|The grand building of Assumption Catholic Church, Morris MN|
I had occasion to visit St. Mary's School many times in my Morris newspaper career. I remember toward the end, the school decided to have its west door locked, so as to have only one entrance. The idea was to better promote safety of course. The danger from the public was no greater than it ever was, it's just that a more penetrating media sensationalized some bad things. Hence the ubiquitous fear.
Not long after, an Assumption Church pastor was discovered to be a threat with his behavior and had to leave. And we thought we were insulated from such things here in Morris. The incident affirmed what experts know: It's not the stereotyped "stranger" wearing the trench coat that endangers kids, so much as individuals who have an established relationship.
As kids we were warned about the trench coat type, male of course - I resent that - offering us "candy." There is a natural caution we should exercise around people we don't know. It's a little unnerving, though, if kids end up in a bubble where they don't trust anyone. Kids can gain a lot from their ties with adults. Adults can set an example with their maturity, so in contrast with kids' own peers.
My generation of the boomers was puzzled by the rigid division of Lutherans and Catholics in outstate Minnesota communities. Oh, I'm sure it was in the big city too. But in the big city you can get lost. In a small community you have to state your affiliation. We have all heard stories about a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic and having parents aghast almost to the point of disowning them. We rejected this.
Boomers in fact never really took to churchgoing, as my old boss Jim Morrison emphasized to me once. He's an unapologetic non-believer. I remember when we were talking in the back shop about a local resident putting together a display on "Jews in Stevens County," and I remarked about how maybe I could do a display on "agnostics in Stevens County."
I do attend church today. I stated my affiliation as Lutheran. Those are the stripes I wear. I'll never forget, though, how the mainstream denominations seemed to sit on their hands when they could have asserted themselves to help get the U.S. out of Viet Nam. My church had missionaries in the Cameroon in those days. We were supposed to help them. How futile to try to spread a little Christianity when the U.S. was involved in the unspeakable abomination called the Viet Nam War.
Many in my generation became indifferent about religion. Many of those who didn't, went to the opposite extreme, becoming "born again Christians" and absolutely crusading, making religion the centerpiece of their lives. Maybe the boomer generation just had trouble being temperate about anything. Our parents of the Greatest Generation were defined by a temperate outlook. It's fascinating to note the contrast.
Some of my closest friends from grade 7 onward were Catholics. Some were from the traditionally large Catholic families - ironic since I was an only child of Lutheran background! Opposites attract? I don't know, but I developed a nice bond with these kids who would take me to "Catholic bingo" in the Assumption Church basement.
I have never learned what "Assumption" means in this title. In my note-taking for the Morris paper, I always avoided the most obvious way of abbreviating "Assumption."
The Catholic Church had no problem with me coming to play bingo. Years later I would learn that the church had a policy of not serving communion to non-Catholics at funerals. No, I had no bad experience of being turned away. But, there was a public controversy over someone being refused communion at the funeral for "Rit" Eul. There were letters in the Morris newspaper. I guess I think it's unfortunate. ("Rit" for Richard was the guy who'd fix my bicycle tires!)
Considering the substantial problems the Catholic Church has now, the serving of communion to Christians at funerals ought to be done routinely, one could argue. I would hope the Catholics consider Lutherans to be Christians. Oh, there I go, whipping up the divisive aspects of our Lutherans/Catholics dichotomy.
I remember attending the funeral for Ray Lammers at Assumption Church. Had I not known better, I might have gone up for communion. I was spared that embarrassment or humiliation.
My thoughts about Assumption Church are fundamentally warm. That's a neat tunnel that connects the church with St. Mary's School. St. Mary's is a healthy traditional educational environment that seems to avoid the educational "fads." I fondly remember Sister Mary Louise as principal.
Church, Morris grow together
The history of Assumption Church reflects the history of West Central Minnesota. Mass was celebrated first in 1870, one year before the creation of the city. Divine services were held in a railroad section house by Fathers Hurley and McDermott. The two clergy occasionally visited Morris as an outlying mission from St. Paul.
This system continued until 1876, at which time a Father Walsh came here as our first resident priest. His parish covered the area that now includes the counties of Stevens, Pope Traverse, Wilkin, Big Stone and Swift.
Father Walsh was succeeded in 1877 by The Rev. Charles Wensieki. The original Assumption Church was built in his pastorate in 1877 on a corner lot donated by the railroad company for church purposes. Getting going had its challenges as the population was small and not well-endowed with finances. Those pioneers had grit, determination and we assume lots of faith!
One individual stands out, name of William Wunsch. He might be termed the father (small "f") of the parish. He was the most generous contributor for many years. Up until his death in 1927, he was the consistent friend of every priest who ever served here.
The Rev. A.V. Pellison succeeded Father Wensieki in 1879, then along came Father F.H. Watry. It was Fr. Watry who established a school. At first the school was part of the church building. The Sisters of Mercy came along to teach. The school went into a hiatus for a time. The Sisters of Mercy stayed active as teachers at the government Indian school for many years. That school, as anyone with a cursory grasp of Morris history knows, was on our campus which today is UMM, and for many years was the WCSA (ag school).
Father Watry was succeeded in 1885 by The Rev. William Lange. The 1880s were known as a prosperous time in Morris. Victorian-style homes went up. They were built almost as "fortresses" because the world was still a dangerous place.
The Rev. Frank Reilly came along in 1886. Fr. Watry came back for a time, then we welcomed The Rev. George Gaskell who became a fixture for 14 years. He died at the turn of the century, beloved by all. He left a legacy. It was under his direction that a large brick-veneered church was built at a cost of $12,000. The edifice was dedicated by the bishop of St. Cloud, name of Zardetti, who would become archbishop.
Following the death of Fr. Gaskell, the reins were taken by The Rev. G.J. Goebel and then The Rev. Edward Jones. The parish house was remodeled and enlarged in the spring of 1905.
The summer of 1905 brought disaster: Oh my, a fire destroyed the church that was so lovingly put up by Fr. Gaskell. Undeterred, the congregation moved forward and a new edifice was completed in 1906. The cost: over $40,000. The dedication was held in 1907 with Bishop Trobec of St. Cloud presiding. A sermon was given by The Most Reverend John Ireland, archbishop of St. Paul.
The new edifice had an exterior following the "Old English Church" design. The interior was Romanesque. The congregation was proud of a seating capacity of 650 in the main auditorium. The Sisters of St. Joseph opened a parochial school in the spacious church basement in 1911.
In 1914 the new St. Mary's School was built at a cost of $40,000. The second floor was for years given over entirely to the high school department. The high school was accredited to the University of Minnesota until, in 1943, the Sisters of St. Joseph, unable any longer to supply duly qualified teachers, withdrew.
Along came the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, with a "motherhouse" in Little Falls, whose ranks would include Sr. Mary Louise. (She made an impression on me, notwithstanding my Lutheran background.)
Father Jones was succeeded as pastor in 1921 by The Rev. George Rauch. Next came The Very Reverend John A. Fearon. It was The Rev. Fearon who guided Assumption Church through the WWII years, while my First Lutheran had a pastor last name of Ede. It must have been a traumatic time.
A new steeple was erected at Assumption to replace one destroyed by lightning and fire in March of 1940.
The Assumption pastor I most remember from my newspaper years is Father Alan Wielinski. He gave me a candy cane once and I kept it in my dresser drawer for a long time, thinking it might bless me.
I was blessed having my father live to age 96, and my mother is soon to be 90.
I did journalistic work that ended up in the Diocese newspaper. First I took a photo of the retiring Fr. Botz, being presented with a golf cart as retirement gift. Actually I took a photo of Fathers Botz and Dressen riding in the golf cart down the church aisle! "What a way to go!" was how the caption began in the Diocese paper. I got the photo credit.
Years later I had a feature article re-printed in the Diocese paper. I felt special pride about this. Some of my old (Catholic) high school friends like Greg Cruze probably saw those papers. Those are the friends who took me to "Catholic bingo." I asked one of them once: Why does the church not care about non-Catholics coming to play bingo, but does make an issue about communion? His answer, offered with a wry smile: "We'll always take your money."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org