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Twin spires, multiple members: Lismore's St. Anthony Catholic Church marks 100 years

The cornerstone for St. Anthony Catholic Church in Lismore was laid Nov. 17, 1911. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)1 / 3
Updates over the years have given more of a contemporary feel to the church's interior. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)2 / 3
The Catholic Church in Lismore features some of the finest stained glass windows anywhere. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)3 / 3

LISMORE -- It's been 100 years since Mary Ann Spieker's father, Herman Wieneke, helped build the distinctive twin-spired St. Anthony Catholic Church in Lismore, but neither the stately structure nor Spieker's reliance on it as her faith home are visibly diminishing with age.

"We're very proud of our church and its heritage," affirmed Spieker, a native of the Lismore area. "Spiritually, it has led us through a lot and has really been the foundation of our life."

Spieker and her husband, Cletus, celebrated their 65th anniversary on Feb. 16, having been married at St. Anthony on that date in 1946.

"We're the 'old' people here now," chuckled Spieker. "We always feel very comfortable there, we know exactly where we belong, and I guess we'll have our funeral there eventually, too."

The Rev. Mathias Graeve would certainly be pleased to know his legacy and life's work have extended well into the 21st century.

According to the local history book, "Lismore, 1900-1975: In the year of our diamond jubilee," Graeve came to Lismore and St. Anthony's parish in October 1905. It wasn't long before he led an effort to build a grander church facility than the twostory frame building erected a few years earlier to house the St. Anthony church and school.

Reads the local history, "The crowning work of Father Graeve's pastorate was the erection of the present church building, a structure 50 x 125 feet, at a cost of $30,048. Early settlers and later parishioners cooperated wholeheartedly and donated much labor to complete the construction.

"The cornerstone was laid Nov. 17, 1911, and Mass was offered for the first time. St. Anthony Church was dedicated by the Most Reverend Patrick Hefferan on the Feast of St. Anthony, June 13, 1912."

"St. Anthony is known for its beautiful stained glass windows and 85-foot steeples," noted Roxanne Kemper, a 12-year employee of the four-parish cluster serving St. Anthony, plus the Catholic churches of Wilmont, Adrian and St. Kilian; her current job title is pastoral assistant.

"Some updates over the years have given more of a contemporary feel to the church's interior, but it's a very viable parish, even with all the changes that have taken place in the rural areas," continued Kemper.

"There are about 140 families that are part of the parish and we have very good attendance at church, in liturgical ministries, in all of our activities."

Located on Lismore's main street directly across from the city park, St. Anthony is a physically prominent part of the small rural community that came into existence in the summer of 1900 because the Burlington (later the Rock Island) railroad was coming through the site. At its peak, Lismore's population was registered as 375 people in 1924.

"Lismore shows a great deal of support for this church, and also for its only other stillexisting church, First Presbyterian," attested Kemper. "We do occasional ecumenical activities over the course of the year with First Presbyterian, including a 'praise in song' service on Palm Sunday evening and a Thanksgiving eve service, and we support each other's dinners.

"We're small enough the way it is, and both churches are part of this community."

It's that open-minded, hospitable attitude that has no doubt helped St. Anthony survive for more than a century, even as the surrounding farms have grown bigger but the farm families themselves have become smaller and fewer.

"The community as a whole is and has been welcoming," confirmed Kemper, who moved to the area with her husband, Frank, in the late 1990s after previously serving as the pastoral minister at Catholic churches in Duluth and Pipestone.

"In times of constant change, St. Anthony continues to be a point of stability in its parishioners' lives," added Kemper. "I think that's why people continue to support the church both financially and with their presence and involvement in parish life.

"They are good people in this community, they really are."

St. Anthony maintains several active service organizations, including a Catholic Council of Women, Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Christian Mothers and Knights of Columbus.

Kemper is one of a handful of employees serving St. Anthony in 2011. She is joined by parish secretary Mary Krogman; parish custodians Ray and Shirley Wieneke; Pam Konz, the four-parish Faith Formation director and RCIA director; and Leslie Slater, the four-parish Faith Formation Coordinator. the Rev. Timothy J. Hall is the priest currently serving the four-parish cluster.

"Father's office is in Adrian, and our offices are in the former rectory adjacent to the church," explained Kemper.

Spieker appreciates all the accommodations and help Kemper and other parishioners have given her and Cletus as they, like the church itself, have advanced in years.

"Words cannot express how well we're being treated as an elderly couple. They put a lift in there about a year ago, which helps because my husband uses a wheelchair now," mentioned Spieker.

"But one time in the past year when we were at church, the electricity went out so the lift couldn't work.

"Three wonderful men carried my dear husband out," continued Spieker. "That may seem like a little thing to other people, but things change as you age, and that kind of help is really big for us now."

Three of the Spiekers' seven children were baptized at St. Anthony (the first four were baptized in Adrian, where the family lived before purchasing their Lismorearea farm in 1953).

Decades later, Spieker still delights in the building's stained glass windows and "exceptional" stations of the cross, and she is glad there remain younger families in the parish committed to seeing St. Anthony embark on its second century of existence.

"We are blessed to have this church," confirmed Spieker. "I always say I don't know what we'd do without our faith, our family and our friends, and that is pointed out to us more every day."