Parish sees vitality, growth as it celebrates 125 years

Emma Kneifl grew up in the Lutheran faith – but her reverence for the Catholic Mass drew her to the church and St. Anne Parish in Dixon.
“Whenever I went there, I felt my spiritual well-being nourished,” she said. “It felt like coming home.”
Kneifl, 25, came into full communion with the Catholic Church this past Easter. And her husband, Ben, a cradle Catholic who joined her Lutheran church as they prepared to marry four years ago, also has returned to the church.
“I know now, that even as Ben and I were dating and attending Mass together, the Holy Spirit was pulling us toward the Catholic Church,” she said. “My personal goal now is to help other family members see the beauty of the Catholic Church.”
That kind of conversion story has played out several times over the last few years at St. Anne, testimony to the small parish’s lively spirit and commitment to the faith – even as it celebrates its 125th anniversary. 
“We’re trying to be a church of outreach,” said Father David Liewer, pastor of St. Anne as well as St. Michael Parish in Coleridge and St. Mary Parish in Laurel. “I’ve had converts come into the church the last three Easters – people who, in most cases, married into the faith.”
To help mark the parish’s 125 years, more than 150 people celebrated Mass Aug. 19, with Archbishop George J. Lucas presiding. The attendees included current and former parishioners and pastors, friends and other priests, as well as the pastor of nearby Trinity Lutheran Church. They shared a dinner afterward.
“For its smallness (about 40 families), it’s quite a vibrant parish,” Father Liewer said.  “People are very active and supportive, both financially and liturgically. Most parishioners are involved in one way or another.”
Dave Podany, a cradle Catholic and third generation parishioner who had fallen away from the church for about 20 years, returned about eight years ago. He jumped in with both feet, and now serves on the parish council, is a lector and member of the choir.
Podany said he found a sense of belonging in serving the parish and celebrating with the community.
“You can feel the Holy Spirit coming to you. You understand there’s something bigger than yourself,” he said.
Parishioner involvement helps keep things going, Father Liewer said.
“People pool their resources and offer their blood, sweat and tears,” he said. “It’s your small town working together. You ask for help and you get it.”
Today the parish is on solid financial footing, Father Liewer said, benefitting from the proceeds of a donated quarter section of farmland and four bequests to establish endowments for the church and the parish cemetery.
And it’s refreshing to see new members in the parish, especially several young couples with children, Podany said. In the last five years, the parish has celebrated nine baptisms. 
“A few years ago, it was very quiet in church,” Podany said. “Now it’s encouraging to hear babies crying.”
Kneifl said she loves seeing babies baptized during Mass. “It feels like we’re welcoming another person into our family.” 
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