Friday, January 30, 2015

Former St. Mary Catholic Church, Rockville, NE

The early Polish Catholic pioneers who settled south of the Middle Loup River near Rockville, Nebraska found it difficult to practice their faith with no church nearby.  On Saturday evenings, Catholic families would board the train at Rockville and ride to Loup City, where they would attend Mass on Sunday morning, and return home in the afternoon.  Occasionally priests from Grand Island would also visit the area to celebrate the sacraments.

This haphazard arrangement could not last, and the early settlers decided to send one of their strongest leaders, Joseph Roszczynialski(!) to plead their cause to the priests in Grand Island.  Their request for a permanent church was forwarded to Bishop Richard Scannell of Omaha, and the bishop granted permission shortly thereafter.  

Roszczynialski himself served as the architect and chief builder of the new 300-seat St. Mary of the Holy Rosary Church and also designed and built its high altar.  It's likely that Roszczynialski served as the architect for several other Polish Catholic churches in the area as well.  Construction of the 40 x 92 foot Rockville church began in the spring of 1908 and progressed rapidly.  The cornerstone was blessed on May 9, 1909 and by October 20th of the same year, the church was dedicated by Bishop Scanell.

At various times from 1910 to 1918, the parish found itself as a mission of either Grand Island, Loup City, Farwell, or Paplin.  Desperate for a more consistent life of worship, parishioners built a rectory in 1911, but seven more years passed before Rockville received its first resident pastor.  Even with a new rectory, Rockville only managed to secure a resident pastor for eight years, and in 1926 Rockville again became a mission of Farwell.  St. Mary remained a mission of several different area parishes throughout the rest of its history.

Various modifications were made to the church building over the years, including the addition of electricity in the early 1920s, a lowered ceiling and sanctuary renovation in the 1950s, and another sanctuary remodeling in the 1970s.  In 1978, the bell tower was struck by lightning and repaired by simply capping the tower at the roofline.  The former church's bell now resides at the nearby St.Mary Cemetery.

In many ways, the present day situation for Rockville Catholics is not so different than that of their forebears.  In 2006, St. Mary was clustered with five other area parishes, leaving Rockville with Mass only four times per year along with the occasional wedding or funeral.  Parishioners dispersed to various surrounding communities for the regular celebration of the sacraments and religious education.  The parish held it's final Mass on August 24, 2014 and the church building and its remaining contents were sold at auction on October 11, 2014.

In an unfortunate twist of fate, a radical traditionalist group calling themselves the "The Religious Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen (CMRI)" purchased the building for $16,000.  This non-Catholic group has no affiliation whatsoever with the Catholic Church and believes that there hasn't been a legitimate pope since 1958.  For more information about this group, this article features the insights of nuns formerly associated with them.


Jim Graves, “The Return to Rome, Five Years Later,” The Catholic World Report, 19 October 2012, accessed 29 January 2014.

Janis Lewandowski, "Rockville church remembered as 'little parish that could,'" West Nebraska Register, 10 October 2014.

Mary Parlin and Colleen Gallion, comps. 100 Years of Faith: The History of the Diocese of Grand Island. Grand Island, NE: West Nebraska Register, 2012.

Lauren Sedam, "Saying final goodbyes to St. Mary’s," The Grand Island Independent, 10 October 2014.

No comments: