Story by Reagan Scott
TRENTON (SNR) - St. James Parish in Trenton celebrated its 125th anniversary July 28. More than 100 current and former parishioners, many of them descendants of the original homesteaders in the area, were in attendance.
The event, organized by the parish’s Altar Society, included Mass celebrated by Bishop James Conley, and a parish dinner. Father Christopher Miller, the pastor for Saint James and its mission parishes, Holy Family in Palisade and Saint John in Wauneta, said the parishioners looked forward to the bishop’s visit.
“The diocese is so wide we don’t see the bishop very often,” he said. “I was excited for the people to see their shepherd.”
Parishioner Tom Baker said Bishop Conley told those gathered that the parish was one of the oldest in the state.
Baker’s great-great grandparents, Frank and Mary Baker, immigrated to the United States from Germany and settled in the area in the early 1880s. He still lives on his family’s original homestead.
Baker said that when attendees were asked to stand if they were descended from the families who helped form the parish, “half the place stood up.”
The first Irish homesteaders began to settle the area in 1884 and were joined by other Irish and German immigrants in the years following.
Father Thomas Cullen was the parish’s first priest and served the area from 1885-1890. He traveled to Trenton from McCook by horse once a month to celebrate Mass. Before the first church was built, Mass was celebrated in parishioners’ homes and in the halls above local stores.
Construction on the parish’s first church began in August 1893, and the church was named and dedicated by Bishop Thomas Bonacum, the first bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln, on June 25, 1894.
Rita Stupka, the secretary for the Altar Society, grew up on a farm outside of Trenton and was baptized, confirmed and married in Saint James. Her great grandfather immigrated from Ireland and settled in the area in 1885.
Stupka vaguely remembers the “old wooden church” that would later be replaced by the current church. The parish broke ground for the present church March 25, 1951. The first Mass was celebrated in the church on Easter Sunday, April 13, 1952.
Construction on the parish rectory began in 1959 and was completed in 1960.
Since then, the church has undergone multiple renovations, including a remodel of the interior and sanctuary in 1968, the installation of stained-glass windows in 1975, a remodel of the basement kitchen in 1994 and an update of the rectory in 2017, to name a few.
Today, the parish is comprised of about 45 families.
Barb Hidy, the president of the parish Altar Society said that the parish is small, but the parishioners are good people, and everyone is willing to serve.
The parish Altar Society was formed in 1904 and is very active in the parish today. Its members help to host one the parish’s biggest event of the year, the Saint James/Holy Family fall dinner, with the Holy Family Altar Society. The organization also hosts a yearly summer get-together for the parish.
Joyce Williamson is the treasurer for the Saint James Altar Society. She said she feels the biggest purpose of the organization is to provide meals to those families who have lost a loved one.
The efforts of the parishioners help keep the parish running, and while Father Miller has only been the pastor there for two years, he said that, “the benefit of being in a small parish is that you know everybody.”
He said he was excited about the milestone celebration and the chance to bring everyone together to celebrate the parish’s history.
Hidy said, “It felt really wonderful that we were able to bring former parishioners and current parishioners together. I just want to thank everyone who was able to come and made the day very special for us. I think it was a very blessed day.”
Baker said a lot of fifth-generation descendants of the pioneers still live in and around Trenton, and continue their tradition of faith.
“It was a devout group of Catholics who passed their faith down through generations of their family,” Baker said. “I hope we do it another 125 years.”