By Celine Klosterman
OXFORD – Each Sunday, Beth Struzynski knows she’ll see relatives and neighbors for Mass at St. Mary Church. “It’s the one day we can all be together,” said the recent University of Northern Iowa graduate, whose father and paternal grandparents also belong to St. Mary’s. “There’s a great sense of family that comes from the parish.”
That sense of community is one reason Struzynski, a lector and eucharistic minister, believes St. Mary’s is still “thriving” after 150 years. On Sept. 12, she’ll be among 320 parish families who will celebrate a century-and-a-half of St. Mary’s history.
That history began when six Catholic settlers in the Oxford area began gathering for Mass in various homes in 1859. St. Mary Parish was formally organized a year later, according to parish historical information. Its first, 800-square-foot church was built in 1862. Fifteen years later, Catholics determined they needed a larger space, so they constructed a 4,140-square-foot building where St. Mary Church stands today. The second building served the congregation until it was replaced with the parish’s existing red-brick church, whose cornerstone was laid in 1912.
In 1932, the parish bought Oxford’s community center, now St. Mary Hall, to use for social gatherings. Struzynski recalled that after a storm damaged the church’s roof in the late 1990s, adults and youths rallied to raise money for repairs.
In 2003, original clay tiles on the church roof were replaced, and stained-glass windows have been refurbished. Behind the altar, the mural depicting Jerusalem was enhanced. The church’s pipe organ has been restored, and handicapped accessibility to the church and hall was improved.
Now, original oak pews are being refinished. “We’re not saying, ‘Let’s just get new ones,’” Struzynski said. “It’s about restoring what we have, and keeping it in nice shape so the tradition and history of the church continue.”
Three men who attended Mass in that church as youths have become priests for the Diocese of Davenport. They include parish natives Father Tom Doyle, who is retired, and Father William Reynolds, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton and sacramental minister for Immaculate Conception Parish in Colfax.
The third priest, Father Edmond Dunn, has served at St. Mary’s since September 2001. He also is pastor of St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove, with which St. Mary’s clustered in 1997. He said that after growing up near the Oxford church and being ordained there, “it is a joy and privilege for me to join with the present and past members of the community in celebrating this historic anniversary.”
Lifelong parishioner Don Saxton, who attended Oxford High School with Fr. Dunn, is also glad to celebrate. Oxford’s mayor, Saxton said his faith is vital to him and that it’s nice to make St. Mary’s milestone “known to the community.”
A choir member since 1963 and former altar server, he’s also a parish trustee, finance council member and maintenance man. “If there’s anything to be done in the church facilities that I’m capable of doing, I’ll attempt to take care of it,” he said. “… We have a very beautiful church and have kept it up well.”
Struzynski agrees. After spending most of the past four years away from Oxford and St. Mary Church, she said, “It’s nice to see other parishes, but when you come back, you just feel at home.”
Event to celebrate parish history, families
On Sept. 12 at 10 a.m., Bishop Martin Amos will celebrate Mass at St. Mary Church in Oxford with parish natives Father Edmond Dunn, Father Tom Doyle and Father William Reynolds. Lunch will follow on the church grounds. Commemorative items will be for sale including customized, Red Wing Stoneware crocks and ceramic tiles featuring an image of the church.