Hiawatha parish celebrates 125th anniversary

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

HIAWATHA — Parishioners wouldn’t be celebrating the 125th anniversary of St. Ann Parish here if it weren’t for two determined Catholic wives of non-Catholic husbands.

These two women, and the many who have filled the pews of St. Ann Parish for a century and a quarter, were remembered at an anniversary Mass on Sept. 30 at the parish. A dinner followed the liturgy.

The two women — Mrs. Holmes and her daughter, Mrs. Raff — traveled to St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison to appeal for a circuit-riding priest to visit them. Later, they persuaded their non-Catholic husbands to solicit funds to build a church.

“Her first task was with her Protestant husband who respected his wife and knew that if a priest and church could not be obtained, she could not be persuaded to remain in Kansas,” wrote the first pastor, Father John B. Stader, OSB.

Not that it was easy.

When it was learned that the priest and Mr. Holmes received pledges from leading non-Catholic businessmen, Protestant pastors tried to scuttle the plans.

Nevertheless, a little frame church was built and dedicated on Dec. 21, 1883. That church was replaced by the present structure, which was dedicated on Oct. 29, 1957.

The main celebrant of the anniversary Mass was Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, assisted by Msgr. Gary Applegate. The concelebrants were Abbot Ralph Koehler, OSB; Abbot Barnabas Senecal, OSB; Father Roderic Giller, OSB; Father Denis Meade, OSB; Father James Albers, OSB; Father Jim Shaughnessy; and Father Earl Dekat.

“It went without a hitch. Archbishop Naumann was great, and we had a tremendously full house,” said Abbot Ralph, pastor of the 207- family parish since 2000. “[Following the Mass] we had a 20-minute video, followed by a dinner for 450.

“The weather cooperated, and I think the people really enjoyed the celebration and the participation of the archbishop.”

The parish also produced a cook-book and a historical DVD to commemorate the milestone. A pictorial directory and parish history should be completed and ready for distribution by December.

In addition to marking its 125th anniversary, the parish was also enjoying a recently completed $500,000 church expansion and remodeling.

The addition to the front of the church created a larger narthex (gathering area) and handicapped accessible doors and restrooms. The interior of the church received new lighting, carpet and paint. Dark interior wood was removed, and glazed marble was installed in the statue niches. A stained-glass window replaced the block glass wall.

The choir was moved to the front and seating added to its former place in the back. The organ was also replaced.

The area around the altar was renovated and a new altar constructed. “Archbishop Naumann was good to the church,” said Abbot Ralph. “The parish had some money in savings, and he allowed us to take that and borrow $50,000 from Archbishop Naumann and the [archdiocesan] capital campaign.”

Abbot Ralph also expressed his thanks to the parishioners for donated their time, talent and materials for the expansion and renovation.

“I’m hoping the renovated church will serve the Catholic community for 50 years,” he said.

“Then, they’ll have to redo the church, Abbot Ralph added, “but I’m not going to worry about that.”

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