By Joe Bollig
MARYSVILLE — There’s no sign reading “No Catholics Allowed” at the city limits here, but at one time there might as well have been.
Many stories about the past were exchanged during a dinner on Aug. 19 at the American Legion Post, following the 150th anniversary Mass. Father Jim Shaughnessy, pastor of St. Gregory Parish in Marysville, told this one.
“My grandfather’s brother-in-law was the chief Ku Klux Klan organizer for Marshall County,” said Father Shaughnessy, who grew up in nearby Axtell. “My grandmother was a convert.”
“When I was in high school, he was in his middle 90s,” he continued. “He said, ‘One thing I want to tell you, they don’t like Catholics over there. Never stay in Marysville overnight.’”
The Catholic crowd, which packed the Legion hall, roared with laughter.
The dinner was the concluding event in a two-day celebration of the 150th anniversary of St. Gregory Parish. It began the day before, Aug. 18, with an open house at the parish and school, followed by a social at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist at the anniversary Mass at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
In his homily, the archbishop noted that the history of the parish began not with construction of a church, but with a gathering of 13 Catholic families for the first Mass in 1862, which was celebrated by the pioneering circuit-riding priest Father John Meurs. Today, the parish has 480 families.
“That’s why it’s so nice to have our first communicants with us today, as they remind us of the importance of the Eucharist as it continues in our lives,” said the archbishop, nodding to the 19-member class.
The archbishop also recognized women religious seated in the pew adjoining the first communicants, and the eight priests who concelebrated.
Among the other gifts brought up at the offertory, three different parishioners each brought up a single book.
Dorothy Davis brought up the parish records of deaths and burial, symbolizing the past; Jim Schramm carried up the parish directory, symbolizing the present; and Alice Schmitz brought up the Catechism of the Catholic Church, symbolizing the future and the handing on of the faith to younger generations.
During the banquet at the Legion hall, Father Shaughnessy gave roses to each of the honored women religious, and a copy of the 150th anniversary history book to Archbishop Naumann. The history was complied by Arleta Martin, Dolores Bruna and Martla Dwerlkotte.
“One of the stories I remember about Marysville since I came [to the archdiocese] as a coadjutor bishop is that there was a coadjutor bishop here at Marysville,” said Archbishop Naumann.
“I felt an affinity with him,” he continued. “Bishop Ward wanted to make sure there was a bishop on this side of the diocese to cover things. Maybe we’ll have a coadjutor out here again someday. We’ll see.”
The parish history records the origins and fates of several venerable parish structures. The parish has had four churches, the current church built in 1976 to replace the much-beloved third and “landmark” church, a Gothic red brick edifice dedicated in 1895.
Many stories about the parish, former pastors, former teachers and St. Gregory School were exchanged during the banquet — the kind that didn’t make it into the history book.
For example, school kids would sometimes “accidentally” let a loose ball take a long roll down “Catholic Hill” at the end of recess so they could go back to class late. Sometimes they’d play hooky and go to the Skelly Station for candy and gum.
One day, a special visitor came to class, remembered Sister Marie Louise Krenner, OSB, who taught from 1948 to 1955.
“We had a whole year of school in the church basement when they were building the new school [in 1953],” said Sister Marie Louise. “All eight grades, taught by four Sisters.”
There was a space between the partitions and the basement wall because of a long ledge that ran under the windows.
“One day it was hot and the windows were open,” she continued. “I had the first and second grade. All of a sudden, this huge dog walked through the window. It looked like a lion! All the kids screamed, and the dog stayed on the ledge and walked to the third- and fourth-grade section, and they all screamed.”
Each class had a chance to scream as the dog continued its walk down the ledge and out the last window.
The parish has a great history, but Father Shaughnessy is looking forward.
“I don’t intend to be around for the 200th anniversary celebration,” he said before the final blessing of the Mass.
“But there are some here that will be. We hand the church over to you and know that you will take care of it, because you are the body of Christ in the future and now — whether a baby or a first- or second-grader.”