When Fr. Joseph Kundek invited German Catholics from the Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville areas to come and settle in the new town of Ferdinand, many stout-hearted Germans came down the river to Troy and set out over land to the town. Many of them had seen advertisements published in 1840 in Der Wahreheitsfreund, a German-language Catholic weekly. The advertisement read:
"The German Catholic congregation in Jasper, Dubois County, Indiana, has laid out a new town with the name ‘Ferdinand’ twelve miles south of Jasper on the Troy Road, about eighteen miles from the Ohio. In the middle of the town there is a Catholic church; in the neighborhood of the town there are about forty farmers, and more than 120 sections of Congress land - The region is healthful, the soil fertile. A German Catholic priest is appointed for it as soon as the congregation increases."
The first arrivals expected to find a cluster of cabins set up in a clearing in the woods. Instead they only found a clapboard nailed to a big oak tree with the name “Ferdinand” burnt in with an iron. Plans for the town existed merely on paper.
Some of the settlers continued on to Evansville, but others decided to help build the town of Fr. Kundek’s dreams. Philip Wagner bought the first plot of land from Fr. Kundek, just south of the town limits. He built a two-story log house there, and it was here that Fr. Kundek celebrated the first Holy Mass in Ferdinand on April 22, 1840.
In the fall of 1840 residents built the town’s first log church, a modest structure 32 feet long and 16 feet wide. In 1842 a more spacious log church, measuring 40 feet by 25 feet, was built to accommodate the fifty or so families that had settled in Ferdinand. The original church was remodeled to serve as a school and rectory. By 1844 the expanding congregation had outgrown the second log church as well, and Fr. Kundek made plans for a larger and more permanent church of stone. The cornerstone of this church was laid on July 25, 1845, and the building was completed in 1848.
The new stone structure, measuring 112 feet by 60 feet, still forms the heart of the present St. Ferdinand Church. Its architectural imperfections are integral to its charm. In his history of Ferdinand, Fr. Albert Kleber, OSB, offers the following observation about the church’s pillars: "Actual measurement of these pillars reveals the fact that the distance from pillar to pillar differs with each pair: no two pairs along either side are equidistant—the difference being from less than one to more than five feet—not even opposite pairs in each case on parallel lines; moreover they nearly all lean by several inches to one or the other side.”
In response to Fr. Kundek's pleading, a Benedictine monastery in Einsiedeln, Switzerland, sent two monks to establish a monastery in the Diocese of Vincennes and take charge of the parishes in the area surrounding Jasper. Fr. Ulrich Christen, OSB, arrived at Ferdinand on April 9, 1853, and began serving as pastor of the parish. In his first year he built a two-story frame rectory and drew up plans for a new school. This school, consisting of four large rooms, was finished in 1855. He also oversaw the construction of a manual pipe organ and main altar in the church.
Fr. Isidore Hobi, OSB, succeeded Fr. Ulrich as pastor in 1858. He had a new roof installed on the church after the original one was destroyed by a tornado in 1860. Before the installation, he had the walls of the church raised approximately four feet. Fr. Isidore also ordered four church bells, which were provisionally housed in a fifty-foot-high trestle work located on the north side of the sanctuary. The smallest bell (290 pounds) was dedicated to St. Joseph, the second (650 pounds) to St. Aloysius, the third (1,000 pounds) to St. Ferdinand, and the largest (1,725 pounds) to the Immaculate Conception. The largest bell developed a crack and had to be recast in 1875.
In 1861 Fr. Chrysostom Foffa, OSB, assumed the duties of pastor of St Ferdinand. He invited the Sisters of Providence from St. Mary-of-the-Woods to teach in the parish school in 1862, but they did not have enough German-speaking sisters to meet the needs of the parish. In 1867 he successfully appealed to the Benedictine Convent of St. Walburg in Covington, Kentucky, to send sisters to take over the parish school. Since the parish had grown to nearly 2,000 souls, Fr. Chrysostom also oversaw the expansion of the church. The structure was extended some fifty feet, and a 185-foot tower was added.
Fr. Eberhard Stadler, OSB, served as pastor for twenty-seven years (1871-1898). He oversaw the building of the first convent for the Benedictine sisters (1886) and the Chapel of Our Sorrowful Mother on top of Mount Calvary (1897). He also beautified St. Ferdinand Church by installing clocks on the church tower, remodeling the interior, and installing stained glass windows. In honor of Fr. Eberhard’s silver jubilee as pastor, the congregation built a new rectory (1896).
The sixth pastor of St. Ferdinand Church was Fr. John Schorno, OSB (1898-1920). He improved the appearance of the church by building a wider, higher spire more in proportion to the massive tower, enlarging the sacristy, and replacing the altar steps and floors in the sanctuary and church. He also supervised the building of a new school (1908) and house for the sisters who taught in the parish (1909).
Fr. Odilo Witt, OSB, discharged the duties of pastor from 1920 to 1933. Under his leadership the exterior of the church was stuccoed in 1924 and the interior renovated.
The next pastor, Fr. Chrysostom Coons, OSB, served from 1933 to 1947. He introduced the use of Sunday collection envelopes, which helped place the parish on firmer financial footing. He also beautified the cemetery, remodeled the rectory, and had a new organ installed in the church (1940).
Fr. David Duesing, OSB, replaced Fr. Chrysostom in 1947 and led the parish until 1964. His pastorate witnessed the building of a new high school and the first two wings of the present Ferdinand Elementary School. He was the last Benedictine priest to serve as pastor of St. Ferdinand.
Fr. Firmus Dick served as pastor from 1964 to 1977. He helped usher in the changes associated with the Second Vatican Council, including the remodeling of the church’s interior. During his tenure the parish schools were sold to the Southeast Dubois School District and the parish’s religious education program was launched in 1972. Sr. Mary Oliver Reising, OSB, served as the first director of religious education.
Fr. Dick was replaced by several co-pastors: Fr. Kenneth Graehler (1977-1980), Fr. Sylvester Schroeder (1977-1989), and Fr. John Kane (1980-1989). Fr. Kane served as pastor from 1989 to 1991. During this period the interior of the church was renovated and the church grounds were beautified. The parish hired the first female pastoral associate, Sr. Rosemary Rexing, OSB, and the first lay director of religious education, D.El. Marisili.
The next pastor was Fr. Philip Kreilein, who served from 1991 to 1999. During his tenure the cemetery was enlarged and the sisters’ house was demolished. In 1995 the parish voted in favor of razing the existing Spiritual Life Center in favor of a new structure. In 1998 the parish celebrated 150 years of continuous use of the present church. Bp. Gerland Gettlefinger presided over the ceremony.
The most recent pastors of St. Ferdinand Parish include Fr. William Wargel (1999-2004), Fr. David Martin (2004-2009), and Fr. Jack Durchholz (2009-present).