St. Stephen Parish in St. Stephen commemorated 150 years — a sesquicentennial — with Bishop Donald Kettler celebrating Mass Sunday, June 6, and an outdoor Corpus Christi procession with cannons and bells.
“Cannons and bells are Slovenian traditions,” said Betty Pogatshnik, lifelong member of St. Stephen’s. “We fire cannons to greet the bishop. For Corpus Christi, they’re fired as we process through the woods. Then our bells ring in a rhythm. After a Benediction, we go to the next chapel.”
Following Mass, parishioners relaxed with a hog roast, horse-drawn wagon rides, kids’ games, a quilt raffle and the Nathan Neuman Old Time Band.
“In October, we offered a mission, ‘Journey to Jesus, Living the Gospel Today.’ Even with COVID, 265 people participated in person and 447 online,” said Liz Legatt, chairperson of the 150th anniversary committee.
“In April our parish sponsored Heritage Weekend featuring a livestreamed polka Mass with The Singing Slovenes, which was watched by people as far away as Slovenia. Father Ron Weyrens blessed tractors and seeds after Mass. We served breakfast, assisted by the matching funds of KSKJ, the American Slovenian Catholic Union, and then The Singing Slovenes performed a concert,” Legatt added.
Alenka Jerak, the consul general from the Republic of Slovenia, honored the parish with a plaque to commemorate the anniversary. The Slovenian flag was raised and accompanied by their national anthem.
Bishop James Trobec’s memorabilia and other historic artifacts, like a wooden mallet for ringing bells, are on permanent display in the church annex. After retirement, Bishop Trobec resided in St. Stephen’s rectory and is buried in the parish cemetery.
“Our sesquicentennial book includes our history, old recipes and family favorites, pictures of our priests, pictures from the 1971 centennial and the repainting of the church and missions over the years,” Legatt said.
The parish’s history began in 1864, Pogatshnik said, with Gregor Pogačnik as the first settler.
“Encouraged by Father Xavier Pierz’s letters, he chose land in this area, built a cabin and sent for his wife and daughter,” Pogatshnik said. “Father Buh celebrated Mass in 1867 in their cabin with five or six families. He organized the settlers to purchase 40 acres and construct a log church, St. Stephen’s, where they celebrated their first Mass April 23, 1871.”
By 1901, the pastor, Father John Trobec, realized it was too small for the 70-some families. He hired an architect and work began — the cornerstone was blessed July 4, 1903; the church was dedicated Oct. 25, 1904. Within four years, the parish ordered four special bells, each inscribed and having a separate use.
In 1924, Father Trobec contacted a Slovenian artist, Gosar, to clean the interior and create paintings of the saints for the sanctuary and murals on canvas attached to the ceiling, Pogatshnik said.
“Visitors are amazed by those artworks, some of which show Bishop [Frederic] Baraga [a Slovenian Catholic missionary] and Bishop Trobec,” Pogatshnik said.
“Now that things are opening up, we look forward to working on evangelization, stewardship and worship with the parishes in our ACC,” she said. “We’re finding common ground and are glad to share resources with each other.”
St. Stephen, with 400 families, joins Annunciation, Mayhew Lake; St. Francis Xavier, Sartell; and Sacred Heart, Sauk Rapids as the One in Christ Area Catholic Community.