Bidding farewell to an old friend

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Parishioners and well-wishers of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Le Mars on Sunday celebrated their final mass in the building that has been a landmark in Le Mars for over 120 years.

As you may imagine, even though the parishioners will have a brand new, modern facility this fall that will contain design elements and items from the old St. Joseph's, saying farewell to a structure that has been home for several generations of family is not an easy thing.

But as we are taught early in our faith, the structure is not the church. The church is the people, the community of believers -- the family. The building that is called St. Joseph's will change, but the church will remain the same.

So it was only fitting that the final mass was said on a family holiday -- Father's Day. The theme of the service was one of fond remembrance, recalling the large and small life passages that occurred within the walls.

There were many.

It is estimated that there were 50,000 masses held in the building.

There were 6,665 baptisms, 2,426 weddings and 1,503 funerals that took place in the current structure since 1885.

Those are the numbers, one of many ways to quantify the celebrations that the St. Joseph's family held within the walls.

But they are only numbers. The true measure of the church is the lasting impact it can leave on its members, the community and the world.

That impact has been profound, with generations of families attending the church, with many spending their entire lives calling St. JoJoseph "home."

St. JoJoseph roots run deep in Le Mars, all the way back to 1870, when the first mass was offered in the home of Peter Gehlen. The first church building was completed by June 1870 at a cost of $1,000.

The cornerstone for the present church, at the corner of Plymouth Street and Sixth Avenue East, was laid in May 1884, at a cost of $7,000. The following year, 1885, the structure was completed at a cost of $23,000.

The family of St. JoJoseph will move into their new home this fall, but they will carry the memories of the old building forever.