Parish shares 150th anniversary with state

Nebraska was declared a state the same year homesteader Friedrich Grovijohn and his wife, Augusta, donated land five miles southwest of present-day West Point for a small log church dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua.

And on June 11, parishioners will celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. Anthony Parish in St. Charles Township, founded in 1867 to serve German pioneers.

Archbishop George J. Lucas, Archbishop Emeritus Elden Francis Curtiss, 20 former pastors and area priests will concelebrate a 1 p.m. Mass. The parish cemetery also will be rededicated and a social gathering and meal will be held at the Nielsen Community Center in West Point.

A woman who has shared in more than two-thirds of St. Anthony Parish’s history hopes to attend the festivities – 102-year-old Johanna Kloke, who served as a sacristan for 42 years. Kloke said she has seen and heard through her parents the stories of resilience and strength of parishioners, surviving blinding blizzards in the winter and crop-destroying grasshoppers in the summer.

"The people prayed together," Kloke said. "The parish survived and adjusted to the times, the trends, and the expanding and declining numbers of parishioners. They stayed together for 150 years."

Father Steven Emanuel, pastor of St. Anthony, said it will be a special celebration, recognizing one of the oldest parishes in the archdiocese.

"It is both humbling and inspiring for all of us to celebrate the grace of God and the faithful stewardship of so many families over the past 150 years," said Father Emanuel, also pastor of St. Boniface Parish of Monterey Township, St. Aloysius Parish of Aloys and St. Mary Parish of West Point.

Agnes Ortmeier, one of many parishioners who pitch in where needed to serve the church and community through the parish council, choir, Holy Name Society and Ladies’ Guild, said she looked forward to the festivities. "This parish is honored to share its 150th anniversary with the state of Nebraska," she said.

Now numbering about 60 people, St. Anthony’s population has ebbed and flowed. It included a school from the late 1800s through the 1960s, served over time by the Franciscan or the Benedictine sisters. The log church built in 1867 was replaced the next year by a white frame church and rectory, and in 1905 by the current brick church and rectory.

Father Michael Grewe, pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Gretna and executive director of Catholic Cemeteries, said his family was among the founding members of St. Anthony Parish, and he lived there until he was 2 years old.

"The cemetery was a pilgrimage site for us," said Father Grewe, who won’t be able to attend the anniversary celebration. "I have often felt the prayers of our ancestors as I walked those sacred grounds."

Others who grew up in the parish include the late Bishop John Paschang, fourth bishop of the Diocese of Grand Island, and his brother, the late Father Anthony Paschang.

Father Gerald Gonderinger, who as pastor in 2004 helped bring St. Anthony and the other three parishes together, said the parish has vibrant liturgies and faith life. The church’s acoustics enhance the organ and choir, he said.

"It is great for me as a priest to witness the love and devotion the people have for their parish, and the sacrifices they are willing to make for it," said Father Gonderinger, now pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Schuyler and among the priests who plan to attend St. Anthony’s celebration. "I can see why people are so passionate about retaining their churches."

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