An Act of Faith
By LARRY DEVINE
CHURDAN — Faith, heritage and music will be working in harmony when historic St. Patrick Catholic Church hosts an open house and concert Sunday featuring ensembles from All Strings Attached Orchestra Studio in Carroll.
The open house will be from 4 to 6 p.m. and the concert from 6 to 6:45 p.m. at the church, located 4 miles west of Churdan on E 19 and one-half mile north.
Finger desserts/pastry, hot cider and coffee will be available. Admission is free; freewill donations to the St. Patrick Historical Building Fund will be welcomed.
Funds will go for upkeep of the church, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Centennial of the current building will be celebrated next August.
Work completed on the church this year includes: repair of the stained-glass window, as well as repairing plaster and painting the entire 30-plus-foot-tall back wall of the church; reconstruction of roof over the confessional and belfry to repair water leaks; repairing plaster in the cry room and repainting the room; sanding and staining multiple areas of woodwork; hand-sanding, staining and applying polyurethane to the back door of the church; construction of a handicap-ramp entrance and pouring a cement patio that begins on the east (back) side of the church without interrupting the original historical design; restoration in the confessional to expose the original block walls of the church built in 1915; power-scrubbing and applying stain and water seal on a major portion of the basement floor; repairing rain gutters; stripping and rewaxing the floors; and repairing plaster and repainting the front section of the vestry.
More than 2,000 volunteer hours were put into the work.
Plans for future work on the church include: upgrade of exterior basement entry doors, repairing plaster and repainting the rest of the vestry, and sealing the basement walls and ceiling.
Preservation of St. Patrick Church and Cemetery relies solely on the assistance of volunteers and financial donations through celebrations and programs, such as book-signings, readings by authors, and festival celebrations. In October the church hosted an Irish storyteller/musician program that drew about 150 people.
Establishment of St. Patrick’s is traced to Irish Catholics’ settlement of the Cedar Creek area in the 1850s.
The first Mass was celebrated at the Myles Fitzpatrick home in 1863. In 1872, Myles Fitzpatrick purchased a farm for his son and donated 5 acres for the church. The white-frame church with a high bell tower — the first Catholic Church in Greene County — was built from native lumber from Fitzpatrick’s sawmill.
A new Romanesque Revival-style church was designed by William LeBarthe Steele and built by C.F. Mayer of Humboldt was dedicated on Nov. 7, 1915.
A fire on June 15, 1919, destroyed the building to its brick shell. Using the original foundation, the church was rebuilt.
Beginning in 1988, the Diocese of Sioux City made St. Patrick part of a cluster of parishes, and in 1996 it was reduced to oratory status, as only 30 families remained in the parish. It’s now allowed Masses only on St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, its anniversary celebration in August, funerals and special occasions.
St. Patrick was added to the National Register of Historical Places based on the Romanesque Revival construction designed by the nationally known architect Steele.
Given the rich history of the church, All Strings will feature a woodwind ensemble and chamber strings, both presenting madrigal programs.
Rebecca Windschitl, owner and founder of the All Strings program, which boasts more than 170 musicians from 40 communities, said of the chamber-strings portion of the show, “I felt it was appropriate to do a 14th-century program with the smaller ensemble as the church setting is perfect for that style.”
Sharon Meyers, who plays clarinet in the woodwind ensemble, said that group’s portion of the show will include some traditional Christmas music as well as a number that spotlights performances on the traditional woodwind instruments — clarinet, flute — plus some instruments that usually don’t get much attention — bassoon and oboe. Jade Havermann plays bassoon and Elise Cameron oboe in the ensemble.
“People don’t get to hear those (bassoon and oboe) often,” said Meyers, of rural Willey. She added that some of the pieces will be “very emotional.”
Windschitl said the All Strings musicians are looking forward to performing for the first time in the historical St. Patrick setting.
She commented, “Any church that is acoustically sound lends itself to wonderful smaller ensembles, so this is going to be a true ‘in house’ experience.”
A number of members of the St. Patrick Historical Preservation Committee attend shows in All Strings’ annual concert series and recommended this music program.
The upkeep of St. Patrick is in the hands of a Historical Preservation Committee, and all eight members of the committee have extra incentive to keep the church in top shape and share the story of its history.
They’re all descendants of the original 1850s St. Patrick church members and include Jane (Hardy) Beschorner, Peggy (Brend) Erickson, Andrew Geisler, Pam (Brend) Haberl, Pat and Carol Hardy, and Mike and Shari Minnehan.
Geisler, who recently succeeded Jackie Brend on the committee and is retired from a career as a federal probation and parole officer, commented, “All (the committee members) are to be commended for the countless volunteer hours they have invested in St. Patrick’s for the sole purpose of providing a place for continued community fellowship and personal reflection.”
For Geisler, it would be especially gratifying if his mother is able to attend Sunday’s concert.
He’s a son of Mary Coan Connelly Geisler and the late Edward Geisler Jr. His 95-year-old mother was born July 2, 1919, to Patrick and Emily Connelly. Patrick was a descendant of Myles Fitzpatrick, who was so instrumental in the church’s founding.
Geisler said of his mother, “She’s likely one of the oldest living direct descendants in the area of the original family who donated the land that became the St. Patrick’s of today.”
Geisler himself grew up on a Century Farm one-half mile south and 1 mile west of St. Patrick.
His mother taught kindergarten through eighth grade for eight years in one-room schools and is a member of the Carroll-Greene Counties Retired Teachers Association. According to Andrew, she was a local historian and still reads as many as eight books a week from the local library plus several periodicals.
Geisler said his willingness to serve on the St. Patrick Historical Preservation Committee is “partially inspired by his mother’s personal goal to gain re-entry to St. Patrick’s and the encouragement from many who share limited mobility.”
“The committee set a goal to build a handicap ramp,” he said. “Through the efforts of many that goal has been accomplished in time for the upcoming concert.”
Whether his mother is able to attend the concert will depend on the weather and how she’s feeling that day.
He said, “It is hoped that an almost-centenarian will be able to return to an almost-100-year-old building that has affected her entire life.”