LOMA (SNR) - On Sunday, Aug. 26, Catholics of Czech heritage will gather at St. Luke Czech Catholic Shrine in Loma for a special 10 a.m. centennial Mass, celebrated by Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz.
"We think we’ll have a good turnout," said Barbara Redmond of Omaha. She serves on the shrine’s board of directors, and like other board members, her roots run deep. She was baptized at St. Luke’s when the quaint white-frame church was still a parish.
Immediately following Mass, the board members plan to welcome all to an informal celebration under a tent on the lawn. Kolaches and other Bohemian-style food will be served, and everyone is encouraged to bring photographs and other mementos to share.
"All these generations of people can sit and mingle for a while," relished Mrs. Redmond, who said she’s looking forward to seeing cousins for the first time in years.
St. Luke Church has an interesting history, which Msgr. Myron Pleskac recounted in his master’s thesis some time ago, and in a keepsake history booklet that will be distributed after the centennial Mass. Msgr. Pleskac is also a "native son" of St. Luke’s.
The church was built in southeastern Butler County, in the rolling hills that have been nicknamed "The Bohemian Alps" due to the high population of families that originated in the Czech Republic, as well as the beautiful landscape that reminded so many Czech pioneers of their homeland.
Father Alois J. Klein was one of the first Bohemian-born priests called to serve Czech Catholics in Nebraska. He oversaw the growth of Holy Trinity in Brainard from a mission church to a parish in 1893 and was appointed state chaplain of the Catholic Workman, a social and spiritual organization for Czech Catholics.
Father Klein found that the Czech residents in the Loma area were eager to establish their own church and parish after years of traveling to Brainard, Touhy or Dwight for Mass. He received permission to proceed from Bishop Thomas Bonacum in August 1910.
Locals enthusiastically hired an architect and launched a building fund drive that raised $8,000. Bishop Bonacum’s successor, Bishop J. Henry Tihen, blessed the new St. Luke church on August 12, 1912.
Initially, St. Luke was a mission parish, with Masses celebrated by alternating priests from Brainard, Touhy and Dwight. Father Michale Pazourek became the first resident pastor in 1925.
In 1968, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin found that the community had dwindled to the point where a full-time pastor could no longer be justified. St. Luke was once again a mission to Holy Trinity Parish in Brainard, with Mass celebrated only during the warmer months of the year, due to deterioration of the building.
The year 1992 saw the end of St. Luke Parish and the closing of the church. But it also brought a new bishop who had a measure of Czech heritage running through his own veins. A delegation from St. Luke appealed to Bishop Bruskewitz and found him sympathetic.
"He offered Mass in the church and discussed its future with those in attendance," Msgr. Pleskac recalled in his written history.
Based on the recommendations of a committee of priests assigned to look into preserving the church, Bishop Bruskewitz decided to name St. Luke’s a shrine honoring the Czech Catholic immigrants who had settled in Butler and Saunders Counties.
His intention was met with a great deal of support. Msgr. Pleskac was named administrator, in addition to his other pastoral duties, and a board of directors made up of St. Luke’s "old-timers" helped with renovation plans.
Renovation was not inexpensive, but the board was fortunate that Universal Studios in Hollywood had chosen the small town of Loma for the main location of a movie, which was filmed there between 1994-5. An appeal for financial assistance was sent to Universal Studios, and the company responded generously.
Bishop Bruskewitz returned to Loma October 1, 1995, to dedicate the renovated shrine. Two years later, a new high altar was built by Loren Stara, using photographs of the original high altar for his design.
Since then, Mass has been offered at the Shrine every other month. In 2004, the Michael Ostry family from St. Anthony Parish in Bruno became the resident choir of the shrine, keeping alive traditional Czech hymns that were sung by the original parishioners.
"I remember my dad singing them," Mrs. Redmond reminisced.
"Each December," noted Msgr. Pleskac, "the shrine is beautifully decorated for the Mass offered during the Christmas season." At other times during the year, the Shrine is opened for weddings, baptisms, parish and family retreats, and other joyous occasions celebrated by those who want to honor their Czech heritage.
All of the Shrine board members joined Msgr. Pleskac in offering a special note of gratitude to those who have supported the Shrine financially over the years.
"Heating, insurance—it all takes a little money," said Mrs. Redmond. "People are so generous… It’s unheard of in these times."
Msgr. Pleskac also stressed his appreciation of the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association of Ohio, who provides a generous grant to be used for the Shrine’s Centennial celebration.
"We’re hoping for sunny skies," Mrs. Redmond said. "It should be fun."