Couple buys building, preserves memories of closed church in rural area near Ord


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ORD, Nebraska — The bells rang and the music played, the sounds whipping in the wind across the cornfields of rural Valley County.

On Tuesday, for the first time in more than two decades, people filed into a former Catholic church about 10 miles west of Ord for a gathering.

St. Wenceslaus was closed in 1993, after growing farms and a shrinking population forced the diocese to shutter its doors. Still, the former church and the cemetery behind it had a pull for many, including Gerald Chalupsky.

Last year, he and his wife, Patricia, bought the building, now called the St. Wenceslaus Geranium Church. And on Tuesday, they welcomed people in for a family reunion and prayer gathering.

Now, Patricia said, she and her husband are doing what they are meant to do — preserving the building and the memories for all those who worshipped there.

"This is a great, historical event," she told the Grand Island Independent (http://bit.ly/1iZr9QA). "I just feel this is our calling."

Gerald Chalupsky was born and raised in Nebraska, and his father was from Comstock. Much of his family remained in the area, he said, and both his great-grandparents and grandparents are buried at the St. Wenceslaus Catholic Cemetery.

He and his family frequently attended Mass at the church before it closed, he said.

"As a kid, this was one of our go-to places," Gerald said.

After the closing, he said, many of his family members continued mowing the lawn and helping keep up the cemetery, but he was living in Texas with his wife and sons.

It wasn't until a family wedding in Texas that he began to think of the church again.

At the event, he asked a few of his cousins about the church, and they told him it was doing fine outside, but that the roof could use a little work.

"What are you doing about it?" Gerald asked.

Not much, they said.

He pressed the issue, and eventually, Gerald said, one of them asked, "Well, what do you think should be done?"

After the wedding, the Chalupskys didn't forget the question.

Her husband, Patricia said, had always talked about Nebraska, but she was a Texas girl.

"We kept thinking, 'Are we being called to do this?'" she said.

Six months later, however, they still couldn't shake the feeling. They wrote to Bishop William Dendinger of the Grand Island Diocese, and they were able to purchase the property with the agreement that the cemetery remains part of the Catholic Church.

The church, Gerald said, was originally built for $300 in 1882, when an early settler of Netolice, later called Geranium, died and the community needed a place for a burial. In 1892, the current structure was built for $3,000, he said.

Even with a long history and about 20 years of relative inactivity, Gerald said, when he saw the building for the first time in 15 years, it was in good shape.

The Chalupskys replaced the roof and Patricia and some local women removed years of dust.

Before Tuesday, Patricia said, a group of farmers showed up to mow the lawn, and some children placed flowers at the foot of a cross in the cemetery, just as their father had as a boy.

They also got the electricity running.

"We're reconnecting everything," Gerald said.

"In more ways than one," Patricia added.

Family members and visitors noticed that on Tuesday.

As they walked in, one person commented on how it was always windy at the Geranium church, and how people always checked themselves in a mirror in the entryway before entering.

Another man, Emmanuel Sedlacek, remembered how in the 1940s he would have to come in at midnight on Saturday to start the fire to heat the building for Sunday Mass.

Scott Musil and his children, Thomas and Sarah, found "their" pew, or the one Musil would always sit in while growing up.

Musil, a relative of Gerald Chalupsky, was baptized at St. Wenceslaus.

The former Catholic church was also the place where, 22 years ago, Musil got his start playing music.

On Tuesday, he returned to the piano keys, and with his children there, it marked the sixth generation of his family to attend a service at St. Wenceslaus.

Musil had spent time going through old news stories and obituaries to chronicle the church's history, and he said Tuesday's reunion was perfect.

"This has always been a dream of ours, to have it preserved, and we were afraid it would fall down," he said.

The Rev. Josh Brown, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ord, also attended the day of prayer and fellowship.

The diocese probably has about 50 similar churches that are now privately owned or that no longer celebrate Mass, Brown said. Though the Geranium church is no longer part of the Catholic Church, he said, it's nice to see its story preserved.

"I think there's just a lot of history here and memories of family events happening here," he said.

The Chalupskys hope to create more of those gatherings.

They will spend time between their home in Texas and a home in Comstock, and they foresee having services, reunions and community gatherings at the church. In the future, Gerald said, they would like to light the steeple so it can be seen amidst the fields.

The journey, the Chalupskys said, has been worth it. Whatever the future holds for the building, they simply want to preserve it — in honor of the settlers who started it, the people buried there and those who worshipped there all those years.

"We wouldn't have been interested in other churches," Gerald said. "But it's family."


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com

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