Faith, commitment flow freely in Amelia
Like the flowing artesian wells for which the area is known, a strong commitment to the Catholic faith springs forth from the tiny village of Amelia.
That faith, and its 100-year heritage, was celebrated June 23 as about 150 people joined Archbishop George J. Lucas for Mass and a meal to celebrate the founding of St. Joseph Mission in 1919.
With a population of under a dozen, the village includes a post office, several homes and the small, white, frame church that fills up every Sunday with people from the surrounding area – farmers, ranchers, cattle feeders and people from the nearby town of Chambers.
But despite a congregation of only 60 families, “Amelia (the mission) is alive and well,” said Father Bernard Starman, pastor of St. Joseph, as well as St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill, Sacred Heart in Boyd County, St. Boniface in Stuart and St. Joseph in Atkinson.
“These are hard-working, dedicated people who put their faith as a priority in their lives,” he said.
And parishioners are thrilled that the mission has a future, Father Starman said, as a result of the recent groupings of rural parishes aimed at serving the needs of the faithful given the declining number of priests.
“By all indications, people are incredibly positive, optimistic and hopeful,” he said.
During the celebration, current and former parishioners joined several priests who previously served at St. Joseph. After the Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Lucas, attendees traveled the short distance to the community center in Chambers for a celebration meal.
“These folks know how to throw a party, and the laughter never stopped,” Father Starman said. “They know they have a reason to celebrate.”
In addition to being part of the new grouping of parishes in Boyd and Holt counties, new parishioners are giving St. Joseph Mission new life.
Several young couples who have stayed in the area are having families, Father Starman said. “We’ve got a lot of babies right now, so Sunday Mass can get loud at times. I say, ‘if we’re not crying, we’re dying.’”
And recent Catholic converts like Gina Pospichal are joining the fold. For several years she attended Mass with husband, Barry, and their two sons, now ages 8 and 10.
But as her children began receiving the sacraments, their questions about why she couldn’t share the Eucharist with them prompted her to begin Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes at St. Patrick in O’Neill.
Since joining the church in 2018, the former Lutheran now actively contributes to the parish as a lector and member of the Altar Society.
And Pospichal said she appreciates the closeness and dedication of the St. Joseph community.
“It’s just wonderful, it’s a close-knit family,” she said. “It’s so intimate … and everyone looks out for each other. If there’s a family in need or in crisis, the church community comes together. We do fundraisers, and there are always prayer chains going.”
One of the mission’s former parishioners who returned to celebrate was 88-year-old Leo O’Malley, who now lives in O’Neill.
A parishioner for 70 years, he said his father’s family was one of the original families who homesteaded in the area and founded the mission, he said.
O’Malley said St. Joseph Mission was an important part of his life. Growing up, he was an altar server, and even served occasionally as an adult. He was a member of the parish council during the 1960s. And his late wife, Bernadine, also was active in parish and pro-life activities, he said.
“It’s a close-knit parish,” O’Malley said. “In a small parish, everybody has to do something to help. People are real cooperative and do whatever needs to be done.”
Father Starman agreed. “I never have to ask for someone to do something, they just do it,” he said.
After the anniversary celebration, Archbishop Lucas said, “It was a privilege to join the members of St. Joseph Church on Sunday to celebrate their centennial.”
“The joy of the parishioners was contagious. It is clear that they love their faith, their church and their relationships in the community.”
Father Starman said he enjoys going to Amelia on a regular basis to say Mass.
“Going to Amelia is going to my happy place,” he said, noting the joy of the parishioners. “It’s always that way. No matter their challenges, the find a way to smile through it.”
Prairie spirit fuels strong faith
The history of St. Joseph Mission in Amelia parallels the history of Nebraska’s prairie heritage. In the late 1800s, land grants drew people mostly of Irish descent, along with German and Czech immigrants, to the area, many of whom were Catholic.
Enduring harsh weather, prairie fires and other hardships, they longed for their own church and a priest to serve their spiritual needs.
For a time, they traveled to other towns for Mass or occasionally received visits from priests who said Mass in their homes.
Construction of their own church began in the fall of 1918. It was completed the next year and a circuit-riding priest began celebrating Mass monthly, usually on a Thursday.
In 1923, Father Peter Vanderlaan became the parish’s first pastor. But later, St. Joseph would become a mission, first to St. Joseph Parish in Atkinson and in 1971 to St. Patrick in O’Neill.