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Heart of St. Kilian: 129-year-old parish goes to oratory status

St. Kilian Catholic Church in rural Nobles County will soon change to oratory status, which means it will cease to be an active Catholic parish, but can still be used for special occasions such as weddings, funerals and baptisms. 1 / 11
A plaque gives a brief history of the church in connection with the National Register of Historic Places designation.2 / 11
The Feast of Corpus Christi procession is shown in this 1915 photograph3 / 11
This photo of the St. Kilian Coronet Band was found along with the photos of the Corpus Christi celebration. 4 / 11
The elaborate altar in the St. Kilian sanctuary features in the top center a statue of St. Kilian, a late 7th-century missionary who served in Bavaria.5 / 11
Artifacts on display in St. Joseph Hall include a 1913 Christian Mother banner in German. 6 / 11
A photo from the 1915 Corpus Christi celebration 7 / 11
Parishioners process through in front of the church in this photo from the 1915 Corpus Christi celebration.8 / 11
An early photo of a first communion celebration in St. Kilian.9 / 11
This photo of a large gathering outside St. Kilian Catholic Church is dated Oct. 3, 1900,10 / 11
An early interior photo of the St. Kilian church. 11 / 11

When the community comes together next weekend in the tiny town of St. Kilian, there will memories, laughter and undoubtedly a few tears shed.

The event will be a celebration of the 129-year life of the St. Kilian Catholic Parish, but there will also be some mourning, as the little country church soon changes from an active Catholic congregation to “oratory status.” That designation means the parish has been closed, and the building and grounds become the responsibility of a neighboring parish. Such churches are still available for special occasions, such as weddings, funerals and baptisms.  

According to church records, a congregation was first formed in the St. Kilian area in 1877, the parishioners meeting in a one-room schoolhouse one mile west. Ten years later, the first church was built in the small, rural town. The parish served the community of German Catholics for whom it was too far to travel to Adrian.

Up until 1910, the church’s records were in German; the last confessions were heard in German in 1957. In the early years, the European custom of Angelus was practiced: The church bells rang out at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., at which time everyone stopped and prayed.

In 1898, the original church was struck by lightning and burned. The current church, built in 1900, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. It is remarkable for its elaborately carved altar — featuring a statue of St. Kilian, an Irish missionary who served in northern Bavaria toward the end of the 7th century — shrines and stained glass windows.

As of 1901, the membership consisted of 144 families, totaling 875 members. That year, there were 43 baptisms, 18 first communicants, 165 confirmations, one conversion, nine marriages and seven deaths.

From 1957 to 1973, there was also a parochial school, in an adjacent building now called St. Joseph Hall, that has also served as a community gathering place, hosting dances, plays, card games and other events.

Another local tradition over the years was the celebration of the Feast Corpus Christi, beginning with Mass inside the church and then an outdoor procession to three or four altars decorated with linens, flowers, candles and religious items throughout the village.

Today, St. Kilian Catholic Church consists of 45 families, many with deep roots in the parish. Julie Brake, one of the organizers of next weekend’s festivities, is proud that her grandchildren represent the sixth generation of the Brake family to be part of the parish; four generations of Brakes will take part in the Mass next Sunday.

“The church is home more than anything else,” explained Margie Loosbrock, who became a member upon marrying her husband.

“And we feel like we are losing our home,” added Brake solemnly.

“For some of us, this is the only church we’ve ever belonged to, and that makes it doubly hard,” agreed Vonnie Sieve.

The St. Kilian Gather 4 Faith Celebration will be June 26, with a 1 p.m. Mass celebrated by Bishop John Quinn and the Rev. Andrew Beerman. Live entertainment and a steak sandwich dinner will follow in a big tent on the church lawn. History booklets, greeting cards and church ornaments will be sold, along with chances on a quilt and raffle, with proceeds going to support the continued care of the church, grounds and cemetery.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  

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