Father Joseph on the renovation of St. Nicholas church

| Father Thomas Joseph | April 14, 2011 | 0 Comments

Father Thomas Joseph shares his reflections on the renovation of St. Nicholas church

As the proverb goes, “A calm sea never made a skilled sailor.”

When we are stumped with challenges, we can dare to rise or be stuck at the bottom of the hill. Our forefathers, who built St. Nicholas, rose above the obstacles giving up their best land to build the ‘Temple of God.’  As St. Nicholas Catholic Church celebrated the improvements made to the historic church building on April 9, 2011, with a solemn blessing, it is worth acknowledging our founding fathers who allowed themselves to be the skilled sailors, the skilled hikers with their unwavering desire to reach the mountaintop, which was and is, their “God’s city set on the hill.”

The book of the Prophet Isaiah 2:2 reads, “The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills.” St. Nicholas Catholic Church high on the bluffs of Carver is a house of prayer to which people of all faiths have flocked for generations. On this mountaintop I have met devout Catholics, those claiming to be agnostics, and non-Christians; for all, it is a “mountain on which God lives,” even if they use a name besides God.

Being on a mountaintop, gives you the sense that you are a step closer to God and heaven, that you are halfway to heaven. But to reach heaven, it takes work. One needs to climb one step at a time. It was on the mountaintop that: Jesus transfigured and showed his glory to Peter, James and John; he often went to pray and gave the summary of his life, the beatitudes; that Moses received the Ten Commandments; and the Prophet Elijah destroyed the false prophets of Baal.

In her “Interior Castle,” St. Teresa of Avila gives the impression how reaching God’s mansion in heaven is comparable to reaching the mountaintop.
Reaching the mountaintop is not just a concept or idea, it is real. Our forefathers were willing to give up their best farmland on the bluffs of Carver so that God might be glorified from the top of the hill.

The founding of St. Nicholas church in 1868, opening a Catholic School in 1876, which is currently used as a parish office and pastor’s residence, adding a steeple to the church in 1880, enhancing the interior with stations, stained glass windows, etc. during 1905-12, opening a new cemetery in 1936, honoring World War II servicemen in 1943, interior renovation in 1945, celebrating the first Steamboat Days in 1970, the parish center being built during 1971-73, the first ecumenical service held in 1991-92, rectory addition in 2000 with the tremendous leadership of Terry Wickenhauser, celebrating the 140thanniversary in 2008, undertaking a complete renovation of the church in 2011 amidst the recession — all these events are symbolically, tangibly, spiritually a sign that we are not stuck at the bottom of the hill, rather, we have “holy ambition” to reach the mountaintop, “God’s city set on the hill.’”

Think of the people of God and the Benedictine Missionaries 142 years ago who carried to the top of the hill the heavy trusses, bricks, bell tower, statues and staind glass windows to a place where they can meet God face to face. They reached atop the hill, horses pulling their wagons, buckboards, sleighs or walking; knowing time is of the essence, they did not let other distractions like wars, the Great Depression, and the greatest River Valley flood in 1965, deter them from taking care of God’s house.

In the words of a long time parishioner, “My grandparents and mom told us stories of trips to church when they were little that were real adventures.  They lived on a farm about 15 miles from the church. Sunday mornings brought the usual chores but, in addition, the horses had to be fed and blanketed for the trip to Mass, hooked up to the sleigh, and the horsehair blankets and bricks were heated to keep the family warm during the hour-long trip. In those days, Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve was at 12:00. For that special trip through the snow with only stars and sometimes the moonlight to guide them, the horses were decorated with full sets of sleigh bells, and special harness leathers with silver and red accents.”

Further, the words of Father Valentine Scherrer (pastor of St. Nicholas 1943-52): “At the height of the cold weather, I closed the church at about 6 p.m. on Saturday nights as it would have been a hardy soul to climb up that hill on a dark, cold night. The weather never once hindered me from arriving for Sunday services.”

Yes, history shows that there is something about this St. Nicholas, where Jesus is always waiting with both of his hands outstretched for those who climb to the top of the hill untiringly. As St. Mary Joseph Rossello (1811-80) put it, “You will become a saint by complying exactly with your daily duties.” People of God for generations saw this as their simple duty, to climb the hill and say hello to Jesus, and receive a gift from St. Nicholas of Myra, the best gift-giver history has ever known.

Almost a year ago, we noticed that the roof of St. Nicholas Church was in need of repair. It was a monumental task that none of us were expecting or prepared for. Yet, the magnitude of work did not hold us back. realizing time was of the essence.

With the blessing of Archbishop John Nienstedt, many skilled companies like Met-Con Construction, individuals and parish staff, generous parishioners and supporters, we were able to not only replace the roof, but also renovated the entire church, holding on to the tradition of a century and a half and at the same time, having the technology to effectively minister to the good people of the 21st century.

As Archbishop Emeritus Harry Flynn beautifully summarized in his homily during the solemn blessing at St. Nicholas in a fully packed church, “Faith, faith, faith, may Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever, (Hebrews 13:8) be proclaimed with conviction, on the bluffs of Carver, valleys and beyond. We pray to our patron saint, St. Nicholas of Myra, may he continue to give out ‘candies of goodness,’ in his spare time. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta would say, ‘Let no one that comes to you, go away, without feeling better and happier,’ may this God’s city set on the hill, may this sanctum sanctorum (holy of holies) continue to shine brightly ‘through thick and thin, and make Jesus Christ known and loved; may the ‘business of saving souls,’ (citing Archbishop Nienstedt) continue to be carried out with semper fidelis (perpetual faithfulness).

Let me conclude with the words of Barbara Buetow, a parishioner who speaks faithfully on why the people of God keep ascending to St. Nicholas for generations:

St. Nicholas is a little church up on a hill
built over a century and stands there still.
Overlooking the river valley from this hill
gives your heart and spirit quite a thrill.

Walking quietly around the grounds
the only sound is the wind in the trees all around.
Gone but not forgotten, loved ones at rest,
in this house of God, their faith put to the test.

Next to the old parish house, stands and old oak tree
created long before you and me.
Near the church something seems to say
“Come, come near,
Now open the door my friend, I Am right here.

Father Thomas Joseph is pastor of St. Nicholas in Carver.

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