By Celine Klosterman
BROOKLYN — St. Patrick Parish will celebrate several milestones this weekend as it kicks off a yearlong celebration of the 100th anniversary of its church.
Bishop Martin Amos will celebrate Mass at the church May 13 at 8 a.m., when children will receive their first Communion, high school students will celebrate graduation, and all parishioners will recognize a century of gathering at the existing church building.
St. Patrick’s is using the occasion as an opportunity to reflect on the origin of not just the building, but the parish community.
Irish, Germans and Belgians were among the early settlers in the Brooklyn area as the parish formed in about 1858, according to “The History of St. Patrick’s Church” by Agnes Stone. In 1860, Catholics invited a priest near Holbrook, about 40 miles away, to come celebrate the first Mass in Brooklyn. Over the years priests from Iowa City and Marshalltown also served the congregation.
In 1862, Brooklyn Catholics raised a cross over their first church, a 20-by-30 foot building that later doubled in size thanks to an addition. The building also served as a Catholic school.
After the first resident pastor arrived in 1872, parishioners built a house for him. A larger church was constructed 11 years later, but was destroyed in a gas explosion in August 1911.
As flames swallowed up the building, a visiting priest rushed inside to save the Blessed Sacrament. He later crawled out of the church with his clothes burned off and his skin scorched, but with the ciborium in hand. “He was permanently disfigured, but continued to serve the church where he would not have to meet the public,” according to parish historical documents.
The existing St. Patrick Church, a 44-by-90 foot structure with an 80-foot tower, was dedicated Oct. 2, 1912. In his homily at the dedication Mass, Bishop James Davis congratulated parishioners. “This church will stand here as a testimony, as a proof of the faith that is in your hearts,” he said. “It will stand here as a testimony of the beneficence of your generosity and the self-sacrificing spirit of Catholic people. I thank you for what you have done, and with all my heart I pray that God will reward you more than a hundredfold for this evidence of the immortal faith that you have shown.”
After the Second Vatican Council, the church’s tall, main altar was replaced with a smaller altar facing the congregation, and the confessional was moved to the back of the church. Lay people began serving as eucharistic ministers in 1979.
Nearly 20 years later, St. Patrick’s was not assigned a resident pastor after Father Joe Rogers retired in 1998. Instead, Father Richard Okumu, who was then pastor of St. Bridget Parish about 9 miles away in Victor, began serving the Brooklyn parish as well.
St. Patrick’s is proud to have had four parishioners become Sisters and five parishioners become priests, said Father Brian Shepley, the parish’s current pastor. Father Phil Ryan, a native of the Brooklyn parish, was ordained in 1957 and is now retired and living at St. Patrick’s rectory.
For parishioner Mary DePauw, St. Patrick’s has special significance because it’s the only parish she’s ever belonged to. She entered the Catholic Church through the parish at 18 years old, the age at which she married Joseph Cline, now deceased, in 1954.
She has since served as an extraordinary minster of holy Communion for 27 years, a lector, religious education coordinator, member of the Altar & Rosary Society and volunteer for other parish ministries. Her six children received the sacraments of initiation at St. Patrick’s.
“I love my church,” she said. “It’s my life.”
Bishop Martin Amos will preside at 8 a.m. Mass at St. Patrick Church in Brooklyn May 13. Brunch will follow, and a handmade quilt made with green and white fabric – colors associated with St. Patrick – will be raffled off. Christmas ornaments featuring an image of the church will be sold to raise funds to repair or replace the building’s front steps, said Father Brian Shepley, pastor.
Parishioners’ photos and other items of historical significance will be on display May 13, said Mary Jo Seaton, who is helping plan festivities. A summer picnic and kids’ carnival also will highlight the 100th anniversary of the church, and historical booklets will be available at the annual dinner and bazaar in October.