By Celine Klosterman
WELTON — More than a century ago, attending Mass year-round as a Welton resident was nearly impossible.
With eight miles of dirt road to the nearest Catholic church, in Petersville, mud and snow regularly kept Irish immigrants and other pioneers home on Sunday mornings.
So, five men gathered to discuss forming a new church in Welton. On May 30, 1910, builders laid that church’s cornerstone — which bears Latin words that mean “Three persons and one God — in honor of St. Anne.”
Today, St. Anne Parish continues to honor its namesake as 57 Catholic families prepare to celebrate their parish’s centennial June 27.
“This parish is my family’s heritage,” said Carol Ann Roeder, granddaughter of St. Anne’s co-founder Tom Burke. “We’ve had three generations of my family married here, and all my kids were baptized here. It has surrounded our lives.”
A parishioner for 67 years, she served as director of religious education for three decades. “What I enjoy more than anything is seeing students go on with their lives, have families, and come back and share their talents with the parish. You see a lot of that in small parishes because everyone’s needed. If someone doesn’t show up, it’s very obvious.”
“It’s like a family,” said Harriet Hand, a member of St. Anne’s for 55 years. “You can come into the church and look around and know who’s there and not there.”
In the past couple decades that parish family has gained some extended relatives. In 1992, St. Anne’s clustered with St. Patrick Parish in Delmar and Immaculate Conception Parish in Petersville. In 2006, the Welton parish became part of a different cluster with Ss. Philip & James Parish in Grand Mound and St. Patrick’s. Father David Brownfield and Deacon Michael Sheil serve all three parishes.
After St. Anne’s clustered with other churches, its religious education program was combined with other parishes, too. Fewer students from the Welton parish have enrolled in recent years as the number of young parishioners has dropped, Roeder and Hand observed.
One young Catholic, Michele Gelaude, a recent graduate of Loras College in Dubuque, shares appreciation for the education she received at the parish. “A small intimate parish like St. Anne’s provided me a great opportunity to learn more about the Catholic faith,” she said. She plans to do a year of service through the St. Joseph Worker program in the Twin Cities, and she attributed that decision and her graduation from a Catholic college to growing up in St. Anne’s. The “passion and dedication” of former pastor Father Ed Botkin made a difference, she said.
“I dearly love to return and catch up with the people of St. Anne’s.”
Roeder said she’s proud of parishioners like Gelaude who “took forth” what they gained at St. Anne’s. The parish’s strength, Roeder said, is “the spirit of the people.”
To celebrate the parish’s 100th anniversary, Bishop Martin Amos will preside at Mass at St. Anne Church at 10 a.m. June 27. Dinner will follow at Buzzy’s in Welton from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost is $8 for adults and $4 for children. A DVD with photos from the church’s history will be played, and the day will include a basket raffle.