Nothing can stop members of St. Matthew 367 from getting together to celebrate their 125th court anniversary! This year, the event was combined with the celebration of the 50-year mark of their new church building and Fr. Steve Adrian’s 76th birthday – a three-in-one event! More than 100 people, including Agents Larry Poppler and Susan Wieneke, attended.
On Easter Monday, April 15, 1968, St. Matthew Church caught fire and was destroyed. Fifty years later, the parishioners continue to blaze forward.
The parish remembered the event with a display of photos and other memorabilia. Even though the structure was destroyed, some items, including the sanctuary lamp, baptismal font, tabernacle, vestments and chalices, inside survived. The bell from the original bell tower was also preserved.
“People in the afternoon traffic on Easter Monday of 1968 witnessed billowing, rusty clouds of smoke from the burning 1886 (81-year-old) landmark on the west side of St. Paul, St. Matthew’s Church. The firefighting equipment pulled away, leaving a gutted structure and a parish in crisis,” Fr. Don Wegscheider wrote in P.A.C.E. Magazine.1
One parishioner recalled, “All of sudden, I saw a huge wrecking ball shaped like a teardrop swinging through the air in the direction of the church. Then, all at once, they smashed it into one of the huge beautiful stained-glass windows. At that moment, I knew our church would never be the same.”2
This was such a significant milestone for the parishioners because parish life was never the same after the fire. Community members struggled with finding a place to celebrate Mass and host their religious activities. But you’d never know by the spirit in the room during this court anniversary turned birthday celebration and memorial gathering. The parishioners and attendees were lively, welcoming and excited.
Fr. Steve Adrian’s 76th birthday was also celebrated! Fr. Steve recited the gospel from memory that day. He was a pastor at the parish for 34 years. There was a large cake, and the whole room sang “happy birthday”. Fr. Steve was aware of the underlying somber tone of the day, and his homily addressed it. He encouraged the Mass-goers to keep the faith alive and reminded them that the church isn’t just a building, it’s the people inside it.
St. Matthew Church and St. Matthew 367 partnering to host a three-in-one event, with all kinds of emotions demonstrates the communities strong bond, resiliency and desire to blaze forward.
Article by Brittany Demendi.
1Touched by a Fiery Spirit by Fr. Don Wegscheider, originally published in P.A.C.E. (Professional Approaches to Christian Education) Magazine. 2st-matts.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/MarApr08GN.9132115.pdf