Corpus Christi: Sugar Creek’s path of memories

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

SUGAR CREEK — The forecast called for 100 percent chance of thunderstorms for the afternoon of June 2, the day of St. Joseph Catholic Church’s annual Corpus Christi procession. As they do every year, parishioners prayed for good weather so the procession could go on as scheduled.

Lindsay Steele
Flower girls sprinkle petals on the ground during a Corpus Christi procession June 2 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Sugar Creek.

As the crowd walked through the tree-lined perimeter of St. Joseph’s Cemetery, surrounded by farm fields, the sky grew dark. Just as Father Scott Lemaster finished his reflection at the fourth and final chapel on the route, drops of rain began to fall.

“Every year it (rain) threatens, but it never does,” said lifelong parishioner Lois Trenkamp. “I think someone’s looking out for us out there.”
“One year, it thundered the whole way around, but we made it,” said Janet Roling, another lifelong parishioner.

The Corpus Christi procession has been a tradition in Sugar Creek since the 1850s. On what is known as the Feast of Corpus Christi, Catholics observe the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Those walking included altar servers, people carrying multi-colored streamers and banners depicting the bread and wine. Flower-crowned girls in white dresses dropped petals to soften the path for Fr. Lemaster, who carried the monstrance under a canopy. A guitarist led music worship along the path. At each of four chapels around the cemetery the procession stopped for a Eucharist-related Scripture reading, prayer and reflection.

At one station, Fr. Lemaster explained that the Eucharist is often looked at as a holy thing. This description is well-intentioned but inaccurate, he said. “It’s not a what; it’s a who … it’s Christ himself.”

He noted that he’s enjoyed being part of the procession for the past 13 years that he has served as pastor of Ss. Mary & Joseph Parish. “I hope I get to be here for another 13 years,” he said.

After the procession, lifelong parishioners reminisced as they put away banners and ribbons and locked the chapel doors. They recalled hearing stories from their grandparents about the early days of the procession, when the now towering trees around the perimeter of the cemetery were just saplings. Parishioners would decorate the trees by winding foliage around them, creating a fence-like structure around the cemetery.

“There are 163 years of memories out here,” said Dale Roling. “The people who started this (tradition) are buried out here, and we march around them.”

“We pass by so many family members buried in this cemetery. It’s like singing to family members who have passed away,” said Annie Hahn.
One parishioner who was on the minds of many during the procession was Donna Roling, a lifelong parishioner who died in November at age 65. Her mother, Margaret, now 93, had fond memories of serving as a flower girl, but by the mid 1980s, the procession had scaled back and lost some of its flair. In an effort to rejuvenate the procession and build excitement for future generations, Donna Roling spearheaded an effort to create flower girl dresses, banners and ribbons. Using old Clorox bottles, she fashioned flower baskets and added crocheted accents. These items are still being used today. “She kept Corpus Christi going (here),” Hahn said.

For the rural parish, though, the procession is about more than just tradition. It’s about community. Children from surrounding parishes take part in the procession, and parishioners who have moved away from the area often come back to observe Corpus Christi. They attend Mass before the procession and enjoy a potluck afterward. “It brings everyone together,” said Janet Roling. “It’s just a special day. Nobody is a stranger.”

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