The Old Cathedral annex on Sunday will officially be named for former Vincennes priest Father John Schipp.

The public is invited to attend a special mass and annex dedication for Schipp, in honor of his contributions to the church and to the community, beginning at 1 p.m. at the Old Cathedral, 205 Church St.

Mass will be followed by a brief dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting.

The Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, more commonly known as Old Cathedral, houses the oldest congregation in the state of Indiana, dating back to 1732. The basilica itself was first constructed in 1826, so restoring and maintaining a place of such historical significance has been a costly and lengthy endeavor. 

Former Parish Council President Mark Hill said that Father Schipp’s arrival in Vincennes, approximately 20 years ago, coincided with a growing interest in restoring the Greek Revival-style basilica. 

Hill says it was Schipp who became the leader and driving force of the lengthy restoration, a $1.3 million project led by Wisconsin-based Schmitt Studios.

“He has a real knowledge of history, so he came to us as the perfect person at the perfect time,” Hill said. “His efforts helped restore the Old Cathedral for the whole community to appreciate as a historic and holy place.” 

Schipp, nearly 81, retired from the priesthood five years ago and now resides in his hometown of Ferdinand. This weekend he will return to Vincennes to fellowship with former parishioners and be recognized for his contributions in seeing the basilica restored.

The church annex was built in 1840 and functioned for decades as the cathedral’s library, first housing the more than 5,000 books and documents of Bishop Simon Bruté. 

Over the years, the church’s collection expanded and now holds more than 10,000 rare books and volumes. It even boasts a 14th century Papal Bull, issued by Pope John XXII. 

Hill joyously reflected on his time as a Rivet student, leading tours through the old library.

“It wasn’t just important documents,” he said. “There were even Indian skulls and a canoe in there.

“It was like something out of Indiana Jones.” 

But the Old Cathedral's acquired artifacts eventually outgrew the library; the facility, too, wasn’t properly climate-controlled to preserve the pieces of history it held. So a new library was built in 1969 with Lily Endowment funds, and Hill says a recent restoration of this structure now includes special display and climate-controlled preservation cases for some for those artifacts.

Adding a larger, newer library freed the church to use the 1840 library structure as the annex, used for small group meetings and as dressing rooms for bridal parties.

Hill and other parish council members feel the former library, which spent nearly 100 years as a place to house and preserve the past, is a good fit for honoring Schipp, the man who worked so hard to restore and preserve Old Cathedral.

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