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St. Patrick, Tekamah

A handful of Tekamah area families, led by brothers John and Tom Tobin and a priest in a neighboring town, built a small Catholic Church in 1889.

Before then, determined Catholics traveled by horse and buggy nearly 20 miles through all types of weather to Mass at the nearest church in Blair.

Now, descendants of the Tobins and other founding families are celebrating and continuing that faith. More than 350 members of St. Patrick Parish in Tekamah marked the congregation’s 125th anniversary this year with a weekend of events that included Archbishop George J. Lucas celebrating Mass June 22.

To emphasize the occasion, parishioners refurbished parish buildings and grounds, created a parish history and pictorial directory of families, installed a marble statue of St. Patrick outside the church and honored long-time members.

The steady faith of founding families combined with the vitality of new, young families makes St. Patrick unique, said Father Mark Tomasiewicz, pastor.

"We’ve been blessed with a good balance," said Father Tomasiewicz, who also is pastor of Holy Family Parish in Decatur.

Elaine Chatt, a St. Patrick parishioner for most of her 96 years, said her father, John Tobin, used to tell her about the parish’s earliest days – when he first moved from Wisconsin and rode a buggy every Sunday to the church in Blair, she said.

Eventually, five families asked Father Englebert Schmitt, a priest from Blair, to preside at Masses in their homes. They raised $1,500 for Tekamah’s first Catholic church, a 20-by-40-foot wood building dedicated to St. Joseph.

Msgr. Joseph Aughney, who was appointed pastor in 1921, helped the parish build a new church in 1927 for $14,000. Bishop Francis J. Beckman dedicated the church to St. Patrick in 1928 – but why the parish name was changed, Chatt and other parishioners said they didn’t know.

Msgr. Aughney also helped bring a 7-year-old orphan – James Fischer – from New York to a parish family for adoption.

Fischer grew up to become a successful Los Angeles businessman who never forgot his home parish. He provided money to build a new St. Patrick church on the western edge of Tekamah in 2006, under the leadership of Father James Kramper, pastor at the time and now pastor of St. Peter de Alcántara Parish in Ewing, St. John the Baptist Parish in Deloit Township of Holt County and St. Theresa of Avila Parish in Clearwater.

The parish became known several decades ago for its annual St. Patrick’s Day potluck and its chicken dinners, said parishioner Sue Langley, Chatt’s daughter.

Those traditions ended, but they’ve been replaced by Lenten fish fries, which the parish has held for the past 10 years on most Fridays during Lent. This year the fish fries drew an average of 380 people each Friday, Langley said.

As a lifelong member of St. Patrick, she has seen a lot of change, she said.

The new church building reflects the mix of old and new parishioners, with statues and stained glass windows from the old church used in the new building.

Langley said she enjoys that mix.

"I like remembering the past – and enjoying what we have now."