by Joe Bollig
MOUND CITY — When it came time for Michael Martin to speak after receiving the annual St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Award, the best he could do was to gesture to his wife Linda.
Fortunately, Linda had come prepared.
She stepped up to the ambo of Sacred Heart Church and — as her husband and son Chris looked on, and standing in front of the congregation with Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann — read her husband’s statement of thanks.
What made the award even more special was that Sept. 10 was also the 75th anniversary of the dedication of Sacred Heart Church and Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.
When asked later why he received the award, Martin gave a modest answer.
“I don’t have a good idea,” said Martin, a parishioner. “It’s a labor of love on my part. And why they chose me, I don’t know, other than they appreciated something I did.”
The award program stated that Martin has spent considerable time and energy sharing the story of St. Rose and caring for the St. Philippine Duchesne Memorial Park and former site of the Sugar Creek Potawatomi Mission, located about three miles south of Centerville.
Martin shared a lot of the credit with his fellow members of the Knights of Columbus of the surrounding area, who have also given many hours of work and funds to maintain the park.
Last year’s jubilee Year of Mercy was particularly busy. Sacred Heart Parish was the site of one of the archdiocesan Holy Doors and many went from there to the Duchesne park.
“Last year alone, we had 26 [tour bus] groups come in to visit the church, shrine and park,” said Martin. “There were a lot of vehicle caravans, too. That was the best year we’ve had.”
Archbishop Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist of the Mass. Administrator Father Frank Burger concelebrated and Deacon Don Poole assisted. Monsignor Gary Applegate was master of ceremonies.
The Catholic faith came to Linn County when Catholic Potawatomi were forced from their native lands in Indiana in 1838. They and their Jesuit pastors built the mission.
The Sisters of the Sacred Heart — including 71-year-old Sister Rose Philippine Duchesne — traveled to Kansas from St. Louis in 1841 to establish a school.
Although the saint stayed there only a year, she made a big impression on the Potawatomi, who called her “Quahkahkanumad,” which means “Woman who prays always.”
After the Jesuits and Potawatomi were moved to St. Marys in 1848, the mission fell into ruin.
“I do not expect to see the result of my labors and prayers,” St. Rose Philippine once said. “Perhaps 100 years will pass before they bear fruit.”
For many years, the few Catholics in Linn County were cared for by pastors from nearby parishes.
In 1937, the newly elevated Bishop Paul C. Schulte, ordinary of the Diocese of Leavenworth, discovered that Linn was the only county in the diocese that did not have a parish or mission, according to the parish 75th anniversary booklet. Bishop Schulte initiated some street preaching in various Linn County towns from 1939 to 1940.
It was determined that there were enough Catholics to build a parish and a site in Mound City was chosen. Bishop Schulte appealed for funds throughout the diocese and on June 27, 1941, appointed Father William Gerald O’Shea to be the founding pastor.
Father O’Shea immediately began organizing religious education classes and celebrating Mass in a house and later the rectory basement. Construction began of a church of limestone, some of which was quarried from the old mission site.
Finally, the new church was dedicated on Sept. 7, 1942, by Bishop Schulte — slightly more than 100 years from the arrival of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne at the old mission.
One of the altar boys at the dedication Mass was Mound City native James Higgins, now 87 years old.
“This parish didn’t exist when I was born,” said Higgins. “I was 10 years old before the church started here. Everybody here went to [Mass in] Fulton. It’s 15 or 20 miles from here, south.”
(St. Patrick Church in Fulton, in the Diocese of Wichita, was closed in 1994.)
Some people went to Fulton by horse and buggy, but, in later years, they went in Model T Fords. Higgins first went by Model A Ford.
There was some talk about building a church at the old mission site, but an agreement couldn’t be reached, and “it wouldn’t have been a good idea anyway,” said Higgins. It was hard to get the church going and keep going because there were so few Catholics in Linn County.
His wife Connie, now deceased, was an organist for about 20 years.
Nothing too exciting has happened in 75 years, he said — except for an increase in converts to the Catholic faith. The parish began in 1941 with 30 families and now has 80.
“One of the most important things that’s happened in the last 15 years is a tremendous increase in parishioners due to RCIA and some very good people who were able to teach it,” said Higgins.
Higgins was honored by a mention at the Mass by Archbishop Naumann, along with Helen Clark, 85.
Clark was born in Arma, but later moved to Mound City with her parents as the church was being built.
“Father O’Shea spent a lot of time at our house,” said Clark. “He was close to us and became part of our family.”
They, like other parishioners, helped in the building project when they could. Her father, a carpenter, did maintenance at the church in later years. She and her husband Jim, a Methodist, married in 1953. He became a Catholic in 1977.
Her words to future parishioners are the same spirit that has always guided the parish.
“Keep the faith,” said Clark.