by Marc and Julie Anderson
EFFINGHAM – The life of a parish is built on individual and group milestones: a first Mass, a first holy Communion, the laying of a cornerstone and anniversaries.
St. Ann Parish in Effingham celebrated a great milestone on July 29 that was also meaningful for its pastor Father Benjamin Tremmel, OSB.
On that date, Father Benjamin celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for the 150th anniversary of the parish’s founding. It was also the first time that Father Benjamin, a member of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, celebrated a major anniversary at a parish.
Having never served as a pastor prior to coming to Effingham in 2002, he said it was an absolute joy to celebrate such an important event with the parishioners.
After the Mass, a dinner for approximately 300 was held in the adjoining parish hall. Among those participating were four members who not only got to celebrate the parish’s sesquicentennial, but also marked personal milestones.
“I enjoy the people,” said Father Benjamin. Although he never planned on becoming a pastor, he said, he has found life among the parish of St. Ann as well as those of his other two parishes — St. Louis in Good Intent and St. Mary in Purcell — to be gratifying.
“The parish is a family, and that’s one of the most meaningful things to me,” he said.
In his homily, Father Benjamin reflected on the parish’s familial history.
“We are all here this evening because that Holy Spirit worked among the monks at St. Benedict’s Abbey and the early settlers in Effingham. Thus, we have gathered to celebrate this Mass of thanksgiving for that Spirit who has continued to work in this community, pulls us together and fills us with joy.
“We celebrate, and we rejoice, for the 150 years of our history.”
Near the end, Father Benjamin recalled the parishioners through the years — from the earliest settlers to the parish’s current members — and said they have all, in some way, contributed to the community of St. Ann.
“For it is the faith, hope and prayers of members of our community that have brought us to this current experience of celebrating with great joy and thankfulness our 150 years,” he said.
After the homily, parishioner Don Falk read a litany of thanksgiving written by Father Benjamin, which included prayers of gratitude for the earliest settlers and founding pastors to those who taught at the former grade school to those who volunteer their time now.
Most importantly, the litany included prayers of thanksgiving for all those who have ever been, are now or will be, a member of the parish family.
Among Father Benjamin’s parish family is Joe Wessel.
Wessel, who moved to Effingham in 1939 when he was 8, has been a member of the parish for 78 years. Wessel, along with his wife Mary, were on hand for the festivities along with some of their five children.
It was a double celebration, though, for Wessel, as not only did he get to commemorate the parish’s sesquicentennial, but the day also marked his 86th birthday.
Father Benjamin’s parish family also includes Russ and Carol Eckert, lifelong parishioners who were celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary that same day.
Married on July 29, 1961, the Eckerts, both 75 years old, met as high school sophomores. Two years after graduating from high school, they married in the parish’s first church (later destroyed by fire) and have enjoyed parish life ever since.
Carol Eckert, originally a Methodist who converted to Catholicism, said it’s been a blessing to have such a wonderful parish family in which to raise their five boys and in which they have observed so many wonderful occasions.
Every year, all five of the Eckerts’ boys, along with their families, return to the parish for Christmas — something that simply in the sharing brings a bright smile to couple’s faces.
“Ours has been a fabulous life,” Russ Eckert said.
Carol Eckert concurred.
“It always has been,” she added.