By JENNIE ZEITLER, Staff Writer
One of the oldest churches in Stearns County marked its 145th anniversary with an outdoor polka Mass, picnic supper and other activities Saturday, July 28.
The crowd spread out on lawn chairs around St. Columbkille’s in St. Wendel, finding shade wherever possible. There are currently 142 families and 69 singles/widows/widowers who call St. Columbkille their spiritual home.
Chairpersons Carol Kuklok and Kelly Sakry coordinated a celebration that included thanksgiving-filled worship, toe-tapping music, a beer tent, pull tabs and games.
Music for the polka Mass was provided by Dale Dahmen and the Polka Beats of Buffalo.
The responsorial psalm for the day declared, from Psalm 145: “The hand of the Lord feeds us; He answers all our needs.” This theme was echoed by Father John Paul Knopik, the parish’s new parochial vicar, who said, “Little is always much when placed in the hands of God.”
St. Columbkille’s was established in 1867 by Irish and Scottish immigrants as an outpost of the Diocese of St. Paul in a place then called Maples. In 1877, the Order of Saint Benedict erected a church building in a grove of maple trees.
It was likely named St. Columbkille by the first priest, Father Augustine Burns, an Irishman, according to “The People of St. Wendel,” written by Robert J. Voigt to commemorate the parish’s 125th anniversary.
“It was a hard life and everyone worked diligently. Everyone was in the same boat,” Voigt said.
Lifelong member Richard Yurczyk remembers that “the country people had a real deep Catholic faith.”
Yurczyk recalls the Feast of St. Isidore in April, when farmers brought their seed to church to be blessed before planting. “The priest would go from farm to farm blessing the fields, too,” he said.
He remembers “Rogation Days,” the three days before Ascension Thursday. “Those were days of supplication and prayer; we went to church each day to pray for the harvest,” he said.
One year in the 1950s, when Yurczyk served at Mass, there was a tractor blessing in St. Wendel. “The whole town was lined with tractors,” he said.
One especially fond memory for Yurczyk is the bowling alley that Father Val Klimek set up in the church basement. The men’s league played one night and the women’s league the next. Yurczyk set up the pins.
St. Columbkille’s is now part of a cluster parish that includes the Church of All Saints in Holdingford, Immaculate Conception in St. Anna and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Opole.
“This is the only wood-frame church left in the Diocese,” said Father Bob Landsberger. Father Bob retired to live in the parish house next to the church, and offers Mass Monday mornings.
The cluster parish is starting a new program to take Mass “On the Road.” Beginning Tuesday, Mass will be held weekly at a member’s home, business or farm.
“Our parishes are in very beautiful country, and we want to see it,” said the new pastor, Father Gregory Mastey. “This will allow people to get to know one another in a new way.”
Interested people can submit their contact information to the parish office and a drawing will be held each week. The name and address for each Mass will be printed in the bulletin one week in advance.
The priests will bring a water cooler and a table for the altar. Each person attending should bring their own lawn chair.