For 130 years, Wayland’s current St. Martha Church building and the one that preceded it stood as symbols of a community of faith and a visible reminder of God’s saving presence near where Missouri touches Iowa and Illinois.
“Today, the final day of this parish’s history, we conclude our use of this building with a foretaste of the eternal banquet — our celebration of Holy Mass,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight stated Dec. 9.
It was the last Mass in St. Martha Church.
Current and past parishioners and others with ties to the local Catholic community attended.
It was the second Sunday of Advent.
Bishop McKnight in October accepted and acted upon a request from St. Martha’s pastoral council for the mission to be combined with neighboring St. Michael parish in Kahoka.
“I am deeply grateful for the parish lay leadership who, acknowledging the reality of the Church in Clark County, stepped forward with trust in God and took responsibility for their own parish,” Bishop McKnight stated in his homily.
He believes this selfless decision will help strengthen the Church in the area as God draws His people into greater unity.
“As we now become one parish — one church — our unending communion in one faith, one baptism and one Lord shall continue to honor the legacy of the founders of this parish and all its active stewards of successive generations,” the bishop stated.
Also present were Sister Kathleen Wegman SSND, diocesan chancellor; Sister Jane Weisgram, SSND, parish life collaborator for the parishes in neighboring Lewis County; and Kristin Roth, former parish life collaborator for the Lewis County parishes.
Longtime St. Martha Pastoral Council members Cheryl Buschling, Alice Morehouse, Ed Riney and Dixie Small served in liturgical roles at the Mass.
Joining the bishop at the altar were: Father Robert Fields, administrator of the parishes in Lewis and Clark counties; Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki VG, diocesan vicar general and former pastor of the Clark County parishes; Father Mark Porterfield JV, diocesan judicial vicar; Father Jason Doke, dean of the Hannibal Deanery; Father Christopher Aubuchon, diocesan vocation director and former pastor of the Lewis and Clark county parishes; Father Boniface Kasiita Nzabonimpa, former administrator of the Lewis and Clark county parishes; Father Michael Murphy, former pastor of the Clark County parishes; Franciscan Father James Wheeler, a native of Clark County; and Father Leonard Mukiibi Kassengejje from Uganda.
Bishop McKnight said it was appropriate for the last official gathering of the people of St. Martha to be for Mass, “the most solemn prayer that we have as Catholics, which sums up who we are, where we have come from and where we are going.”
“The Lord has done great things for us,” the people sang in the responsorial psalm. “We are filled with joy.”
They heard from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “The One Who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (1:6)
Bishop McKnight pointed out that through these past 13 decades, St. Martha has been a place for the Gospel to be proclaimed, for God’s call to repentance to be heard and acted upon, and for rebirth by water and the Holy Spirit to be celebrated.
It is where heaven touched earth in each offering of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Bishop McKnight pointed out that the local people and the immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other European countries who helped establish the parish in the 1880s were fulfilling their mission as disciples and good stewards of the gifts God had bestowed upon them.
“And we who witness the closure of the parish this day are mindful of our obligation to be good stewards with our current resources, such that we might be wise and faithful disciples of the Lord, carrying on the mission of the Church in our area, in our time,” he said.
He emphasized that God has never stopped intervening in human history.
“Today is the day of salvation,” he said. “Your presence in this place and in this Church and in this family and in this moment is not by any accident; it is in the eternal plan of God.”
St. Martha was originally founded and named in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1887.
Father Francis Brand, founding pastor of St. Michael parish in Kahoka, carved out a mission circuit that included Wayland, Chambersburg and the Mudd Settlement, according to early 20th-century historian Father John Rothensteiner.
Fr. Brand also occasionally offered Masses in private homes in the towns of Downing, Memphis, Hitt, Avela, Neve, Acasto, Athens, St. Francisville, Alexandria, Wyaconda, Neeper and Medill.
Wayland’s first Catholic church building was completed in 1887. When worn and outgrown, that church was replaced in 1964 with help from the Catholic Extension Society of America. The parish was renamed St. Martha at that time in recognition of the generosity of the family of Martha Fitzgerald.
It was St. Martha, one of Jesus’s close friends, who said to Him, “I have come to believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One Who is coming into the world” (John 11:27).
Bishop Joseph M. Marling C.PP.S., founding bishop of Jefferson City, now deceased, consecrated the church in 1965.
Bishop McKnight noted that two vocations to religious life came from St. Martha: Anna Fox became a Daughter of Charity, serving at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco until her death in the 1940s; and Jerry Lee Arthur became Brother Timothy, a Franciscan at the San Juan Mission in California.
Bishop McKnight thanked everyone who had a hand in planning for the closing celebration and in helping to open this new chapter in the life of the Church in Clark County.
He reassured everyone that the path of salvation history, described by the prophets and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, has been in existence long before St. Martha’s humble beginnings and will continue beyond its closure.
“As St. Martha’s path of history ends, St. Michael parish shall now provide the pastoral services for the people of Wayland and continue the sacred heritage of the proclamation of the Gospel for generations to come,” he stated.
Fr. Fields thanked Bishop McKnight “for leading us in prayer as we thank God for all that He has accomplished in St. Martha’s Church these past 131 years.”
After singing “Sent Forth By Blessing” at the end of Mass, the parishioners and their guests reconvened in the parish hall for a meal and fellowship.
They spent time perusing a display of historical photos, mementos and artifacts.
The cake had a rendering of the church in icing.
Eager to carry St. Martha’s legacy forward and keep people engaged in the active practice of their faith, Fr. Fields urged everyone to register and become active in St. Michael parish or one of the other neighboring parishes. Many have already done so.
Afterward, a handful of longtime parishioners shared a toast with Fr. Fields.