“I feel the shortage of priests will get worse before it gets better,” the late Father Joseph Boland wrote in 1990. “During this time, lay Catholics will have to take up some of the burden. I feel that the Church will grow and as it grows, it will gain more priests while keeping the work of an active laity.”
Fr. Boland may or may not have realized that he would be the last priestly resident of Holy Guardian Angels Rectory, or that laypeople eventually would lovingly transform that home into a Catholic house of prayer and respite.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight traveled to Brinktown the evening of March 22 to bless and dedicate what is now known as Gabriel House. It is a place for groups and individual Catholics of the Jefferson City diocese to spend some quiet time in prayer with the Lord, through an overnight visit or by organizing a day of recollection.
Volunteers from the Brinktown parish shared the work of refurbishing the 1950s-vintage building to make it suitable for small Catholic retreats and meetings.
They incorporated much of the spiritual artwork from the former rectory into the bright, colorful, prayerful space.
“Let us pray that Christ will enter this home and bless it with His presence,” Bishop McKnight said at the dedication. “May He always be here among us; may He nurture our love for each other, share in our joys and comfort us in our sorrows.”
The bishop then stepped through the arched doorway into the peaceful edifice, blessing each room on the main floor with holy water while Father Matthew Flatley did the same upstairs.
Then, he said to the people: “May God the Father bless you so that this may be a holy dwelling where you serve in His presence.”
Bishop, priest and people then processed into Holy Guardian Angels Church for Mass, with an honor guard of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus.
Fr. Flatley, pastor of the Vienna and Brinktown parishes, concelebrated, with Deacon Doug Hemke assisting.
A place of respite
“I wish to thank Fr. Matthew for his invitation to come and bless the new house of respite and tranquility, something of a retreat house, and also the community,” Bishop McKnight stated.
It was his first visit to Brinktown.
He noted in his homily that a family home is not simply a structure but also a place of relationships: “parents to children, children to their parents” — “and as we believe as Christians, we encounter and discover the spiritual reality of God only in and through relationships.”
Likewise, a parish’s church building and related structures are a home for the family of God.
“My prayer for you and this community,” he said, “is that with the prayer of dedication and blessing of this house, and in the celebration of the Eucharist in this church, that you might discover the reality of God’s care and concern for you ... in and through the human relationships that you have in your families, that you have in your parish communities.”
“When we stick together, and if we recognize our dependence upon one another for our relationship with God, it is then that we open ourselves up to those deep and abiding truths,” he said.
He asked the people to join him in praying for “this Catholic guesthouse to provide a refuge for those who seek rest and blessing.”
“May we never be left without the assistance of our Guardian Angels,” he prayed.
After Holy Communion, Fr. Flatley offered a litany of gratitude to all the people who had a hand in renewing the former rectory and bringing Gabriel House into being.
He lauded the work of Gabriel House ad-hoc committee chairs Colleen Barnhart and Wilma Rowden and the rest of the committee: Derrick Otto, Amy Veasman, Dianne Veasman and Danny Wansing.
“This was a wonderful group of parishioners who did an awesome job seeing this project through,” he said.
The pastor pointed out that the home is named for the archangel who announced to Mary that she would become the mother of the Savior, assuring her that “nothing is impossible for God,” (Luke 1:37).
“Sisters and brothers, we pray that Gabriel House will be a place of respite, a place to rest and spend time with the Lord on this sacred, holy ground,”
After Mass, the people convened in the parish hall for a fish fry and fellowship.
Fr. Boland was a seminary classmate of Servant of God Emil Kapaun, a native of Bishop McKnight’s home Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, who ministered to thousands as a chaplain and fellow prisoner during the Korean War before dying in a North Korean prison camp in 1951.
Fr. Boland was offering Mass in Holy Guardian Angels Church in Brinktown when it caught fire in October of 1996. He watched that church burn down and lived to see the present church completed in its place.
The parish has been ministered to by the pastor of neighboring Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Vienna since Fr. Boland retired after the fire.
His earthly remains are at rest in Holy Guardian Angels Cemetery.
“I have taught enough history to realize that our present conditions have been around before, and the Catholic Church has survived them and even become better,” he stated in 1990. “When Christ said, ‘I am with you always to the end of the world,’ He meant it!”
The Brinktown rectory sat unoccupied and mostly unused for almost a quarter-century before Fr. Flatley gave parishioners a deadline for determining its future.
“I felt so strongly that it should be saved for some purpose,” stated Mrs. Barnhart, who with Mrs. Rowden co-chaired the committee that led to Gabriel House’s establishment.
“Little did we all know, it was built like a castle and would be extremely expensive to tear down,” she said.
As a priest who finds inspiration in contemplative prayer, Fr. Flatley had been concerned for a long time about the scarcity of Catholic retreat facilities in this diocese.
“There are some wonderful Protestant sites within our diocesan boundaries,” he noted. “But by and large, they are for much larger groups and with dormitory sleeping, which is not ideal for adults.”
The people of the parish voted unanimously to help fill that void by repurposing the rectory into a small Catholic guesthouse.
“We believe it will be an ideal way for groups or individuals to deepen their prayer life and faith experience, whether they choose to make an overnight visit or to plan a day of recollection,” Fr. Flatley stated.
Mrs. Rowden’s husband Bryan was the head of the construction crew that built the current church in 1998. He grew up in the Brinktown parish, as did his family.
Mrs. Rowden’s grandmother was one of the last two teachers at the old Holy Guardian Angels School before it closed in 1970.
Mrs. Barnhart and Mrs. Rowden determined that preserving and enhancing the former rectory with a distinctively “retro” look would be interesting and most feasible.
“It was fun to research and plan just what to do to make it feel comfortable, clean and inspirational,” said Mrs. Barnhart. “We uncovered gems here and there, pieces we could use that were packed away in boxes.”
She and Mrs. Rowden worked on Gabriel House almost every day for 10 weeks.
“We had to clean out a lot of stuff,” said Mrs. Rowden. “We got new curtains, new carpet, and a few miscellaneous items to complete the project.”
A local family had set aside some money several years ago for if the rectory were ever renovated.
Other families donated items such as bedding and new kitchen appliances. Volunteers poured new concrete sidewalks and performed other tasks.
“We went out of our way to salvage furniture and whatever else we could,” said Mrs. Rowden. “We didn’t want to overspend.”
Nineteen parishioners spent a Saturday together, painting rooms in the house.
Fr. Flatley wanted one of the rooms to be yellow, so Mrs. Rowden and Mrs. Barnhart applied his favorite color to the upstairs bathroom.
When Fr. Boland was pastor, according to longtime friend Father Brendan Griffey, he kept two Australian finches — Tweedledum and Tweedledee — as pets.
Accordingly, in the renovation, Mrs. Rowden and Mrs. Barnhart figured out a way to incorporate some sort of bird into the décor in every room.
Religious statues and artwork familiar to anyone who visited the home when it was a rectory, are back on display throughout Gabriel House.
Curtains in the hall upstairs were specially made from material with a nun pattern.
The women devised a clever color scheme to tie the red floor with the pink porcelain tile in the kitchen.
“We went with sort of a neutral gray color that ties it all together,” said Mrs. Rowden. “That’s the one we had to figure out the most to do with.”
Mrs. Barnhart said the home and its setting made every day they worked a peaceful experience.
“I feel in today’s hectic atmosphere, it’s a great place to walk in, leaving all the distractions at home, and meditate in a spiritual environment,” she said. “You can feel like you are hundreds of miles away when you visit, but maybe physically not far from home at all.”
A peaceful oasis
Gabriel House is located next to the church at 37515 Highway N, off Highway 133, in Brinktown.
Fr. Flatley called Gabriel House “a peaceful place to rest a while and renew your relationship with God.”
He said a walk around the parish grounds and adjoining cemetery, with glorious views of the pastoral landscape, is spiritually enriching — “a perfect way to unplug.”
“I believe Gabriel House will serve as an exquisite little Catholic guesthouse for groups or individuals,” he stated. “Our hope is that it will nourish the spiritual needs of our priests or priest support groups, religious orders or small faith communities, who would like to emulate Christ, Who was forever modeling the need to take some time away, to take some time apart, to pray to His Father.”
It has meeting space, a dining room with a large table, a fully equipped kitchen for preparing meals, and plenty of natural light.
It has enough beds for seven people but could accommodate about 20 if people brought their own cots or air mattresses.
For information or to reserve Gabriel House for a day meeting, overnight retreat, group meeting or conference, contact Mrs. Rowden at (573) 680-6024 or Mrs. Barnhart at (573) 578-3087.