Saint Bernard Catholic Church started in 1849 when Father Joseph Kundeck of Jasper, IN visited Rockport and found four Catholic families: the John Kerstien family, the Joseph Bresslar family, the Bernard H. Walters family, and the William Klueh family. Arrangements were made for Mass once a month at the Kerstiens home, mostly by Benedictine priests of St. Meinrad, while Father Michael Marendt is said to have walked from Cannelton, IN to Rockport on several occasions.
By 1850, Catholic families numbered 12 and a plot of ground on 6th and Elm Streets was donated by General Williamson, a non-Catholic, for the use of the small congregation. On June 6, 1850, the laying of a corner stone marked the start of the first small brick church facing 6th Street. Mr. Bernard H. Walters underwrote the cost of the new church ($687.00) and thus the church was named Saint Bernard.
Among the visiting priests attending the little congregation, Father B.H. Kentrest came quite regularly from 1867-1874. Even on Sundays when there was no Mass, the faithful gathered and prayed and established religion classes for their children.
Father John William Book moved to Rockport in January of 1874 and took charge of the parish which grew quickly. A corner stone for a new brick church was laid on May 18, 1875 and was dedicated on June 25, 1876. The old church building was then transformed into a school, conducted by the Benedictine Sisters of Ferdinand, who also started an academy boarding school in 1877. The academy, on “Bosler Hill” was discontinued in 1892. Along with the construction of the new church, a small two-room rectory was built for the resident pastor just east of the newly erected church.
With the closing of the Academy on “Bosler Hill” in 1892, a convent for the teaching nuns was built on the corner of 6th and Elm Streets under the tutelage of Father John Hillebrand, a residence from 1891-1897.
Father Francis X. Schaub was appointed pastor of Saint Bernard in 1911, and also administrator of the mission of Saint Martin’s in Chrisney, IN. With the expansion of the rectory under Father Schaub, children from rural areas and from Kentucky were boarded at the priest’s house and the convent from 1912-1915, which resulted in over 60 students in the old brick church turned school.
Disaster struck the parish on News Year’s morning in 1917, when a destructive fire consumed the interior of the church. Candles illuminating the Christmas crib were blamed for the fire which left only the walls standing. A temporary chapel erected on the east side of the burnt-out church was found to be inadequate for worship, and by the kindness of the German Evangelical congregation on 5th Street, their church became the temporary house of worship for the parish of Saint Bernard.
Early in the spring of 1917, plans were made for another church, with the walls of the original church being utilized, while the interior was changed from Romanesque to Gothic architectural style. The timber for the rebuilt church was supplied by Sebastian Lehr.
At the same time, Father Schaub acquired the property and building north of the original church building and remodeled it into a school room for grades 1-5 downstairs with a bowling alley above. This, along with the original church-turned-school, served the educational needs of the parish until 1925. With the guidance of Father Andrew Bastnagel, a frame addition was made to the old brick church-school resulting that all the school children were again housed under one roof.
A new development in the educational endeavors of the parish was begun in March of 1949, when under the direction of Father Joseph Brown, construction was begun on a new brick school, the present part of the school paralleling Pearl Street. With much labor being donated by the men of the parish, the new building which would house a kitchen, gym-auditorium, and two classrooms was ready for occupancy by 105 students and three teachers in the fall of 1949.
With increasing enrollment in the 1950’s, plans were made for further expansion of the school facilities. In May, 1960, the last remaining section of the old brick school was razed. In the fall of 1961, under the direction of Father Michael O.J. Wolf, a new eight-classroom addition welcomed 202 students with five teachers.
Since that time the parish has continued a gradual growth in size and members, while growing greatly in grace and wisdom under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. Deo Gratias.