Sunday, March 22, 2009

St. Joseph Catholic Church, Colon, NE

The history of Catholicism in Colon, Nebraska is an interesting one. The town of Colon was platted in 1886 and later incorporated in 1894. Having few Catholics in the area, Colon and surrounding settlements were cared for by priests from Fremont during the period from 1869 to 1888. Shortly after the Diocese of Lincoln was established in 1887, Lincoln diocesan priests were sent to northern Saunders county, thus relieving the Fremont priests of the treacherous journey across the Platte River.

By the early 20th Century, the Catholic population in northern Saunders County had begun to shift. Parishes in earlier settlements were closed and efforts were focused on building a church in the town of Colon. Construction of the present church began in August of 1918 and the cornerstone was blessed on November 26, 1918 by Bishop Charles O'Reilly - the first time he had presided at the laying of a cornerstone. Nearly a year later on November 19, 1919, Bishop O'Reilly returned to Colon to dedicate the new church.

Even from the beginning of the parish however, cultural clashes were an issue. The History of the Catholic Church in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska 1887-1987 by Sr. Loretta Gosen, C.PP.S. recounts a particular issue:

The tension between the members of the two cultures, Czech and Irish, continued after the completion of the church. Each group feared that its customs, traditions, and language were being threatened. In an attempt to ease the tension, Monsignor A.J. Klein suggested a plan that seemed to be a logical solution to the problem. He said that since the Czechs constituted about one-third of the membership of the parish, a sermon in Bohemian once every third Sunday would suffice. The Czechs, however, were not satisfied with such an apportionment. They wanted equal division between the two languages. They stated that they would be satisfied with nothing less than half English and half Bohemian. This aroused the ire of the English-speaking people. In the post World War I atmosphere when anyone speaking a foreign language was disdained, the English-speaking members of the parish insisted that as American citizens, they would not conform to the customs and rules of the Bohemians.

Gradually, tensions eased and both groups learned to co-exist. However, the art-glass windows of the church give a silent nod to this conflict, as they predominately depict both Czech and Irish saints.

The interior of the Neo-Romanesque church has undergone several renovations over the years, however, the main decorative elements have remained consistent.

The main altar circa 1940.

A doorway in the choir loft reveals the former paint scheme visible in the old photo of the sanctuary.

Well worn steps to the choir loft.

The large rose window over the entrance was donated by the Wahoo Council of the Knights of Columbus. The center depicts the Knights of Columbus shield.

An art-glass window depicts the parish's patron, St. Joseph.

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