by Joe Bollig
SHAWNEE — There was a lot of excitement at Mirocke Stadium here at 4 p.m. on Sept. 15 as a crowd filled the seats and waited in anticipation for a historic event to begin
No, it wasn’t a game.
Parishioners of St. Joseph Parish were waiting for the start of the 150th anniversary Mass.
The Mass in the stadium was a nod to what their grandparents and parents did on the same date in 1968 when they worshiped at an outdoor Mass for the parish’s centennial celebration in Bluejacket Park.
This time, however, the temps were a lot higher, and the cotton ball clouds and slight breeze did little to alleviate the 93-degree heat. People fanned themselves with programs and ushers handed out bottles of cool water.
After the opening procession came down the steps and traveled a short distance down the track to a temporary altar on a raised platform at the 50-yard line, new pastor Father Scott Wallisch greeted everyone and prayed the introductory rites.
“Brothers and sisters, it is a joy to gather with you on this cold and rainy day,” he said with wry humor. “We’ll sweat our way through it. But I’m so grateful that you are here, braving the heat to join us in a celebration of 150 years of St. Joseph Parish.”
Although the dress code for Mass was casual, the parish had gone all out to solemnize the liturgy with a Boy Scouts color guard, fourth-degree Knights of Columbus honor guard, a combined choir (along with brass instruments, bass guitar and electronic keyboard), assistance by the eighth- grade class during Communion, and descendants of founding families bringing up the gifts during the offertory procession.
Father Wallisch was the main celebrant and homilist. Concelebrating were former pastors Father Michael Hawken (Father Wallisch’s predecessor), Father Robert Pflumm and Father Anthony Lickteig; native sons Msgr. Raymond Burger and Father Michael Stechmann, OAR, from Oxnard, California; senior associate pastor Msgr. Michael Mullen; former associate pastor Father Daniel Stover; and Father Richard McDonald.
Deacon Tom Mulvenon assisted.
The heat-abbreviated homily was just shy of eight minutes.
“Who am I to be here to preside at this Mass?” asked Father Wallisch. “I feel like I stand on the shoulders of all of those men (nodding to those concelebrating) and many more — 23 pastors to be sure, and lots of associates.
“But the truth is, friends, that you are doing the same thing. We’re all standing on the shoulders of six, seven and maybe eight generations of people here at St. Joseph; standing on their shoulders, those who were willing to hand on the Gospel to the next generation.”
“Generation after generation,” he continued, “has been willing to answer Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say that I am?’ They have called him Messiah, and have been willing to build the parish and pass on the faith.
“So, we are here to celebrate that. But let us not be the last link in that chain. Because Jesus is asking us that same question, ‘Who do you say that I am,’ here in this stadium.”
A parish dinner followed the Mass.
St. Joseph Parish milestones
- 1864: Father Anton Kuhls, from St. Mary Church in Wyandotte, made mission visits to Catholics in Shawnee Town. A few years later, he supervised the construction of a small residence and a simple 30-by-50 wood frame church.
- 1868: Father Rudolph Duesterman, the first resident pastor, was installed on July 28.
- 1894: The first church burned down on Jan. 6.
- 1906: A new church was built. The parish had 50 families.
- 1916: Father Hugh McDevitt arrived in a Model T Ford. During his 21-year pastorate, the parish increased from 75 families to 200. He built a new church, convent, school and rectory.
- 1918: A two-story stone rectory was built.
- 1921: A large, two-story stone grade school was completed and the old red brick school was torn down.
- 1926: The first Mass was celebrated in the new church on Christmas Day.
- 1928: Bishop Frances Johannes dedicated the new church.
- 1968: The parish celebrated its 100th anniversary with a procession and outdoor Mass on Sept. 15 at Bluejacket Park.
- 1970: The present St. Joseph Church was dedicated by Archbishop Ignatius J. Strecker on June 14. The former church was demolished, and its cornerstone was found to contain: a stonemason’s business card, an 1867 nickel, an 1864 two-cent piece and nine names of the members of one family.
- 1993: Parishioners celebrated the 125th anniversary of the parish on July 25.
- 2018: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann blessed the extensively renovated church on March 11 during a Laetare Sunday Mass.