Story by S.L. Hansen
TOBIAS (SNR) - On Sunday, March 23, members of St. Joseph Parish in Tobias celebrated the 100th anniversary of their parish. Bishop James D. Conley celebrated Mass and the Rite of Rededication for the church, which was recently spruced up with paint, refinished floors, and a few other niceties.
“It was very nice, a very solemn ceremony,” said Peggy Nolte, who serves on the parish council. “It’s not something that everybody is going to see in their lifetime, and I think that makes it very special.”
Many past parishioners and descendants of the original founders of the parish crammed into the pews to mark the occasion. Kathleen Jezl-Wilcox, a great-granddaughter of one of the parish founders, came from St. James Parish in Crete to serve as cantor. Father Craig Doty, pastor for the last nine years, and his immediate predecessor, Father Douglas Dietrich, concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Conley.
The story of Saint Joseph Parish in Tobias actually begins in the 1880s.
Without a church of their own, the 40 or so Catholic families of Tobias and its surrounding farmland would travel by horse and wagon roughly 10 miles to Milligan’s St. Wenceslaus Parish. The journey took about two hours one way on dry roads – and considerably longer if it was muddy or snowy.
Sometime around 1888, Philip Maly, S.J., launched a building campaign, but it was not successful. For the next 25 years, Tobias Catholics made the weekly trip to Milligan, bringing lunches so they could have a meal between Mass and catechism classes.
In 1912, Father Adolph Mosier sought Bishop J. Henry Tihen’s permission to build a church in Tobias. The following year, a building committee was formed. Joseph Laun, Joseph Lorenz and Joseph Markey canvassed the area in a car driven by Joseph Laun’s young adult son, Joseph Laun, Jr.
The building committee successfully raised the $4,001 required to build the church. Since the three men and their faithful “chauffer” were all named Joseph, Father Mosier thought it would be fitting to name the parish after St. Joseph.
The building committee also joined other parishioners in the construction of the church, digging out the basement, hauling lumber and so on.
Roger Rada, grandson of Joseph Laun and longtime member of the parish said, “I have a picture of my grandfather sitting on the foundation along with a lot of people working on it.”
Joseph Laun and his wife Anna also donated the two angel statues that bear candles on either side of the altar, and the bell that hangs in the belfry. Rada was the one who rang that bell for about four decades, until a battle with cancer meant handing over the rope to another parishioner.
Joe Lorenz donated the beautiful high altar. For the rededication, it was spruced up by Eileen Ratigan of Sacred Heart Church Art in Callaway.
“You don’t see many of those around any more,” Father Doty said. “It’s truly a credit to the pastors and parishioners in the past for holding onto it.”
Rada commented, “We really kind of like our church old-fashioned, just the way it was built.”
Father Doty said the high altar wasn’t initially on the list of painting projects, but he’s happy that renovation expert Char Kriz repainted it.
“The difference is astonishing,” Father Doty said. “It was beautiful before. It is even more so now.”
To cap it off, the tabernacle door was re-brassed, as were the candelabras proffered by the angel statues on either side of the altar of sacrifice.
The altar of sacrifice and ambo are new, constructed by Jean Kriz and painted by Char Kriz and Ratigan. Ratigan and staff also cleaned and repainted the statues, and those of Mary and Joseph were framed with new backdrops of wood trim and paint by Char Kriz and her husband Jean.
For a parish the size of St. Joseph, with about 35 families registered, even a fairly modest renovation like this one is a study in stewardship. Not only were current parishioners faithfully generous, so were others connected to the parish.
Father Doty and the parish council sent letters to every past parishioner and descendant of the founding families that they could think of.
“We had about $25,000 in gifts just from that,” a grateful Father Doty said.
Included in the parish council’s thank-you notes to each donor was an invitation to Sunday’s re-dedication and catered dinner.
Mrs. Nolte estimated there were around 150 people seated in the Tobias gymnasium after Mass, chatting and reconnecting, telling the stories of weddings and baptisms, ice cream socials on the front lawn, and other parish events.
Father Doty is proud of St. Joseph parishioners. “They take pride in their parish and want to see it flourish,” he said, “I think that’s definitely the spirit of the parishioners.”
Rada said, “It’s a very friendly parish. We work together really well.”
He noted that he and his wife, Judy – the parish’s organist – sometimes attend a larger church when visiting relatives, but they are always glad to get back home to St. Joseph in Tobias.
“It really is a nice place to go,” he said.