New name – Our Lady of the Holy Rosary – reflects answers to prayer
By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
LOST NATION — The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time was anything but ordinary for parishioners of the newly formed Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. During Mass the night before, they sang Mary’s praises on behalf of their faith community and feasted afterwards on potluck salads, chicken, rolls and dessert.
They paid tribute to the two longtime parishes — Sacred Heart in Lost Nation and St. James in Toronto — that merged to create Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. “What we are celebrating in the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” observed Father Francis Odoom during his homily, “is what we aspire to become.”
After Mass, parishioners posed for a group photo next to a statue of Madonna and Child outside the Lost Nation church. They squinted and smiled in the hot sun. Parishioner Keith Dexter, holding a squirming toddler in his arms, smiled when asked whether the celebration intentionally coincided with the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He and other members of the merged parishes believe divine intervention made this joyful day possible.
Some say their journey to this merger began 120 years ago — when Father Patrick McNamara served both the Toronto and Lost Nation parishes. But the work accelerated earlier this year when Father Bill Kneemiller, then pastor of the parishes in Lost Nation, Toronto, Grand Mound and Oxford Junction, left to serve as a military chaplain overseas.
Bishop Martin Amos sent a letter to the parishes notifying them that changes would have to be made because he didn’t have a priest to fill the vacancy. The closure of either the Lost Nation or Toronto parish was a real possibility.
During the time the parishes were “in limbo,” as Dexter describes it, a group of six to eight Catholics prayed the rosary in the Lost Nation church at 6 a.m. every Tuesday. Dexter, the Lost Nation parish’s council president, was among them. “We fell down on our knees and asked Mary for help and wouldn’t you know it, here comes May 30 and Father Francis shows up!” The priest from Ghana, Africa, is serving Our Lady of the Holy Rosary and the Grand Mound and Oxford Junction parishes while he studies at St. Ambrose University in Davenport for an advanced degree.
Prior to Fr. Odoom’s arrival, the parishes’ leaders met with diocesan leaders Sister Laura Goedken and Dan Ebener to discuss options and plans for the future. In those meetings, “we asked, can we please keep the Eucharist in our area?” Dexter said. He’s grateful to God their prayers were answered. Lost Nation Mayor Jim Schroeder, a longtime parishioner and lay leader, figured Bishop Amos “would take care of us. But I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”
When the parishes concluded that a merger was the best option, Ebener encouraged them to create a new name for the parish. They chose to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and the rosary that had been prayed so fervently. “We’ve got to give credit to Our Lady,” Dexter said.
Sr. Goedken announced the new parish’s name during the Mass and read excerpts from the decrees closing Sacred Heart and St. James and establishing Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. To parishioners’ relief, both the Toronto and Lost Nation church buildings will remain open.
“These churches have been together since conception,” explained Christine Cavey Meyer, a member of one of the founding families of St. James in Toronto, the Caveys. “By joining together, we’re stronger.” If the churches were full every Sunday, “we wouldn’t have to do this,” Meyer said. “I am just pleased that the church in Toronto doesn’t have to be closed and that we can be together and stay alive.”
“We were kind of like the scared disciples,” said Linda Schneider, who also belonged to the Toronto parish. “But faith and trust in God got us where we are today.”
“Our work isn’t over. It’s just beginning. We have to figure out how to run this new entity,” Dexter said. But, he added: “Let us remember we have 120 years of working together to glorify God.”