Diocesan News

Rulo Parish Celebrates 150th Anniversary

RULO (SNR) - It was a lovely day and a heart-warming celebration last Sunday, June 23, as parishioners, former parishioners, priests, and friends gathered with Bishop James D. Conley to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Immaculate Conception parish in Rulo.

Bishop Conley was joined by Father David Oldham, pastor, several former pastors and other priests. After the 3 p.m. Mass, parishioners, guests and clergy enjoyed a social hour, followed by a plated dinner served under a big white tent.

One of the oldest parishes in the diocese, Immaculate Conception’s official origins in 1863 actually predates the State of Nebraska, which was admitted to the union in 1867, and the Diocese of Lincoln, which was founded in 1887.

The attractive, gothic church in Rulo was constructed beginning in 1913, 100 years ago.

"It’s a beautiful old structure," said Father Oldham, noting the parishioners’ commitment to keeping it in good shape. "We’ve had quite a bit of work done in the past year, some repainting and repairing some of the stone work that was crumbling."

Father Almire Fourmount was the first priest officially assigned to serve the French, German and Irish Catholic settlers in Rulo back in 1863, though Benedictine missionaries had ministered to the people for some years prior.

Father Fourmount was instructed by Bishop Michael O’Gorman, vicar apostolic of the Nebraska Territory, to build a church, but his enthusiasm apparently got the better of him: he started on a full-fledged basilica with walls four feet deep.

He got no further than the foundation before realizing he had failed to set aside funds to pay the workers, who complained to the bishop. The stones already laid were disassembled and sold to pay the workers. Father Fourmount was reassigned.

His successor, Father William Kelly, managed to have a small frame church built around 1865, but he underestimated the growing needs of the community. Within months, it was only big enough to hold a sixth of the congregation.

By 1868, walls were finally rising for a brick church. However, just as it was time to add the roof, a tornado leveled the structure, leaving the parish with nothing but debt. In 1871, an L-shaped building was constructed to serve as both church and rectory.

Unfortunately, in 1886, the railroad took the church grounds for their right-of-way, forcing Immaculate Conception parish to move. Once again, parishioners rallied together to make the best of the situation.

In January 1913, the church burned to the ground, though not until after a heroic School Sister of Saint Francis, Sister Mary Gunthildis, ran in under the burning eaves to save the Blessed Sacrament.

Father Robert Bickert arrived in June 1913 to supervise construction of a new church. Ground was broken just two months later. The beautiful Gothic church was built with the finest quality of brick, trimmed with Bedford limestone and roofed with slate. The cornices and upper portion of the tower were finished in copper.

During the summer of 1956, men of the parish – mostly farmers – set to work on a parish hall. They armed themselves with shovels, pick-axes and buckets in the tiny furnace room under the church to excavate the entire basement.

"The ground was real hard," remembered Ed Murphy, who helped out a little as his work schedule allowed.

A member of the parish since his birth and baptism in 1929, Mr. Murphy said there were up to 15 men who hacked at the tough, dry soil to carry it out in buckets and wheelbarrows until they had enough room to get a small Ford tractor down there.

In a lot of ways, the basement project is an example of the type of parish family Rulo enjoys. They may not all be related by blood, but when there is a need, they come together like brothers and sisters, working side by side until the job is done.

"I would compare it to a family that really pulls together and keeps the parish going by their dedication and their sacrifice," said Father Oldham, who has pastored the parish for the last six years.

Mary Grace Thiltges, whose husband’s family has been in the parish for at least 100 years – his grandfather donated one of the stained glass windows – said the same was true for the parish anniversary.

"Everybody came together and worked really well to put on a very nice celebration," she said.

Following the Mass celebrated by Bishop Conley and concelebrating priests, parishioners enjoyed a social hour with music provided by Jeff and Mary Barker. A chicken dinner was coordinated and cooked by Dina Sells with the help of Ann Severin and Kim Heinz. It was served by Helping Hands, students from nearby Sacred Heart High School.

The altar society also offered a cookbook of favorite recipes contributed by families of Immaculate Conception parish and its mission parish, Saint Mary in Argo. Coordinated by Mrs. Thiltges, it features a history of the parish written by her son, Stephen. The books will be available for sale as a fundraiser at future events as well.

Mrs. Thiltges felt that the parish celebration was a very nice occasion.

"We’re a family," she said. "That’s how this parish is special."

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