Diocesan News

Saint Germanus Parish Plans 125th jubilee

ARAPAHOE (SNR) - Independence Day weekend will be extra special for the people of St. Germanus Parish in Arapahoe. In addition to the traditional festivities held in this very patriotic community, the parish will mark its 125th anniversary.

Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz will journey to the parish to celebrate Mass at 9 a.m. with pastor Father Robert Barnhill. At 11 a.m., parishioners will serve grilled hamburgers and other homemade items for lunch, followed by tours of the expanded church building and the lovely grotto and statuary on the grounds.

In 1871, Arapahoe was founded and named after a local Native American tribe by a group of families from Plattsmouth who believed the city location was the ideal place to start a new community.

Initially, Catholic Masses were celebrated on occasion in the sod home of pioneer John Nicholas Lauby. By 1885, Mr. Lauby and other area Catholics had constructed a sod church. Priests traveled to Arapahoe whenever possible to administer the sacraments.

Of course, the sod church didn’t last long. Not long after the parish grew to 10 families, mostly of German and Irish heritage, a frame church was built. Like many other parishes in the diocese, the church was built on a shoestring budget, with parishioners doing much of the work themselves.

In 1925, the parish purchased 10 acres of land a few blocks north. The church was moved to the new site, which included a basement and a priest’s residence.
“My dad helped move it,” recalled Mr. Lauby’s great-granddaughter, Martha Anderson.

Mrs. Anderson is a lifelong parishioner at St. Germanus. She has been assembling historic information about the parish for a pamphlet that will be distributed at the 125th anniversary celebration.

“It’s a beautiful church,” she said.

The church is something of a tourist attraction, and not only for its own beauty.

In 1949, a Polish priest who had survived the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau was assigned to St. Germanus. Father Henry Denis had a remarkable story to tell… and a remarkable promise to fulfill.

Arrested during the first weeks of World War II, Father Denis was incarcerated in various prisons and concentration camps. On October 7, 1944, after more than two years of captivity, Father Denis was praying the rosary during roll call and did not hear his name and number.

Failure to respond during roll call was a crime punishable by death. Father Denis proceeded to his work detail, preparing himself for his inevitable execution later that day.

However, the young priest was spared. At that moment, he promised, “If I ever leave the camp alive, I will express my gratitude by building for the Blessed Mother a little shrine.”

Once liberated, Father Denis emigrated to the United States and became a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln. His first assignment was at St. Germanus Parish, and he rapidly enlisted the support of his parishioners in building the shrine.

In fact, he gained support of Catholics all around North America… and even non-Catholics from Arapahoe and other nearby communities.

“People all over the United States and Canada sent him rocks,” Mrs. Anderson said. “All the parishioners donated and worked really hard at it.”

A statue of Our Lady of Fatima and the three Portuguese children she spoke to were ordered from Europe. These were paid for by donations large and small. Trees and flowers created a lovely spot for prayer and reflection.

In the years since then, the parish has continued to improve the grounds with more landscaping and more art.

In 1999, the local Knights of Columbus Council #7734 commissioned award-winning artist Sondra Jonson to create a pro-life monument. Her bronze sculpture, “Rachel Weeping for Her Children” was installed to the delight of parishioners and the community at large.

Later, the parish purchased Mrs. Jonson’s Mysteries of the Rosary and created a Rosary Walk.

Five or six generations of the founding families still attend St. Germanus. Together with newer families, they lovingly care for the church and grotto as if they were their own property.

The parish was initially seated on a rise, with a number of steps leading up to the front doors. As the population aged, it proved to be difficult and frustrating for older parishioners to navigate the steps up into the church or down into the parish basement.

So, the church added new ground-level points of entry with a new addition, plus an elevator that goes up into the church and down into the fellowship hall in the basement.

Ann Collins said that everybody understood the need to renovate the church.

“Some of our elderly parishioners were not able to enjoy Mass or get down into the basement to enjoy fellowship,” she said. “It was a huge change, but people are really pleased. It’s so inviting now.”

Parishioners are also cooperating for the anniversary celebration. The altar society is coordinating the meal. A couple of parishioners will man the grill. Mrs. Collins’ husband has been busily matting historic photos to display.

Meanwhile, more families are moving into the parish. Mrs. Collins hopes her own son and his new wife will soon be among them.

“It really is a nice parish,” Mrs. Collins said.

All are welcome to join the parish on July 4 for the celebration.

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