The Catholic Messenger
FORT MADISON — In Scripture, Jesus is referred to as the bridegroom and the church is his bride. On July 31, Holy Family Parish celebrated its cherished role as Christ’s bride – 175 years and counting. Parishioner Laura Hyatt rang a brass bell outside Ss. Mary & Joseph Catholic Church, calling the faithful to Mass for this significant milestone. The bell dates back to 1842, when Father John George Alleman organized the building of Fort Madison’s first Catholic Church, St. Joseph. He began keeping church records, however, in 1841, parish historian Dave Moehn said.
Fast forward 175 years to the anniversary celebration. Parishioners and visitors enter Ss. Mary & Joseph Church and admire the new, airy gathering space, finished just in time for the anniversary Mass, minus the doors, which had to be reordered because they were too short!
When Bishop Martin Amos arrived to preside at Mass, he marveled at the attractiveness of the space, which blends the modern with the traditional look. Etched archways on the tempered glass windows complement the stained glass windows inside the church “so you can see the vista of the whole church,” explained parishioner Mike Panther. He managed the construction project.
“It’s nice to have a gathering space; it builds community,” said Father David Wilkening, who served as Holy Family’s pastor until June 30. Now he serves as pastor of parishes in Marengo, North English and Williamsburg. Fr. Wilkening was among eight or nine priests — including the new pastor, Father Joseph Phung — who concelebrated the Mass.
Several deacons served and the Knights of Columbus provided an honor guard. Lit candles wreathed with clear beads and small white flowers decorated the pews, like those you might see at a wedding or wedding anniversary.
The homily of Bishop Amos focused on what it takes to really live life. “… If I want to spend an eternity with God, what am I willing to do in a proactive way?” he asked. Celebrating 175 years of Catholicism in Fort Madison “is a celebration of the countless number of people who have tried to live by Gospel values.” These are people who have passed on that faith and wisdom from generation to generation. They are people who have sought the things of heaven while here on earth. They have taken off the old self and put on the new self. They are people who have gained wisdom of heart, the bishop reflected.
“There is still much more life to be lived with the end in mind and the duty and joy of practicing our Catholic faith. Passing it on to the next generation is now our responsibility. Be proactive and keep the end in mind.”
After Mass, the gathering of around 400 people headed over to McAleer Hall for a meal and root beer floats and to view a museum of the parish’s history. Memorabilia ranged from antique photographs and place settings to chasubles and church vessels and an ornate canopy used during Corpus Christi celebrations.
Deacon David Sallen of Holy Family Parish recalled the story of St. Lawrence, a deacon in third-century Rome who was ordered by the city’s prefect to turn over the church’s riches. He presented the prefect with people.
“We have all these treasures, we have this museum set up, but our true treasure is the people of our parish,” Deacon Sallen said. “That’s what we’re celebrating today.”