By Celine Klosterman
WELTON – Sometimes, saying goodbye to a parish is like watching an aging parent die, Father Paul Connolly said.
“It’s a great loss, but you know it’s time to let them go,” St. Anne’s pastor said.
After years of declining membership, St. Anne’s 39 families knew the parish’s last days were on the horizon, said Rachel VanderHeiden, a member of the parish council and finance council. So after a May inspection of the church building revealed numerous problems — which would cost a prohibitively expensive $250,000 to fix — there was little opposition to the parish’s October vote to close, she said.
“We all wanted to do what we can to keep St. Anne’s open, but the writing’s on the wall.”
The building inspection, which was required for insurance purposes, showed the 100-year-old church had problems including structural flaws, roof issues, and mold and water damage in the basement. Parishioners made some repairs to the basement, then met with the Diocesan Building Commission to discuss the inspector’s report. In response to parish leaders’ questions about their next steps, Bishop Martin Amos and other Davenport Diocese administrators sent the parish leaders a letter.
The September letter asked St. Anne’s to consider the parish’s viability. “Is it time to look for better ways to celebrate sacraments, be a community of faith, evangelize the world and use wisely the financial resources of which we are stewards?”
Diocesan leaders noted that from 2010 to 2012, the number of individual parishioners dropped from 112 to 79. During each of those three years, the parish saw one or two celebrations of baptism, first Communion, confirmation or marriage. “Without the sacraments of initiation and weddings being celebrated, there is no other source of new Catholics to take on the responsibility of caring for this community (including its church),” the letter read.
Because of safety concerns, work on the church building couldn’t be spread out over time. “In addition, given the precarious nature of your parish, you are not permitted to go into debt to complete these projects.”
Even if the funds needed for repairs could be raised, “Is it fiscally responsible to spend a large amount of money to maintain a building at which only one Mass is celebrated and the neighboring church is 9-½ miles away?” St. Anne’s is clustered with St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt.
Welton parish leaders discussed such issues with parishioners at a meeting Oct. 13. The parish council and finance council then voted to recommend closing the parish and razing the church building. The diocese’s Presbyteral Council, or priests’ council, made the same recommendations in November to Bishop Amos, who accepted them.
“I’m very sad about it,” said VanderHeiden, who was baptized, married and had her children baptized at St. Anne’s. “This parish is a part of me, a part of our family.”
A closing Mass will be celebrated July 26, 2014, following a wedding scheduled at St. Anne’s July 19. “At least we can end on a happy note with the wedding,” Fr. Connolly said.
Parishioners are discussing what to do with church artifacts. “There are memorials on the stained glass windows; we want to get those back to the families,” VanderHeiden said.
Catholics are also looking into a memorial to place near the church site or at a cemetery.
St. Anne’s will be the first parish in the diocese to close since St. Joseph Parish in Parnell in 2009. The latter parish also faced declining membership and prohibitively expensive building repairs.
Bishop Amos complimented Welton parishioners for their wise stewardship. “I’m sure this was not an easy decision and I’m equally sure it was an emotional one, but I applaud them for taking the steps needed under the circumstances,” he said. “It is my hope and prayer that everyone finds a spiritual home where they can encounter Christ and continue to advance the Kingdom of God.”
History of St. Anne’s
St. Anne’s roots extend to the early 20th century, when Irish immigrants who settled in Welton attended Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Petersville. Mud and snow sometimes made it impossible for wagons to travel the eight miles of dirt roads from Welton to the church, so Catholics discussed forming a parish in Welton. Beginning in 1905, Masses were celebrated in private homes, then a local dance hall, and finally in the church basement until the church was completed. The cornerstone was laid in 1910, and the first Mass in St. Anne’s was celebrated on Christmas Day 1912. Bishop James Davis dedicated the building in 1916.
Before a golden jubilee Mass in 1960, the church was remodeled.
In 1992, St. Anne’s joined a cluster with the Petersville parish and St. Patrick in Delmar. In 2006, the Welton parish clustered with the Delmar parish and Ss. Philip & James in Grand Mound. Since June 2012, St. Anne’s has shared a pastor with St. Joseph’s in DeWitt.
St. Anne Parish celebrated its centennial in 2010.