Catholic Church celebrates century milestone
Congregation honoring pioneer priests; taking time to give thanks.
Perhaps the words “the little church that could” describes Our Lady of Good Counsel Church and its survival through the years.
This year, the congregation—at 137 families strong—celebrates its existence in Gothenburg for a century.Parishioners will have Mass at 4 p.m. Sunday at the church, followed by a dinner, to commemorate the milestone.
The Rev. Don O’Brien, who serves Our Lady of Good Counsel and Christ the King in Cozad, said the event is to honor “those who came before us.”
“Pioneer priests came here by railroad and on Highway 30 when it was just a trail,” he said. “Mass was offered in homes before a church was built.”
O’Brien said the celebration is a time to stop and give thanks for the wonderful things such as people’s lives that have been changed because of sacraments—Mass, baptisms, marriage and funerals.
In the church’s 75th anniversary book, parishioner and organist Ruby Adle said: “Hail, storms, floods, droughts, depression came and went but the little congregation held on.”
Adle described the early church in Gothenburg as a fledgling Catholic community.
“They (congregation) appealed to the bishop to send someone to serve them and the church responded,” Adle said. “We are still a little congregation by some standards, but we have great faith. We have a great heart and we have a commitment to each other and to the faith in Christ Jesus that binds us together.”
Without a Catholic church in the early days of the town, faithful members traveled by log-team, or foot, to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Willow Island for services.
“Occasionally, Mass was celebrated a few miles west in the schoolhouse at Vroman, with Father Burke pastor,” according to the Gothenburg Area History book.
As more Catholics moved to town, Mass was celebrated in homes with 12 families in attendance.
Parishioners also leased the High Episcopal Church which is where the Seventh Day Adventist Church stands at 16th Street and Avenue F.
About 1908, they built a building on the northeast corner of Lake Avenue and 16th Street. The church was a mission of St. Ann’s church in Lexington because it was served by priests there.
In November of 1913, Father Kavanaugh was appointed the first resident pastor of Gothenburg. He also served mission churches in Willow Island, Brady, Maxwell and Stapleton.
Kavanaugh and his housekeeper—his mother—lived in a rented house several blocks west until a rectory was built west of the church for $8,000 in 1918.
Priest brings Model T
The priest was succeeded by Father Joseph Monaghan in 1921 who bought a Model T in Grand Island.
On the way to Gothenburg, a train smashed into it on the railroad tracks but the priest got out of the car in time to escape injury.
As a result, he was driven to different parishes by altar boys.
Member Jan Lipska, who is creating a 100-year history of the church, said Joe Lyons of Willow Island remembered staying overnight with Father Monaghan so they could rise early and take the car to Maxwell for early mass.
Adle remembered Monaghan teaching catechism. She also said the new church couldn’t seat many people.
Phyllis Rimpley, a member today, recalls standing outside during midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and walking in and out of the church to receive communion.
Rimpley said her father invited the parish to their home, located in the same block, after the service where there would be soup, sandwiches, mixed nuts, oranges and punch until the wee hours of the morning.
In 1926, a basement was dug and additional space built onto the north and south ends of the original building. Electricity and heat were added.
“Although the building was ‘modern’ for its day, Dan Gauderault does remember frozen Holy Water in the winter,” Lipska said.
Paying for the building, because of depressed economic conditions, was a struggle.
Members Don and Yvonne Derra and Rimpley remember card parties in the basement, bake sales downtown and a fall dinner served at city hall.
Rimpley remembers how her father, a cook at Frenchy’s Cafe, cooked chicken and dressing on a stove at city haul while other parishioners brought salads and desserts.
Dishes, pots and pans, silverware, tables and chairs were hauled from the church basement.
Egg coffee, made by the addition of eggs in coffee grounds, was a highlight, she said.
The congregation still hosts an annual turkey dinner in the fall to raise money for the church.
“Some 30 people working in the kitchen is awesome,” Rimpley said.
Father Hollie replaced Monaghan in 1933. He was described as master craftsman who built a wooden altar for the church.
Don Derra remembers being an altar server when he was 30.
Don and Yvonne then had two of their four children.
The Derras used to attend midnight Mass at the old church. The first Mass at a new brick church, finished at 20th Street and Avenue J in 1961, was also at midnight on Christmas Eve.
Lipska said the new site covered 12 acres and lots were sold to raise money to build the new church that cost $115,000.
Money also came from church fundraisers and the mortgage was burned in 1973.
“There were only 10 working families in the church when we came here (from Farnam) in 1968,” Voni Derra said. “There was $53,000 left to pay on the new church and we worked hard having things like card parties, salad bars and dinners.”
“I washed many dishes,” Don Derra said with a laugh.
The Derras also remember a tornado in 1971 that whirled through town as they were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in the church basement.
Under the direction of Father Tom Mullowney, who served as pastor in the 1980s, the church building was renovated. Windows were replaced and insulation, wall coverings and a devotional area added.
Rimpley and the Derras said they remember nuns who used to teach catechism and how no one, but the priest and altar boys, were allowed past the communion railings.
“Sister Pat (Eichner) left five years ago,” Yvonne said.
Girls now are allowed to help at the altar which wasn’t the case years ago.
O’Brien began serving the local church and Christ The King church in Cozad in 1989.
A multi-purpose parish center was completed in 1994, two stained glass windows installed, front doors replaced and the basement converted into classrooms.
While O’Brien has served as priest, Lipska said numerous improvements have been made and membership increased.
“He’s a good financial manager,” Don Derra said.
Rimpley said she thinks it’s wonderful the church is celebrating its 100th birthday while Don Derra said it’s neat to show new, and younger people, how parishioners struggled to pay for the new church.
Another memory in the 75th anniversary book was shared by Marie Clouatre. She remembered the church on Sundays being a fourth to one-third full after it was built in 1961.
“So I decided to pray the rosary before Mass to pray for increased devotion and a larger congregation,” Clouatre said. “I have been praying more or less every Sunday when I could for the past 20 years and now we have almost a full church on Sundays and lots of children.”
Records say the church had 55 families in 1961. Today, membership is listed at 137 families.
Lipska, who moved from Kansas with her husband, Lloyd, in 1996, describes the parish as welcoming.
“I’ve lived in a lot of (cities) and this has been the friendliest and most welcoming (parish),” she said. “I’m in awe of how people work, do things together and how someone always shows up to do things when the word is put out.”
Hard work, friendliness and a willingness to help could be ingredients that have contributed to the longevity of Our Lady of Good Counsel.
“I hope the old can pass that down to the new,” Lipska said.
When asked what was needed for the church to grow and exist for so long, O’Brien said one can’t just be Catholic.
“You have to share your faith with others,” he said.
And, “live by what you say and what you do.”