St. Mary of the Knobs Catholic Church exemplifies the enduring strength of Roman Catholicism in southern Indiana. In the 1820s, Catholic priests began visiting several families in Lafayette Township, six miles north of New Albany, to celebrate mass. About 1823 residents of the era erected a small log church for their services. In 1833, Father Louis Neyron became the first resident priest. A Frenchman, Neyron had served in Napoleon Bonaparte’s army as a surgeon. Upon turning to the priesthood he emigrated to the United States and ministered to a parish in Mooresville, near Indianapolis. Tradition holds that Catholic families settled in Floyds Knobs because of anti-Catholic sentiments in New Albany.
Soon after becoming the priest at Lafayette Township, Neyron oversaw construction of the first permanent Catholic church in Floyd County. Erected on a site near the log building, it was built of brick and measured 33 x 73 feet. A bell imported from France called parishioners to mass. The sanctuary featured a large crucifix and a statue of St. Joseph.
In 1906, Father Joseph J. Sermersheim began planning for construction of a new chapel. The foundation was poured in 1908, and within a year parish members and local contractors completed the project. The chapel measures 54 x 100 feet and is designed in the English Gothic style. Built at a cost of $35,000, the building was dedicated on May 16, 1909. A reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal descried it as “one of the handsomest country churches in Indiana.”
Construction of the new chapel took place as part of an expansion of the parish’s programs. During the 1890s, St. Mary of the Knobs built a residence for several Benedictine nuns who came to the parish to start a school. A building for the school was completed about 1900.
Apart from minor repairs, the St. Mary of the Knobs chapel remained unchanged for eighty-seven years. In 1995, the congregation initiated renovations. Workers added a new sound system, refurbished the interior, and removed the eight-foot gold cross from the steeple to be regilded, a project that used 600 3.375” square sheets of gold.
In 2007, St. Mary of the Knobs began a third major building campaign after a parishioner donated thirty-three acres of land adjacent to the church’s existing 59-acre campus. The congregation immediately began raising funds for a new church building and an activity center. The design of the new church pays homage to the 1909 chapel and has a seating capacity of 964. Art and icons in the sanctuary include handcrafted works by parishioners. Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis dedicated the building at a ceremony held March 25, 2012. The congregation named the activity center for a former pastor, Reverend John Geis.