By Celine Klosterman
WELLMAN — More than 100 years ago, Catholics here had a choice to make.
Travel up to 14 miles on poor roads to churches in Keota, Riverside, Kinross or Richmond, or leave town for a community with a closer place to worship.
Several families did the latter, and others threatened to follow suit, according to a historical account written by Father Nicholas Peiffer.
While he was pastor of St. Mary’s in Keota in 1911, he heard suggestions of building a Catholic church in Wellman. So he spoke with Bishop James Davis and then met to discuss the initiative with several men, who contributed $1,600 to build a church.
The first Mass at St. Joseph Church in Wellman was celebrated on Christmas Day in 1912, and the 1,700-square-foot, red-brick building was dedicated six months later. In 1961, construction began on a larger church.
This weekend, St. Joseph Parish will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the organizing of its parish and the upcoming 50th anniversary of its existing church. Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. July 17, and a meal and program will follow at Parkside Activities Center in Wellman. Guest speaker will be Howard Greiner, now an Albia resident, who served as general chairman of construction of St. Joseph Church in 1961.
Catholics decided a new church was needed as parish membership grew steadily in the late 1940s and 1950s. “Many members of the parish, possessed of skills in the art of building, not previously suspected, spent almost an unbelievable amount of time and effort to get the church completed,” Father Martin Manning wrote in a letter inviting a fellow priest to the church’s dedication Mass. Fr. Manning was pastor of St. Joseph’s when the 3,200-square-foot, $51,000 building was dedicated June 26, 1962 — exactly a year after ground was broken, and exactly 49 years after the previous church was dedicated.
In 1972 parishioners formed St. Joseph’s first parish council, which oversaw the remodeling of the church’s interior and addition of new stained glass windows and glass doors in 1975.
For most of the parish’s history, St. Joseph’s shared a pastor with Sacred Heart in Kinross, which closed in 1996. Since 1999 the Wellman parish has been clustered with Holy Trinity in Richmond and St. Mary’s in Riverside, parishes that Father Rich Adam has served since 2001.
Parish is family, members say
Here, four members of St. Joseph Parish in Wellman reflect on the parish’s role in their lives.
“In April 1967 we were married and joined St. Joseph’s. My husband, Doug, had joined the Church one week earlier at Easter. He loved learning about his new faith from Father Martin Manning. It didn’t hurt anything that they both loved to talk about golf, their favorite sport. The following year our son was born and diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, cystic fibrosis. Our parish family supported us with many prayers and much caring. Now, some 44 years later, they are still our biggest contributors to our annual fundraising walk for a cure for cystic fibrosis. St. Joseph’s family is a fun-loving, caring, hard working group! God has truly blessed us!”
Shirley Ann Bohr:
“I consider St. Joseph’s people a part of our family. Throughout our 50-plus years of marriage my husband, Howard, and I have gained many friendships there and gathered in the church for many happy as well as sad occasions. Our five children were baptized there, and family marriages and social events were celebrated there. We have a close-knit feeling in our parish that is so prevalent in small communities.
"I am proud to be a member of St. Joseph’s Church and thank God for the ministry that we have there. Our fall dinner is always the highlight of the year, serving 700-800 meals. It is always a pleasure to me to see all the parishioners working together and having a good time doing it.
“We are proud of our ancestors that formed our church 100 years ago, and thankful for the parishioners that build our present church with their own labor 50 years ago. We at St. Joseph’s are proud of what it means to be Catholic and like to share that ministry and build on it for the future generations.”
“I’ve been a member of St. Joseph’s Church for around 30 years. It’s been the warmest church family I’ve ever known. Parishioners have gotten me through the most wonderful times of my life and the lowest. My children have received all their sacraments here. This church family has gotten me through divorce, illness, seeing my daughter sent off overseas to protect our country, and a family death — and now marriage and a new family. I would not have wanted my life to be without this church family.”
“St. Joseph’s is an integral part of my life. I grew up in this parish, was married here, and raised our four children in it. Our church family is like an extended part of our own, and I can’t imagine life without it. It always feels like home when we come through the doors. God has blessed us with our parish, and I pray that it will always be here to be family for all our members.”