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Sacred Heart Ruthven celebrates 125 years

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

RUTHVEN – Preparing to celebrate the 125th anniversary Mass at Sacred Heart Church on July 20, Bishop Walker Nickless did a little homework by reading about the Ruthven parish in the diocesan history book. He discovered some interesting parish ties to the current pastor.

Bishop Nickless presided at Mass that was concelebrated by Father Clem Currans, pastor, and Msgr. Mervin Hood of Fort Dodge, former pastor at Sacred Heart.

In the homily, Bishop Nickless said that by reading the diocesan centennial book Frontiers of Faith he learned Sacred Heart “was on the cutting edge of feminism and women power. You have a great history.”

“The first Masses (in Ruthven) were celebrated in a hall that served as a skating rink and social center,” the bishop explained. “And the women took charge. After a Saturday night of socializing and probably drinking, the women would come early Sunday morning and get the hall ready for church and Mass.”

The book noted the women had commented how different Saturday night was in contrast to the reverence of Sunday morning in praying the Mass. At that time, in 1885, the church community wasn’t an official parish but the women worked on that, too.

While the men were content with their situation, the women, led by Susan Currans – the great-grandmother of Father Currans - and P.J. Nolan, initiated a fund-raising effort that resulted in the establishment of the parish.
“Sacred Heart Parish was hailed as an excellent example of how hard work, encouragement and the ideas of women helped to establish parishes of northwest Iowa,” Bishop Nickless said. “We thank the women, who I’m sure, still do a lot of work around here.”

Tying into the day’s Scripture reading, the bishop said these two women were the seeds and the yeast of something great in the spiritual lives of the community.

“Our Gospel today references that small mustard seed that grows into the largest of trees and the yeast, mixed with three measures of wheat flour, produces a batch of abundant bread,” he said. “Jesus uses these examples, these parable stories, to teach us about the kingdom of God growing in our midst and in a sense all of us our called to be mustard seeds – called to believe in Christ and do small, thankless things necessary to bring a sense of wholeness fulfillment in our families and communities.”

Small acts of courage and a desire to meet the needs of others, Bishop Nickless said, was how the parish began. The task remains today.

As the conclusion of Mass, Father Currans called it a humbling experience to be back in the same parish where his ancestors – Susan and Henry Currans – came from. While he knew his father was from Ruthven, he hadn’t realized the role his great-grandparents had played in the parish and community until he had read the history of Ruthven.

Dale Geelan, one of two parish directors, offered some closing comments at the end of the liturgy to thank those who helped with the celebration. He extended gratitude for being present for the celebration and thanked the head shepherd for sending Father Currans to the parish, citing projects such as the hall remodeling and new parking lots taken on during his time.

While he has read that many parishes have just a small percentage of parishioners doing the bulk of the work, Geelan said, “That is not true in this parish. We have a very alive parish and I want to thank everyone who is involved. But, if you have a gift that is not being used, please come forward. Father Currans will find you a job; I can guarantee that.”

The parish is home to three retired priests: Father Tom Geelan, a native son; Father Peter Fransco and Father Richard Ries. Father Ries celebrates weekday Mass in Ruthven on a regular basis, which Father Currans said is extremely helpful.

Present-day parishioners were pleased with the celebration.

Ellie Finnegan, who has been a member of the parish for 64 years since converting to Catholicism, spoke of the importance the faith has had in her life and the lives of her family including seven children who were baptized at the parish and some married there.

“I certainly appreciate all of the priests we’ve had,” she said.

Pat Molitor, a parishioner since 1980, helped to put together the parish history book. She found it interesting to learn how the parish got its start and see how the dedication continues today.

“We have a lot of people who are willing to step up and do things,” she said. “There’s a social aspect of people getting together and working together on projects around the church.”

Several former parishioners also attended the celebration. Among them was Virginia Currans, the aunt of Father Currans. Visiting the parish brought back many memories of having the children receive the sacraments at the church.

She also recalled how her son John was an altar server at the Mass of the present church building, which was dedicated by Bishop Joseph Mueller in 1962.

Another returning parishioner was Mary (Geelan) Kirschbaum, who was born and raised in Ruthven. It was important for her to attend the celebration because the parish means a great deal to her. She was baptized, confirmed and married in the church.

“This is my home parish, so I wouldn’t miss it and I’m the only one left (of the siblings),” she added. Father Geelan is her nephew.

Parishioners and guests enjoyed a meal after Mass and children’s games followed.

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