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Saint William Catholic church, Midland, turns 100

by Barbara Jones

Catholic services were held Sunday morning, November 5, 1906, in Lewis Hall at Midland with Father Murphy from Fort Pierre. According to the Western Star, Midland's early newspaper, "This was the first Catholic service ever conducted here." Father Murphy, who had come from Lead to do missions work, had all of Stanley County under his charge. He stated that he hoped in the not too distant future to build a small church in Midland. Father Murphy held Mass at Lewis Hall, December 16.

Father Anthony O'Hara, here in 1907, served Midland during early homestead days. Distances were great and traveled by horseback or horse and buggy. Notice of Mass was published in the Western Star, such as Mass at Midland on Sunday, at Phoeba on Tuesday, at Hayes on Wednesday and the following Tuesday at Ottumwa.

A church was erected and Father O'Hara, assisted by his brother, Father John O'Hara, a Paulist missionary, held the first services there on August 7, 1908. Bishop Joseph F. Busch filed the Articles of Incorporation for the Church of Saint Elizabeth in Midland, in the state House in Pierre, on November 24, 1911. Father Anthony O'Hara served from Fort Pierre. In 1912, Father Guergon, whose home address was Philip, held services once a month in Midland.

In 1921 the Humphrey house was purchased for a parsonage. Midland received their first resident pastor, Father J. J. Lynch, in 1922. Father W. A. Sullivan served in 1923 and Father William McGuill 1924 to 1928. In 1926, an entry and belfry were built onto the church. Father Patrick O'Dowd, who came from Capa to Midland, served from 1932 to 1935. Father Sweeney came in 1936 and was here until 1952. In the late 1930s, the sanctuary was built on to the church. Parishioners donated the labor. The church building was damaged by fire in 1942. Father Sweeney passed away in the Midland depot, waiting for the train, September 7, 1952. He was planning to go to the doctor in New York, then on to Europe and his native land, Ireland.

Parishioners, feeling there was a need for a new church, started a building fund and plans for a new church were made while Reverend John O'Connor served the church from 1953 to 1956. Father William Philbin came in 1956. Plans were completed and a fine new church of brick construction was built in 1958 on a site donated by Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Jones on the west edge of Midland. Mrs. Joe (Rose) Nemec was a major contributor to this building project. Clarence Petoske did leveling and preparing of the building site, which was on a hillside. Parishioners and the Catholic Extension Society donated money and countless hours of labor to help build and furnish the new church. The first Mass in the new church was Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, 1958. Bishop William McCarty, dedicated the new church on October 26, 1959. It was named the Church of Saint Philomena. By 1960, the cornerstone, which had been placed in 1958, had been taken out and the church renamed the Church of St. William.

The Church of St. Mark of Capa, which had become a mission of Midland in about 1941, was closed and the parish attached to Midland in 1957. The Church of St. Rose at Ottumwa was closed in 1969 and attached to Midland. Father Philbin had church at Belvidere for a while, but it was soon attached to Kadoka. Midland itself became a mission of Kadoka in 1970.

Father Philbin was moved to Philip in 1970 and Father Philip Clark, TOR, came in July 1970 from Pennsylvania to serve. He became ill in the fall of 1971. Father Gentle of St. Francis filled in for a time. Father John Correy came November 28, 1971, and stayed until April 1972. Father Joe Markalonis, TOR, came in March 1972 and served two months before going as a missionary to South America from here. A priest from Pennsylvania came to serve the parishes of Kadoka and Midland from 1972 to 1981.

Father Ronald A. Zelnik came in 1981. Father Zelnik was here for a short time. He suffered from a lingering illness and passed away in April, 1982. While he was here, he supervised the renovation of the reconciliation area and inspired many people with his faith and ecumenical love of people of all faiths. The bell tower on the church lawn was donated by the Jerome Nemec family in Father Zelnik's memory. The bell was from the old St. Elizabeth church.

Father Michael Hight and Father Richard Novotny filled in for Father Zelnick during his illness. On May 16, 1982, Novotny announced he would be appointed as our new pastor in Kadoka and Midland.

Many renovations were accomplished in Father Novotny's tenure. Extensive renovation of the sanctuary area was completed in 1982. A handicap ramp was added to the outside of the church. In 1986, when 14-year-old Patrick Daly died, his parents wanted a memorial in his memory placed in the church. They consulted with Father Rich and an idea developed to begin replacing the side windows in the nave or central part of the church with stained glass windows. The first window was in memory of Patrick Daly and another window was donated by his parents, Michael and Judith Daly. The remaining windows were donated by other members of the church to complete the project. Bible parables and Bible stories are the subject of the windows. Since this first endeavor, glass crosses in the doors have been replaced with stained glass as memorials to other parishioners.

When Father Richard Novotny was transferred to a new parish, it was announced that St. William Parish would become a part of a new alignment of churches with Midland becoming attached to Sacred Heart of Philip along with St. Mary of Milesville. Our new pastor would make his home at Sacred Heart rectory.

Father Arnold Kari came to lead us in August of 1990. Father Kari is blessed with a wonderful musical talent. He was available to play his accordion at Polka Masses across the diocese. In 1992, Father Kari was made vocations director for the diocese where he did much to encourage young men in our diocese to serve God in the priesthood. Father Mark McCormick served with him as parochial vicar for a few months in 1992. He was a recently ordained priest whose hometown was Rapid City and was a hit with the young people of the parish. Improvements to our building included hot water heat to supplement the fuel oil furnaces. By 1999, a new brown, Spanish-style steel roof had replaced the old green tiles on the church. In December, 1999, Father Kari was transferred from our parish.

Father Tony Grossenburg came to shepherd us from the end of 1999 to June, 2003. Father Tony encouraged us in the faith, offering programs that taught us and gave us a deeper appreciation of God's plan in our lives. Father Grossenburg left us to serve parishes in and around McLaughlin in 2003.

Father Ronald Garry came in August, 2003, to lead us as our pastor. Father liked spending time with the people he served and was always ready to lend a helping hand. He joined in the fun, riding on our floats in the annual Merchant's Appreciation Day parade. We added an underground sprinkler system and a handicap chair for access to the basement while he was here. New, dark glass doors were installed in the front on the church and a large door was cut into the wall at ground level to permit easy access to the basement and handicapped chair. A statue of Jesus and His Sacred Heart was placed on a base of brick and stone on the east side of the church. This was funded with donations and memorial monies. Father Ron was here from 2003 to 2010.

We are now being shepherded by Father Kevin Achbach. Father strives to provide the people of St. William with the Eucharistic celebration of the Mass every week to remind us of God's love and continued presence in our lives as we persevere in the faith. He is the present director of vocations for the diocese, where he works to bring vocations to the church.

The women's Altar Society, first known as St. Elizabeth Guild, was reorganized under Father Patrick O'Dowd in 1935. Bessie Nemec was elected their first president. Early social functions of the church were held at the Bastion Hotel. The women leased the Drew building, along with the American Legion and Auxiliary, in 1945 for a place to hold their card parties, bake sales, dinners and bazaars. In 1948, the church at Hayes was moved on to a new basement just south of the rectory and was the church hall until the new church was built and the basement of St. William's took its place. St William Altar Society has helped support many projects that build up our church and assist its members. We provide assistance in any needs of the altar and the celebration of the Mass. Our annual turkey dinner has been served for many decades by the women of the parish to help fund our group.

The young people of the church have been educated by the members of our church, our priests and for many years, they were assisted by Benedictine nuns for one or two weeks in the summer at our annual Sister School. Many received the sacraments of first communion, first confession and confirmation after the summer sessions with the sisters. For years, we have used the release time from school to teach the grade school children on Wednesday afternoons. With the closing of the Midland High School our high school children are educated in the faith in the town where they attend school.

This year, 2011, Pope Benedict appointed Monsignor Robert D Gruss as our new bishop. He was ordained on July 28, 2011, in Rapid City. Bishop Robert D. Gruss is the eighth bishop of our West River Diocese. May God continue to bless St. William parish. We are grateful to have the opportunity to worship and serve God in the Catholic church in Midland.