Three-year-old Tyson Dreher woke up on a recent Sunday morning and looked out his window disappointed. His dad, Ryan, and brother Wesley were outside helping to put up a 14-foot-tall crucifix on the corner of the family’s property, and he wanted to help.
The crucifix is one of five “regional crucifixes” or shrines in the Browerville area, and is located on the Ryan and Rachel Dreher farm east of town on the corner of County Highways 14 and 25. There are two other crosses located to the west, one to the north and a similar one in front of Christ the King Church.
The first cross was erected more than 100 years ago, with another going up in the 1960s and then one in 1973.
According to a history of the town written by Benedictine Sister Elvan Drayna, the shrines were erected as gathering places for parishioners as they walked to and from church. They would stop to talk and sometimes picnic there. After a while, they became landmarks for giving directions to people’s homes, she wrote. Parishioners now gather twice a year at one of the crosses to pray a rosary.
“I wanted to build on the tradition begun by Browerville area Catholics — to honor the people who honor this cultural tradition still today by caring for these regional crosses,” said Father Mitchell Bechtold, pastor of Christ the King Parish and St. Joseph Parish in Clarissa.
“This is a gift for the parish,” he said. “It was my gift to the parish… but I realized there was no way I was going to be able to do it on my own.”
Many parishioners stepped in to help with everything from the use of a tractor to painting.
“The thing about Browerville is you’d almost have trouble not getting help with a good project,” he said. “That’s part of the charm of this place.”
Parishioners gathered on the Dreher farm June 19, the feast of Corpus Christi, for the blessing of the crucifix and to pray a rosary together.
Father Bechtold said it also was fitting the cross was blessed on the kickoff weekend for the National Eucharistic Revival. The world needs Catholics to reclaim their belief that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ present for us, he said.
“Every crucifix reminds us of God’s divine mystery,” Father Bechtold said in his homily that morning. “Every crucifix is a reminder of what perfect love looked like.”
The crucifix is also a way to honor a special parishioner.
“[It is also being put up] in thanksgiving for the generous contributions of Maryann Woeste, a parishioner and friend to many in our town,” Father Bechtold said.
Woeste, the longtime sacristan at Christ the King, is like a mother to the young people of the town, Father Bechtold said. She’s like a daughter to our elders and a sister to her peers. “She’s just a really incredible woman,” he said.
The Drehers, who are members of Christ the King Parish, were happy to honor Maryann, too.
“She’s a special lady,” Rachel Dreher said. “And she literally lives down the road so she’ll drive by this every day.”
Rachel and Ryan both grew up in Browerville, and the crosses were always a part of her life, Rachel said. She remembers helping her uncle paint them and keep them up. So, it was natural to say yes to having the newest one on their property.
“It’s an honor to have it on our farm,” Rachel said. “I think it’s a really cool symbol of our faith.”
“The boys are really excited to have the cross here,” she said. “And Tyson eventually did get to go out to help.”
Too young to know the full significance of the cross, Tyson was just excited to have Jesus in his front yard. “It’s as big as a giraffe’s neck,” he said.