At 125, Iowa City parish is still going strong

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

IOWA CITY — For the 125th anniversary Mass at St. Wenceslaus Parish, Dolores (Kofron) Slade sat in the same pew she’s been sitting in for her entire life of 83 years. Opal McMenomy, the daughter of Slade’s late best friend, Roseanne McMenomy, sat beside her. Together, they looked at black and white photos and recounted memories of days gone by.

Lindsay Steele
Bishop Thomas Zinkula, center, laughs as he greets members of St. Wenceslaus Parish during the parish’s 125th anniversary Mass Sept. 9 in Iowa City. Joining him are Deacon David Reha, left, and Deacon Chris Kabat.

Slade remembered learning to make kolaches for parish dinners alongside her sisters and mother, Lavone, who seemed to have endless energy even after getting up at 3 a.m. to start preparations for parish dinners. “She was energized … the smile on her face (signified) a day well done.”

St. Wenceslaus has been a cornerstone in Slade’s life. “There’s a sense of community, and I’ve made lifelong friends,” she said.

Some parishioners can trace their roots back for generations. With the University of Iowa close by, new families are constantly entering the parish. All seem to agree: St. Wenceslaus is a place they feel welcome and supported in their faith journey.

Many of the parish’s 600 families celebrated the anniversary on Sept. 9 with a Mass at which Bishop Thomas Zinkula pre­sided. Concelebrants were Pastor Father Gary Beckman, Father John Lamansky, Father Lou Leonhardt and Msgr. Frank Henricksen. Deacon Chris Kabat and Deacon David Reha assisted. Dinner and musical entertainment followed after Mass.

Deacon Kabat and his wife, Julie, joined the parish 10 years ago. Parents of three sons, the Kabats immediately felt supported. “It is a family place,” Deacon Kabat said. “It felt like home from the beginning.” He has served as a deacon at the parish since his ordination last year.

Mary Hurt, 101, became a member of St. Wenceslaus after marrying her late husband Joe about 80 years ago. “I didn’t know a soul except my relatives.” She got involved with various organizations and projects in the parish and quickly made friends. “It felt like family,” she said.

Now a resident of Atrium Village in Hills, she attends daily Mass next door at St. Joseph Church in Hills. But, for special occasions, she returns to St. Wenceslaus. “I have a lot of friends here yet,” she said. Several people recognized her before the anniversary Mass began and greeted her with a handshake. “St. Wenceslaus is my home.”

During the Mass, fourth-generation parishioner William Anciaux thought about his relatives who sat in the pews over the past 125 years. Some helped build the church while the names of others are etched in the stained-glass windows. His wife, Jenny, previously served as parish historian. Parishioners “always stuck together as a parish through the years, no matter how much they did or didn’t have,” Jenny Anciaux said. They’ve always worked well around food, she added, and people of many different nationalities now belong to the parish.

During opening remarks and his homily, Bishop Zinkula shared a bit about his Bohemian-Czech heritage. While none of his ancestors belonged to the traditionally Bohemian-Czech parish, “It’s like coming home for me in a way,” he said.

He explained what it means to be part of a faith community. “It should change us, transform us. We should become, as Peter tells us, living stones. Together, we are built into a spiritual house.”

Relating back to the parish’s Bohemian Czech roots, he explained that geese are a cultural sign of providence and vigilance. “God has provided protective care of the parish for the past 125 years. God has kept careful watch of our parish. (But) God expects us to do our part” through prayerful liturgy, solid education and formation and outreach.

At the end of the Mass, Fr. Beckman, thanked the deacons, concelebrants and other individuals who helped with the Mass and dinner. He offered gratitude to the people in the pews. “Thanks for all your love and support in helping to make this a vibrant parish.”

Parish Council president Teresa Morgan shared her hopes for the future with The Catholic Messenger. “We just hope to continue to have a positive, vibrant and faithful community.”

St. Wenceslaus: a history

St. Wenceslaus Parish was established in the early 1890s to serve a growing number of Bohemian-Czechs in Iowa City. The Bohemians had begun immigrating to Iowa in the mid-1800s to flee political and religious oppression by the Austrians. St. Wenceslaus was revered among the Bohemians because he represented self-governance.

The first members of St. Wenceslaus were brick layers, masons, tin smiths, laborers and carpenters. Many helped build St. Wenceslaus. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve in 1893. An addition was built in 1921. A west entrance with heated, handicap-accessible ramp was added in 2007.

A poem celebrating St. Wenceslaus’ 125th anniversary

By Michael Chan

Year after year, God guides our path
With kindness, forgiveness and love
Today is the day our Lord has made
125th Anniversary of St. Wenceslaus Church we come to celebrate
Priests and Deacons have come to proclaim His Word
The faithful have come to worship the Lord
Trials and storms we will have to go through
We trust in God that His love is forever true
When we look back where the years have gone
Praise be the Lord for all He has done
Through 125 years of good times and bad
He graciously fills us with love and makes us glad
Thank you Lord for holding our hands and walking with us
The congregation of St. Wenceslaus Church will journey another 125 years plus

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