St. Joseph in Akron celebrates 100 years

Deep roots of family and faith alive and well in Akron parish on centennial anniversary

Moira Cullings

When Father Marek Ciesla celebrates Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Akron, the community is deeply connected — not just in the prayers and responses, but in the very sacrifice of the Mass.

“We have hosts baked out of the local wheat,” said Father Ciesla. “That’s very significant, something very important.

“Every Mass, they come and they receive the bread made out of their work and God’s blessings.”

In a town of just over 1,700 people, the rural lifestyle and deep roots of many St. Joseph parishioners makes the parish unique. Since its founding in 1918, the small-town parish nestled in Akron has continued to flourish.

A century of memories

Many St. Joseph parishioners have deep ties both to the town and the parish, which was initially a mission until 1918, when then-Bishop J. Henry Tihen officially declared it a parish.

One of several parishioners who has been at St. Joseph her whole life is Agnes Friedly, who was born in 1941. Friedly’s grandparents homesteaded in Washington County, and some of her relatives helped found the church.

Friedly remembers her mom reminiscing on what the church was like during its first few years.

“I know my mom talked about the old church — how cold it was, and if the babies cried, you had no place to go in the winter,” she said. “Your cars wouldn’t heat up, and you wouldn’t go outside.”

Parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Akron celebrated the parish’s 100th anniversary Aug. 19. Photo by Jason Weinrich

Friedly’s childhood memories are deeply intertwined with St. Joseph.

“When I was growing up, the one thing I really enjoyed was the nuns would come in the summer, and we’d have vacation school,” she said. “Three of them came every year.”

Another fond experience at the parish was that Father William Coyne married her parents in 1934, and then her and her husband in 1959. Father Coyne served the parish for several years.

“To think he stayed with our church — that was probably what helped make us a strong community. He built it up.”

Another family with deep ties to the parish is the Piepers, whose mother’s grandfather was the architect and chief carpenter of the new church built in 1913.

“Our whole family grew up involved with the church,” said Alex Pieper.

Alex, his brother Leo and all of their siblings grew up in a family that served the church in a variety of ways, which helped shape their lives and values.

To think he stayed with our church — that was probably what helped make us a strong community. He built it up.”

“We still help with the church,” said Leo Pieper. “Our parents sacrificed a lot in order to give us that Catholic education.”

Like Friedly, Alex Pieper has fond childhood memories of the parish that stand out. One in particular is when the archbishop approached the students during their confirmation.

“He came down to the aisle where we were sitting to ask questions, and the kid next to me didn’t know the answer,” said Alex Pieper. “I held up my hand, and he drew me out into the aisle and stood me there for about 10 minutes asking me all kinds of questions.

“My mom was probably the proudest lady in church,” he said with a smile.

The Piepers’ love and fondness for their parish and town didn’t end with their childhood.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila gives a cemetery blessing at St. Joseph Catholic Church to kick off the centennial celebration Aug. 19. Photo by Jason Weinrich

“All of us were married here in the church,” said Alex Pieper. “We’ve all had pretty much adjacent farms in the area. In our case, our neighbors were our brothers.”

Now, both men continue to serve the parish in a variety of roles — a value they learned at a young age.

“Those are our roots,” said Alex Pieper.

St. Joseph — 100 years later

If original members of St. Joseph Catholic Church could see the parish now, they’d find it buzzing with parishioners fully alive in their faith.

Father Ciesla describes the audience at Sunday Mass as “all generations coming together.”

The St. Joseph pastor of three years enjoys seeing people of all ages attend Mass each weekend.

And afterwards, families take turns preparing breakfast for everyone. Then, children go to religious education class and adults meet for an adult studies program for about an hour.

“What I am impressed with is the quest, the desire, to do adult studies,” said Father Ciesla. “Even older people just want to learn more and strengthen their relationship with God, with the Church.”

That desire fuels a deeper faith in all generations of the parish.

“Adults have desire,” he said, “and youth are looking at that, and they want to follow.”

Many of the St. Joseph parishioners are farmers, ranchers and people who work in town.

Parishioners packed St. Joseph Catholic Church Aug. 19 during Mass celebrated by Archbishop Aquila. Photo by Jason Weinrich

“All the parishioners are hard-working people, down to earth, but they have their minds and eyes in heaven,” said Father Ciesla. “All those wonderful things like God, country, family — all those values — that’s how they have their priorities.”

Those values are passed from one generation to the next, and parishioners don’t lose sight of where they all began.

“They keep in high regard those who started the church,” said Father Ciesla.

Even older people just want to learn more and strengthen their relationship with God, with the Church.”

Aside from the local wheat used in the hosts and the strong community at St. Joseph, another unique aspect of the parish is its pulpit.

“We’ve got an ambo, a pulpit, that John Paul II used for World Youth Day to address [attendees],” said Father Ciesla.

The ambo was built specifically for the pope’s visit to Denver in 1993, and a St. Joseph parishioner eventually obtained it. When the parish updated its sanctuary, Father Ciesla knew it was the perfect time to add in the pulpit.

“We decided after prayers to use the top of the pulpit used by Pope John Paul II, and we built a new one,” said Father Ciesla. “So it was incorporated into a new pulpit that we use now.”

St. Joseph Catholic Church on Aug. 19, the day of the parish’s 100th anniversary celebration. Photo by Jason Weinrich

The now-saint’s spirit of evangelization is alive and well with St. Joseph parishioners, who Father Ciesla believes have a set of values that make his job much easier.

“As a pastor, I am happy to accompany them and to be with them going this direction,” he said.

St. Joseph Catholic Church celebrated its 100th anniversary August 19 at the church. The celebration began with a blessing of the cemetery and its new signs over the entrance and exit, followed by Mass and a reception.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of it,” said Father Ciesla.

Father Ciesla hopes that in its next 100 years, the parish “continues the direction given to them at the very beginning by founding members of the community,” he said.

COMING UP: St. Scholastica parish in Erie has served community for well over 100 years

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For more than a century, St. Scholastica Catholic Church has served the faithful in the northern community of Erie, Colo. Over time there have been many changes to the structure of the parish, but it still stands on the same foundation that Benedictine pastor Father Cornelius Enders set in place in 1899.

Vibrant, spiritually alive, and welcoming is how St. Scholastica can be described. For years, the church formed part of a circuit assigned to one priest of different parishes and missions, but four years ago, Father Robert Wedow was assigned to St. Scholastica as its first full-time pastor in history.

Since day one, Father Wedow knew there was a lot of work to do for the growing community: “To do what Jesus told us. To go to the ends of earth and baptize all the nation,” said Father Wedow to the Denver Catholic about his mission.

In order to accomplish that mission, he and the pastoral council came up with a parish plan that consists of three goals for the church.

“One of the goals is what we call our spiritual needs, to understand and begin to use our resources to meet the spiritual needs of the people of Erie. The second one is the evangelization of ourselves and others. And the third one is the development of our parish so that we will put ourselves to be able to have a brand-new parish,” he said.

The altar at St. Scholastica was recently renovated and blessed by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. The Erie parish has served the community for over 120 years. (Photos by Brandon Young)

When he first became the pastor of St. Scholastica, Father Wedow noticed things in the church that required maintenance and renovations in order to keep serving the community in Erie. Among those renovations were the floors, the carpet and the altar of the church that was starting to break apart. On Oct. 13, after months of hard work and dedication, parishioners and friends attended a special ceremony in which Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila dedicated the new altar at St. Scholastica, one of the biggest renovations.

For a parish of approximately 200 families, St. Scholastica offers a wide range of ministries to meet the needs of the whole family. From youth groups, bible study and the Knights of Columbus, the community stays involved and keeps growing bigger and stronger.

To serve the community and continue evangelizing, the church holds a variety of fun events throughout the year where parishioners have the opportunity to help others while having a good time. Among these events is St. Scholastica’s Annual “Cookies and Caroling,” where the community gathers to make delicious cookies, then goes door to door and hands them out to the neighbors while caroling and wishing them a Merry Christmas.

“I personally think what’s unique about my parish is the powerful love of the volunteers and the way in which they show their love for God and for their neighbor,” Father Wedow said.

Although there is still much work to be done in the 120-year-old parish, Father Robert continues to work hard and does everything in his hands to meet the needs of his growing community.

“It’s a great privilege for me to be able to serve the people of Erie and to be a part of this growing community. May the joy of seeing the face of God overwhelm us all, as we celebrate the true gift of Christmas at Christmas night mass,” concluded Father Wedow.