“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
— Desmond Tutu
by Jim Taylor
EMMETT — They shook hands, laughed, and even embraced. Although many were not related by blood, the people who gathered at Holy Cross Parish here on Sept. 16 celebrated the gift of family.
It was inevitable that the gathering for the 100th anniversary of Holy Cross would feature many happy reunions — both planned and unplanned. The parish had always been like a big family, so the coming together of current and former parishioners was like an extended family reunion.
Although the Pottawatomie County parish marked its 125th anniversary last year, this year marks a full century for the current sanctuary. Holy Cross Parish was established on Aug. 10, 1881, about four miles south of Emmett. The original native stone church served about 200 families in the Cross Creek Valley.
Two events led to the establishment of the present church. First, the rectory was destroyed by fire in 1906. Second, the Union Pacific Railroad bypassed the area near the original church.
A decision was made to divide the original parish and create two new ones — one in Emmett; the other in Delia. Delia got the main altar, and Emmett got the bell. It’s still there, outside the squarish limestone church, which never had a bell tower.
The main celebrant at the anniversary Mass was Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. Concelebrants were the present pastor, Father John Riley, and five former pastors.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann explained why this anniversary was like a family celebration.
“I think an anniversary moment, like in the time of a family [celebration], is a time to allow ourselves to recall many blessed times,” said the archbishop. “And if you think of this community of Holy Cross, you think about the children that were baptized here in those 100 years, couples that were married here, the first Communions that were received, the conferral of the Holy Spirit on many.”
“You think about all the times that different people received inspiration here through their prayers and the preaching here,” he continued. “And you think about how God’s mercy has been experienced here, the consolation and strength in times of want.”
The church centennial was not only a time to reflect on the past, he said, but also to “nourish us for the present and future,” and to be inspired by those who sacrificed much to found the parish.
“Why did they do that?” asked the archbishop. “Because they had this abiding faith in God’s love for them, revealed in Jesus Christ, that they believed what was true, what we celebrate here — the Eucharist that allows us to actually touch Calvary and Easter at the same time, to be transformed and nourished by the sacra- ment of Life that we will receive today.”
“They believed in the incredible mercy of God revealed in Jesus,” he continued. “They believed that our faith is not a faith of human perfection, but a faith where we believe that we are transformed by the mercy of God.”
The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, who taught in the parish school from 1907 to 1968 (when the school was closed), were honored at the end of Mass. The five Sisters representing the order were Sister Linda Roth and Sister Agnes Eileen Dunn (two native daughters from Emmett and Holy Cross), and former teachers Sister Mary Georgette Groh, Sister Kevin Marie Flynn, and Sister Mercedes Craughwell.
“It was the greatest experience of my life,” said Sister Georgette. “ I was a fairly young nun in those days and, in those early days, they just gave us a mission and we went. It didn’t matter.”
“I was teaching fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and I had never taught more than one grade before,” she recalled. “I said, ‘What am I going to do with all these kids? All these different sizes?’
“Well, students like Linda (Roth) and Karen (DeVader Keller), they helped take the younger ones and became like mentors to them. We would call them paraprofessionals today.”
During the reception following the Mass, Holy Cross parishioner Galen W. Rezac displayed his book, “A History of Pottawatomie County, Emmett Township and Holy Cross Parish.” The book eventually focuses on Emmett Township and what Galen calls the old Holy Cross Parish.
“There were people coming from 15 and 20 miles away by horse and buggy to attend Mass here; this all predates the 1907 church,” he said. “It was from 1881 on, and the old Holy Cross Church was dedicated in 1888.”
As with every aspect of rural life, both founding and maintaining a lively faith community can be a challenge. The decline in the number of priests and in the population of the rural area resulted in Holy Cross’ twin, Sacred Heart Parish in Delia, becoming a stational church in 1993.
“We’ve been lucky. We’ve had Mass out here every weekend since 1907,” said Rezac. “It’s been great!”