- Associated Press - Sunday, April 20, 2014

MUSCATINE, Iowa (AP) - The old St. Mary’s Catholic Church nestled on 417 Green St. sits tall among trees that haven’t come alive yet this spring. For the church, it will probably be its last spring intact.

The construction of St. Mary’s began in 1876, at the request of the community’s German Catholic population, and was complete in the fall of 1877. The first mass the building hosted was held two years later, in the cold of winter by the parish’s first German-speaking pastor, the Rev. John Ignatius Grieser. It was under the guiding hand of Grieser that the church built St. Mary’s school and acquired its Pfeiffer pipe organ, which has become a part of the Organ Historic Society’s database.

Now, nearly 140 years after it was built, St. Mary’s is about to be torn down.

Parishioner Coletta Logel, 81, is heartbroken over her church’s pending demolition.

“That’s the only church I’ve known,” she told the Muscatine Journal (https://bit.ly/1gT5cL7 ).

She began attending St. Mary’s as a child in the 40s with her family. Though the parishes of St. Mary’s and St. Mathias, the other Catholic church in Muscatine, have been combined since 2000 and St. Mary’s has been out of use due to safety issues since last year, Logel says St. Mathias still doesn’t feel like home. Not like St. Mary’s.

“Everybody told me when I was so upset, ‘It’s just a building,’” Logel recalled, her voice impassioned by emotion. “I know it is just a building. But in that building, it contains memories - years. There is 70-some years of memories in that (building).”

Those memories include her wedding. She wed Pete Logel as a sixteen-year-old girl while all the older women who she recalls always sat in the back of the church murmured about how her marriage would never work. That wedding, held before her god in her church, was the start of a marriage that would last nearly 60 years, until Pete’s death in 2006. St. Mary’s framed her relationship with her husband, as it was from St. Mary’s that Pete was buried.

In between those times, Logel saw all five of her children baptized in St. Mary’s and a couple of them married there as well. Logel’s friend Maryann Hines’ four children were also baptized there.

Hines’ siblings, too, were baptized at St. Mary’s as was she in mid- January, 1933. St. Mary’s was her church from birth.

“I’d still go when they tore it down if they’d leave us,” she said. While she says she feels resigned to the church’s fate, the demolition of St. Mary’s still makes her sad. She recalls a time when there were 600 families in the church and she, too, has the memories of her children’s weddings in the building. Though she herself was not married there, the church did hold a nuptial mass for her and her husband Carl after they were wed on an army base in Georgia.

Of all of her many memories of the church, one that stands out the most in Hines’ mind is her mother’s fondness for it. “She loved her church; she loved everything about it. She kept saying ‘You can’t find nothing wrong with it,’” Hines said and added with a laugh, “Boy, we got tired of hearing that.”

The church not only holds memories of loved ones, but is much like a loved one itself, says the Rev. Jason Crossen, pastor at Ss. Mary and Mathias. But he makes note that everything that can be done to preserve some of the memories of St. Mary’s will be done. A number of statues which date back to the church’s construction will be brought to the St. Mathias building on 8th St., as will the Stations of the Cross and the relief of the Rev. Grieser, among other items from the building.

Because of the effort to save what can be saved of the church, the tearing down process, which will begin after the church’s last mass is held on the lawn on June 21 of this year, will be slow. Of particular concern is how to take care of the organ, which is very large and has to be handled with care. The solution to that is not yet settled, though several options are under consideration.

“(The process is) a death and resurrection,” said Crossen, who spoke of the spirit of the church’s survival in addition to the survival of its material aspects. “St. Mary’s will no longer be as she once was, but somehow some way the mission of St. Mary’s will continue to exist in the parish of Ss. Mary and Mathias.


Information from: Muscatine Journal, https://www.muscatinejournal.com

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