin Hession, came over from Ireland by himself when he was just 14 years old and became a farmhand in the Indianapolis area before settling in Hendricks County. Her Grandma Hession was a devout Catholic who instilled strong values in her 11 children whom she raised by herself when her husband died of tuberculosis.
“When my dad and his brothers were old enough to drive, his mom wouldn’t let them go out on dates or with friends until they attended Saturday afternoon confession,” Bernadette says. “When my sister, Marijane Armbruster, was little and people asked what she liked to do in her free time, she would always reply, ‘I like to go to ballgames, and I like to go to church!’”
In 1974, Ruth Velikan and former St. Malachy principal Maggie McClain (who died in 2007) started the Country Fair, which, according to Bernadette, was originally spelled Country Fare because they had a debt they were trying to pay off. Sometime in the mid-80s, the debt was paid and the church held a celebratory bonfire where they burned the mortgage papers.
Through the years, the Country Fair has evolved. It started as an October event, but they later paired it with the Brownsburg Old Fashion Days, moving it to the third weekend in September.
“We had various activities at Arbuckle Acres Park and area high schools,” Bernadette says. “Trolleys would take you around to different places.”
From there, it continued to grow as carnival rides, tents and musical acts were added. Scores of people volunteered to ensure that the event ran smoothly. Last year, 10,000 people showed up to partake in the fun. And to think it all started with three hogs. Each year farmers such as the Maloneys, Hessions, Starkeys and McClains donated the hogs. Some years the pigs even served as entertainment.
“There was a Johnny Carson show where pigs were racing and that sparked the idea to do it here,” Bernadette says. “We had a pen and kids would chase them.”
The biggest draw, however, is the food — all of which is prepared by church members.
“Our cooks are up at 3 a.m. smoking 2,000 pounds of meat to prepare for the day ahead,” Zeunik says.
For years, Bernadette was in charge of the BBQ. She’s also the one who suggested selling corn on the cob.
“That first year of doing corn, we sold 600 ears,” Bernadette says. “Now we sell 3,000.”
This year’s Country Fair will take place September 20-21. Attendees can once again expect tasty food, fun rides and live music, including Tightrope, Big Daddy Caddy, Cornfield Mafia, and Southridge.
“The Country Fair is about bringing people together to have a good time,” Zeunik says.
It’s hard to believe that when the church was first founded, the congregation consisted of just six families. Today, they have 2,100 members and a seating capacity of 1,500. In fact, according to Father Sean Danda, St. Malachy has become one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese and is the largest church building in the archdiocese.
Danda, who grew up in Brownsburg, recalls how small the community was when he was a child.
“I remember when Jesse’s Supermarket was present,” remarks Danda, who says his dad moved the family to this small farming community so they could live in the country.
“After I hit high school, I think everyone got the same idea,” Danda says. “About that time the housing market started to boom.”
Today Brownsburg boasts much diversity, which Danda believes only strengthens the community as a whole.
“Our congregation has [many different ethnicities],” says Danda, the first priest to come through St. Malachy. “Combining many different experiences of the church and of the world has helped us flourish.”
As Brownsburg has grown and evolved, so, too, has St. Malachy. When they outgrew their old space, they first moved the church to this location, then later the school. With more than 78 acres, they have plenty of room for buildings and ballfields, which they share with the public.
“It’s been great being able to do more for the surrounding community,” Zeunik says. For instance, Brownsburg High School utilizes St. Malachy’s fields for lacrosse.
“We continue to make Brownsburg a more fruitful place to live based on the faith tradition that has been passed on,” Danda says.
Bernadette Hession agrees. She still vividly recalls her dad dropping to his knees every day to pray.
“We were blessed to have parents that showed us how to daily embrace our faith,” Bernadette says.
St. Malachy used to have the Sisters of Providence travel from Terre Haute to teach. But since they didn’t drive, volunteers picked them up at St. Mary’s and brought them to St. Malachy. When the school was built in 1951, the nuns were able to live on-site.
“Our school has come a long way from the Sisters of Providence to where we are today, producing great people like John Andretti,” Danda says.
They’ve also had quite a few students go on to become valedictorians and salutatorians of Brownsburg High, Tri-West, Cathedral and Cardinal Ritter.
“We’re a tight-knit community, but we prepare our students to exceed in their high school careers,” Danda adds.
Beatrice Bursten, who has been with the Parish for the past 15 years and has sent her son to St. Malachy from kindergarten through eighth grade, recalls a special evening at the 2016 Country Fair.
“As everything was closing down on that Saturday evening, I was walking toward the church to the east,” Bursten says. “The manner in which it was lit from the outside and moon just above its roof line made for a moment where I literally stopped and took it all in, recognizing that I was looking at something very meaningful.”
St. Malachy Catholic Church is located at 9833 E. CR 750 N. in Brownsburg. For more information, call 317-852-3195 or visit stmalachy.org.