Blessed to be a blessing: Members of Ellsworth parish have a lot to celebrate SundayELLSWORTH — Throughout the many years of their membership, Bill and Jean Deutsch and their family have often taken up more than one pew at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Ellsworth. On Sunday, they will likely take up half the church as the Deutschs anticipate having most of their extended family of 10 children and spouses, 24 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren on hand for a special celebration at St. Mary’s. The church is celebrating its 125th anniversary; the church’s Knights of Columbus organization its 100th anniversary; and the Bishop’s Medal will be conferred upon Bill and Jean during a 2 p.m. Mass.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
ELLSWORTH — Throughout the many years of their membership, Bill and Jean Deutsch and their family have often taken up more than one pew at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Ellsworth.
On Sunday, they will likely take up half the church as the Deutschs anticipate having most of their extended family of 10 children and spouses, 24 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren on hand for a special celebration at St. Mary’s. The church is celebrating its 125th anniversary; the church’s Knights of Columbus organization its 100th anniversary; and the Bishop’s Medal will be conferred upon Bill and Jean during a 2 p.m. Mass.
“It’s a medal presented by the bishop for exceptional service to the church, in all ministries, any of the ministries, over a period of years,” explained the Rev. Tom Jennings, pastor at both St. Mary’s and St. Catherine’s parish in Luverne, who nominated the Deutschs for the award along with the pastoral council. “It’s a very distinguished award, and the bishop always tries to present it personally.”
It will be a banner day for the entire Deutsch clan, which has a long history with the St. Mary’s parish. Bill’s family helped to found the church, while Jean became a member after their marriage.
“I’ve been a member of St. Mary’s all my life,” said Bill. “I had two aunts that were nuns.”
Jean, who grew up in Wanda, also comes from a strong Catholic family, and in fact, two of her sisters have been recipients of the Bishop’s Medal in the Diocese of New Ulm and her brother is a senior priest in that diocese.
“My mother died and left nine children. I was not even 2 yet. So my dad was left with nine children to take care of by himself,” Jean said, explaining that faith helped keep the family together after the loss of their mother. “That’s what we had to cling to.”
In 1992, Bill retired from the Ellsworth elevator, where he had worked for 40 years — 27 as its manager. Since the Deutschs already helped out with so many things in the parish, it was natural that he became its custodian. And since they live across the street from the church, they can keep a close eye on the church property.
“I live in the old convent,” said Bill about the building they have inhabited for close to 40 years.
“I live there with him,” quipped Jean.
“Our school was closed way back then, and it sat empty for a long time,” Bill continued about the convent. “So I finally gave them a bid, and they took it. I’m the janitor, so I just walk over and open the church, and whenever I get a little time, I go over there and do a little work.”
Bill may term what he does as “a little work,” but he and Jean have both been active and willing workers at the church throughout their lives. A list of their contributions at St. Mary’s includes: St. Mary’s Cemetery maintenance for 31 years; custodial duties for the church and grounds since 1997; Sacristan ministry since 1997; painting, carpentry and various skills shared with the parish; repairs and maintenance on St. Mary’s many statues of saints, including making new fingers and hands; serving as officers for the Ellsworth Council of Catholic Women and Knights of Columbus; serving on the pastoral council for two terms; serving on the cemetery board for many years; money counter team; singing in the church choir; liturgy committee; Eucharistic communion minister since Vatican Council II; Ministry of Care in recent years; church usher; rosary leader; fall dinner leadership team; altar server; Mass reader; parish Seeds of Faith leadership team; parish cluster social ministry projects; and special assistants to the pastors whenever needed.
“They are really the face of St. Mary’s,” said Jennings. “If you want something done, you contact them. If you want information, you contact them. They are wonderful church people with a wonderful marriage, wonderful family. They’ve been wonderful helpers over the many, many years for the pastors. Because the pastor no longer resides in Ellsworth, he depends on the Deutschs to take care of things on a day-to-day basis. If I want to get something done, I just call Bill, and he makes sure it gets done. And they’re great ecumenically. Bill knows everybody in town, regardless of religion, regardless of church, and knows how to get it done.”
The large Deutsch family plans an annual family get-together, usually in June, but Jennings advised Bill and Jean to delay the gathering this year.
“When Father told us, he said to have them come home the 10th of July,” recalled Bill. “That’s when he told us about the Bishop’s Medal.”
“He wanted a church full,” added Jean.
All their children will be on hand to witness their parents receive the diocesan honor: Damian (Cindy), Joseph (Brenda), Lori (Joel), Ellen (Jeff), Teresa (Lloyd), Steven (Adria), Karen (Mike), David, Richard and Barbara (Chad).
“You gotta feel proud,” said Bill about when his family fills up the pews at St. Mary’s. “Father always announces it when the gang is all here.”
The Deutschs said they are indeed honored to receive the Bishop’s Medal, but they don’t look at what they do for the congregation as anything extraordinary. In a small community like Ellsworth and a small parish like St. Mary’s, everybody has to lend a hand.
“Bill and I are getting the medal,” said Jean, “but it kind of belongs to the whole parish, because they really pitch in and help.”
And the Deutschs say the real celebration is about the role the church has played in their community and their lives.
“We’re happy to get the medal, proud to get the medal, but it really is a celebration of 125 years for our church,” Jean explained. “Bill’s ancestors were instrumental in building the church and the school, and that’s gone down through the years.”
Bishop John Quinn will celebrate 125 years of faith for St. Mary’s and 100 years of service for the Knights of Columbus during the Mass at 2 p.m. Sunday. At about 3 p.m., the celebration will move to a tent on the church lawn. A meal of pork sandwiches, potato salad, beans, cake, punch and root beer floats will be served until about 4:30 p.m. The public is welcome to participate.