Atchison churches mark milestones

by Laurence Rossi
Special to The Leaven

ATCHISON — It was an occasion such that it took an archbishop, two abbots and an abbey prior to do it justice.

But on Aug. 28, St. Benedict Parish in Atchison got it done — celebrating a multitude of blessings, including the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstones of St. Benedict and St. Patrick churches, and the installation of Father Jeremy Heppler, OSB, as St. Benedict’s new pastor.

The day’s events began with a Mass at St. Benedict with a standing-room-only crowd and a full Knights of Columbus honor guard.

In his homily, celebrant Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann discussed both the anniversary of the church and the vital role of parish priesthood. Anniversaries, he told the congregation, serve as reminders of the importance of community and family, as well as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to our Catholic values.

This particular anniversary, the archbishop pointed out, is also proof of the all the wonderful work done by the monks throughout the history of Atchison. The monks founded not only a monastic community and a college, but four thriving Catholic churches — St. Benedict, St. Joseph, St. Patrick and Sacred Heart — all of which now operate as one parish.

As for the installation of Father Heppler as the new pastor of St. Benedict Church, Archbishop Naumann noted that the ceremony doesn’t require a Mass. But he felt it was necessary in this instance, not only because the day’s Gospel passage (Lk 14: 7-14) imparted a message of humility in leadership, but also because he wished to highlight the connection between the priesthood and the Eucharist, both of which Jesus instituted at the Last Supper.

The archbishop went on to say that the installation of a new pastor fosters a period of renewal for any parish community, something made more significant by the coincidence of the 150th cornerstone anniversary.

“Every priest is called to make heroic sacrifices for the eternal good of his flock,” concluded the archbishop, as he completed the installation and had Father Jeremy continue Mass and lead his new parish in the profession of faith.

Later that afternoon, the cornerstone anniversary was celebrated in a bit more exuberant fashion at a parish-wide picnic, complete with seemingly endless food, live music, and face painting, games and inflatables for the kids.

Most popular was a dunk tank where parishioners had a chance to dunk their new pastor, Abbot James, and a whole cast of monks from St. Benedict’s Abbey.

According to Megan Fassero, the primary organizer of the event, none of it would have been possible without the incredible generosity of the parishioners and local community. With around 200 volunteers and over 100 donors, they were able to organize an event that allowed everyone to come together and celebrate the history of all four churches in proper fashion.

The newly installed pastor was also surprised and touched by the generosity of his parish.

He loved that this chance to celebrate together as a community coincided with the beginning of his journey as pastor.

But more than anything, he said, the occasion served as a “celebration of the people of faith of Atchison.”

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