Small in size, mighty in faith: parish celebrates 150 years

If you drive through Colfax County’s unincorporated community of Olean, you can’t miss the church on the hilltop – a German Gothic building with red brick and a towering steeple – and a white wood-frame parish house next to the church.

You can’t miss the two buildings because they’re the entirety of Olean, situated about halfway between Fremont and Norfolk and between the smaller communities of Dodge and Howells.

Though the former town of Olean once had other buildings, homes and businesses, what remains is its 150-year-old Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, a bedrock of faith for about 35 families in the area.

The parish and its long history were celebrated June 9 at an anniversary Mass and dinner.

More than 400 people – parishioners past and present – were on hand for the 2 p.m. Mass and the ensuing celebration with a polka band, beer garden and a catered meal with pork roast, kraut and dumplings, mashed potatoes and green beans. The women of the parish provided desserts.


“It was an awesome day,” a day of celebrating and reuniting, said Danny Kluthe, chairman of the parish council, a trustee and a lifelong parishioner. Most of his family – which includes his wife, Josie, four daughters and 13 grandchildren – were able to attend the celebration on a “top 10” day for weather.

Their roots at Sacred Heart are deep.

Kluthe’s great-grandmother was the first person buried at the parish cemetery. His German heritage – and that of many members – is reflected in the architecture of the church, built in 1929, the parish’s third church.

But inside the building, the community’s Bohemian influence is visible, with statues of St. Wenceslaus, St. John Nepomucene and St. Ludmila, the grandmother of St. Wenceslaus and a patroness of Bohemia.

The parish, the first in Colfax County, grew quickly in its early years and included a grade school, Sacred Heart of Jesus Academy, which closed in 1968.

Though the school and much of Olean are now gone, a rich spiritual heritage and a “Spirit of Olean” lives on, said Father Daniel Kampschneider, an archdiocese priest for 45 years who grew up in Sacred Heart Parish.

He presided at the anniversary Mass.

Concelebrating were Father James Weeder, pastor; Father Walter Jong-à-Kiem, senior associate pastor; Father Dan Wittrock and Father Matthew Gutowski, who had served at Sacred Heart; and Father Ralph Steffensmeier, an archdiocesan priest for 65 years and another native of the parish.

Father Daniel Kampschneider, center, celebrates Mass at Sacred Heart Parish in Olean. Concelebrating are, from left, Father Ralph Steffensmeier, Father Matthew Gutowski, Father Daniel Wittrock, Father Walter Jong-à-Kiem, and Father James Weeder. KEVIN GALL

Father Steffensmeier and Father Kampschneider are part of the spiritual legacy of Sacred Heart, where religious vocations blossomed.

Eight priests and 18 religious sisters were raised in “our tiny, yet spiritually strong parish,” Father Kampschneider said.

The lay faithful also are part of that legacy.

“When we need something done, just about everybody or anybody steps up to the plate,” Kluthe said. “We never have a problem with volunteers.”

For generations, “this parish was the bedrock,” he said, where values were formed and members were faithful and hard-working.

Growing up in that atmosphere and being part of the parish is a privilege, he said.

Father Kampschneider would agree.

“I believe the Spirit of Olean taught us to appreciate our Catholic faith,” he said in his homily. “While we were and are a small parish, we have taken our faith seriously. We have been guided by the strong faith of former pastors, sisters, and family members.

“This is more than just a remembering about the past of how things were, but it is also realizing the power of faith, even now in our personal lives.”


Regular Sunday Mass is no longer available at Sacred Heart, but evening Mass is still offered twice a month, on the second and fourth Thursdays. 

The parish’s former 5 p.m. Mass on Saturdays had become part of the Kluthe family’s routine. Everything else on their schedule revolved around it, the father said.

Now they go to neighboring churches for Sunday Mass, in Dodge, Snyder, Howells or Clarkson, still aiming for a Saturday evening Mass but sometimes worshiping on Sunday morning.

The family still enjoys the community at Sacred Heart but now is making new connections at the other parishes, Kluthe said.

“We’re all small communities around here,” he said. “Everybody kind of knows everybody. But occasionally you do meet new people – or old friends from way back. It’s kind of nice that way.”





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