By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
MUSCATINE — The past and present of the Catholic community in Muscatine came together for a 175th anniversary celebration Sept. 23 at Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish.
Tables in Gannon Hall were decorated with pictures featuring parishioners over the years as well as church and school buildings. Guests viewed a historical slideshow created by Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, the parish’s director of religious education.
“There were pictures of me with long hair and a goatee,” said Father Troy Richmond, the parish’s pastor. “There were pictures of priests, masquerade balls… it was fun to indentify who was who.”
Parish Secretary Linda Niedergeses led guests around the original church. She offered a little history about the structure, built in 1842 by
Father Samuel Mazzuchelli in Wisconsin and sent to Muscatine on a raft. “It was interesting to hear people’s comments as they toured the little church,” she said. “They were surprised at how very small it is.”
“You’d be surprised how many parishioners have never been in the original church,” Fr. Richmond said, noting that the “beautiful chapel” is illuminated by sunlight coming through the windows, as it does not have electrical service. “There’s not much in there: a Communion rail, altar and a replica of the original wooden tabernacle.”
A school room was added on to the original church in 1853. Nearly 165 years later, the parish continues to offer faith-based education to pre-kindergarten-through-seventh-grade students, with plans to offer eighth grade in the 2018-19 school year. The current school was built in 1955 and the parish center — named for Fr. Mazzuchelli — is also used.
Parishioner Ralph Weiss gave tours of the current church, built in 1910. “He pointed out the meaning of the windows, different sections of the church and why things are the way they are,” Fr. Richmond said.
Another church in the parish’s history, St. Mary’s, was built in 1876. St. Mary and St. Mathias parishes merged in 1999, and the building was used until 2014. St. Mary’s was demolished two years ago.
The reception menu reflected the multicultural makeup of the parish; Ss. Mary & Mathias has offered ministerial services to Spanish-speaking Catholics since the 1950s, when Mexicans began migrating to the area. The Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission was established in 1975, and merged with Ss. Mary & Mathias in 2005.
Guests helped themselves to Mexican carnitas and rice, as well as traditional American potluck items like chicken and hot dogs. Fr. Richmond noted that the parish serves Liberian and Tongan Catholics, as well. They, too, were in attendance at the celebration.
After the tours and reception, guests headed into the church for Mass. Bishop Thomas Zinkula presided over the Mass and gave the homily. Several priests with ties to the parish concelebrated: Fr. Richmond; Father Hai Dinh, the parish’s current parochial vicar; retired priests Father Jack Gallagher and Father Wally Helms; former parochial vicar Father Joseph Sia; and Father Chris Weber, who grew up in the parish and served in lay ministry there before answering his call to the priesthood. Byzantine Father Bryan Eyeman, a friend of Fr. Richmond’s, also concelebrated. Deacon Dennis McDonald and retired Deacon Jim Becker assisted with the Mass.
In Fr. Richmond’s opinion, Bishop Zinkula’s homily perfectly captured the essence of the parish and its goals moving forward.
“The parish has a wonderful history of mercy and compassion and inclusion,” Bishop Zinkula said. “During the next 175 years, I encourage you to continue to be individuals and a parish that are not only just, but even more so, merciful.”