Story by S.L. Hansen
PAUL (SNR) - It’s been 100 years since the dedication of St. Joseph Church in Paul, and parishioners are preparing to celebrate Aug. 28. The festivities will start with Mass at 4 p.m., celebrated by Bishop James D. Conley.
“We’re excited about it,” said altar society member Jacklyn Kriefels. “It’s a small parish, so there are not many opportunities to do something big like this.”
After Mass in the newly renovated church, all are invited to enjoy a picnic dinner on the church grounds.
“We’re also going to have a quilt show displaying family heirlooms from our parish members,” Mrs. Kriefels said. “One of our parishioners always wanted to have a quilt show, so we thought it would be good to tie it into this event.”
A committee has also prepared a parish history book.
“We were provided a book from the 25th anniversary party of the church,” Mrs. Kriefels said. “It was the coolest thing ever.”
That book gave the committee wonderful tidbits about the early years of the parish, such as the names of the families who donated each of the stained glass windows. They also discovered that the four bells in the steeple had been named.
“The original bell [moved over from the first church building] is Joseph. The smallest one is Paul [after the village], the largest one is Nicholas, and the second-largest is the wedding bell, named Mary,” reported Mrs. Kriefels. “It’s called the wedding bell because it was donated by the young men and women of the parish.”
The community of Paul in Otoe County is close-knit and predominantly focused on agriculture.
“It is a farming parish,” said Father Christopher Miller, pastor for the last three years. As a self-described “farm kid” from Solon, Iowa, he thoroughly understands the challenges his parishioners face.
“You pray for the weather, worry about the harvesting, about planting season, about making sure everybody’s safe,” he said. “I’ve been there, too.”
Father Miller has been happy to have the time to immerse himself in the community and its 48 families.
“The thing that’s nice for me being in a smaller parish, you get to know them,” he said.
He also teaches at Lourdes Central School in Nebraska City, giving him even more contact with the St. Joseph parish families with students in the school.
The parish family at St. Joseph has existed for more than 130 years, eventually outgrowing its wood frame church a little more than a century ago.
In 1915, work was started on a larger, brick church, with two grand spires pointing to heaven. Situated on one of the highest points in Otoe County, it has been beckoning worshipers since its completion and dedication in May 1916. The former church building has been used as a parish hall ever since.
Many of the families who receive the sacraments at St. Joseph are descendants from founders. The Kriefels are one, but as Mrs. Kriefels thumbed through a directory published for the 25th anniversary celebration of the church, she found many more family surnames that are still represented in the pews.
“There are a lot of family names that are still in existence,” she said. “Durr, Feilen, Heng, Schmitz…”
She, like many others in the parish whose families have been there for generations, revels in various aspects of the church that link them to their forebears.
“My son is the fourth or fifth generation to belong to the church,” she said. “My parents and my in-laws married in the church and then we were. Our kids were baptized there, and our son will have first Communion this coming year.”
Mrs. Kriefels continued, “We’re not the only family to have that by any means, but it shows a lot of about the farming community and the heritage we instill in the church, sitting in the same pew our grandfathers sat in.”
Many of these grandparents and great-grandparents made a lot of sacrifices in order for the church to be built. For example, some farmers arranged for neighbors to help with the harvest so they would have time to haul construction materials from the train station to the building site.
“This parish has definitely been strong and heartfelt from the get-go,” said Mrs. Kriefels. “It shows in how the families are involved and passionate about our parish.”
Father Miller and the entire parish family hope that many former parishioners and pastors will return for the centennial celebration.
“Anybody who has roots to the parish or interest in coming is definitely welcome to be part of the celebration,” Mrs. Kriefels said. “I think we have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to celebrate.”