Northern Missouri parishes celebrate anniversaries
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor
STANBERRY - Irish immigrants, Swiss monks, German farmers, railroads, the Civil War, western Missouri's first bishop and Benedictine abbot are all part of the living history that was celebrated by the successors and descendants of those pioneers as two parishes in northern Missouri marked anniversaries Oct. 30.
Albert de Zutter/Key photo
Concelebrants at the Mass celebrating parish anniversaries were Benedictine Father Daniel Petsche, Bishop Robert W. Finn, and Benedictine Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey.
St. Peter Parish in Stanberry, founded in 1860, celebrated its 125 years, while her sister parish, St. Patrick in Ford City, founded in 1874, celebrated 131 years of Catholic worship and community.
The two parishes, uniting under a banner in St. Peter Church that read "Two Parishes - One Family," prayed together at Mass concelebrated by their shared pastor, Benedictine Father Daniel Petsche, Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey, and Bishop Robert W. Finn, who presided.
By virtue of their offices the Mass concelebrants mirrored the original cast of characters most directly involved in launching the ecclesial history of the Catholic Church in the territory: Bishop John J. Hogan, Father Frowin Conrad (who would become the first abbot of Conception Abbey), and Father James Power.
Father Power came to the area from Reading, Pa., with a group of Irish colonists. The Irish, in turn, were among the 1.5 million Irish people who emigrated to America as a result of the 1845-1846 potato famine in Ireland.
They worked on the railroad, and when that work was done, they had to find other means of supporting themselves. They were promised land in northwest Missouri, and 58 people raised $20,000 to buy the land. When they arrived in St. Joseph in 1858, many of the group elected to stay in town, and a group variously reported as 18 to 22 actually came to Nodaway County, with names like McCarthy, McCarty, Growney, Sullivan, Fagan, Riley and Brady.
Richard and Louise Cummins of St. Peter Parish in Stanberry, told The Catholic Key that also among the early Irish settlers in the area - mostly in Ford City - were people with names like Reardon, Beaslin, Buckley, Corcoran and, about five years after the first influx, Cummins.
Richard Cummins, who gave a brief historical account of Catholicism in the area at a reception following the commemorative Mass, said that there were still McCartys and Sullivans in the area, along with his own relatives.
Cummins told The Catholic Key that just prior to the start of the Civil War, when "bushwhackers" were active in the area, Jeremiah Sullivan kept a loaded shotgun leaning against the wall in his house. The shotgun was knocked over and Sullivan was shot in the leg. He died from the infection of the wound, and soon after, his wife died giving birth to twins.
Father Power took the twins on horseback to St. Joseph, where Catholics under Bishop Hogan's leadership had established various institutions, including an orphanage.
The diocesan history states that during the Civil War years (1861-1865) Father Power found it too dangerous to stay in the area, so he lived in Illinois and "visited sporadically." He came back to stay in 1865.
Cummins told The Catholic Key that his great-grandmother told him that during the Civil War, men in the area spent a lot of time in the woods, because both sides were forcibly conscripting men to fight in the war.
In his homily, Bishop Finn praised the two parishes for the "countless people who have been brought to life as sons and daughters" of God the Father in heaven. The parish, he said, is a vehicle of eternity, a demonstration of God's grace.
"We can't know what miracles have been wrought in the hearts of the people who worship here," he said. He concluded by asking that "St. Peter and St. Patrick will never fail to keep you close to Jesus Christ, and may our blessed mother continue to teach you and keep you close to the church for the glory of God, our father."
Leo Derks of St. Patrick Parish, in brief remarks, said that the first Masses in the area were celebrated by Father Power (often rendered as Powers) in people's homes. The diocesan history, "This Far by Faith," by Father Michael Coleman, states that the first Mass was celebrated in the log cabin of William Brady on Oct. 25, 1858.
Derks and Cummins both noted that Bishop Hogan, who was made bishop of the newly established Diocese of St. Joseph (March 3, 1868), asked the abbot of Engelberg Abbey in Switzerland to found an abbey near St. Joseph. The Swiss abbot responded by sending Father Frowin Conrad and Father Adelhelm Odermot in 1873.
Derks told The Catholic Key that the Irish in the area, coming from a grazing culture did not have the skills or the tools for farming, but immigrants from Germany who were farmers originally did, and they taught their Irish neighbors.
For several years Fathers Conrad and Power served Catholics in Nodaway and Gentry counties.
Stanberry was established when the Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railway came to the area and laid out a town site in 1879. The next year, St. Peter Parish was established as a mission church of Conception Abbey.
Since that time, St. Peter and St. Patrick parishes have been served by 19 Benedictine monks and 17 diocesan priests.
In remarks at the reception, Abbot Gregory Polan noted that it was Father Frowin, a German-speaking priest, who decided to name the church in Ford City after St. Patrick. Abbot Gregory said the two parishes and Conception Abbey have had close ties throughout the years.
"It has been a blessing to be a part of this history from the beginning," he said.
Bishop Finn also expressed gratitude at being able to "step into a place of great history, which was given to me as a great gift and an honor."